Culture Fop / The Israeli Who Dared Face Off Against Jay-Z and Justin Bieber

Plus: Science and cinema have a one-night stand and Culture Fop bails on Bar Refaeli.

The blessing and the curse of the remix

Who dares challenge Adele for entertainer of the year? Or presumes that the best song of 2012 be anything other than “Gagnam Style”?

Among the globe’s biggest names in pop, rock, rap, and country, a lone Israeli artist, Asaf Avidan, found his own mentioned with the big boys when nominations were announced for the World Music Awards, the annual charity event hosted by the Prince of Monaco.

Avidan, 32, who made his debut in Israel in 2006, has been pretty big here for the past few years, instantly recognizable with a voice that bears a striking resemblance to Janis Joplin (he is said to hate the comparison but whatever, it’s true) or, in his words, "a cat having death throes” on the hood of your car.

Asaf Avidan and the Mojos, as his band is called, released their album “The Reckoning” in 2008. It became the most successful independently produced album in Israeli history and soon the Jerusalem-born artist soon signed with Sony and took off on global tours.

Several albums have come out since that breakthrough, but the 2008 effort may be the reason he landed in such famous company this year, nominated in the categories of World’s Best Entertainer, World’s Best Male Artist, and World’s Best Song.

The song he was nominated for, incidentally, is actually a remix of the title track off “The Reckoning,” re-imagined as a bouncy techno romp by German DJ Wankelmut and Avidan, dubbed “One Day (Reckoning Song).” While the original, featuring Avidan’s signature high-pitched wails, feels like a desperate plea for lost love, the 2012 version pushes the woeful lyrics to the background and focuses on the pulsing chorus, transforming the song (with the help of a playful music video) into an ode to youth.

The remix hit Number 1 in six countries, including Germany and Italy (it didn’t even get that high in Israel). But Asaf Avidan isn’t an easy remix himself – he’s more melancholy, more complex, more of an acquired taste. With the release of his newest solo album, “Different Pulses” (available now in Israel and early 2013 elsewhere), the question is: Will the fans he gained from the surprise hit take the time to discover – and appreciate – the real Asaf Avidan?

(The World Music Awards was supposed to have taken place this past weekend in Miami but was postponed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. You can still vote for Asaf Avidan here.)

Science goes to the movies

Dressed in black from head to toe and with a hands-free microphone head set, Nir Lahav looked more like a motivational speaker or a new-age preacher last night than a Ph.D. student from Bar Ilan University. He was, in fact, a little bit of both, preaching the gospel of science in the most unlikely of places: the Tel Aviv Cinemateque.

In honor of the doomsday-that-wasn’t last week, the 35-year-old physicist offered an hour-and-a-half discussion on his favorite topic: How do we know that we exist? Where does consciousness come from?

These are questions that occupy many brain researchers but few are up on stage in front of approximately 150 or so folks, showing clips from popular movies and flashing quotes from Descartes to illustrate their points. But Lahav has a passion for taking elusive theories and mixing them up in a cocktail of art, culture, and philosophy for the average Joe.

“People are really interested,” he insists, pointing to a lecture he gave at the end of October on the Higgs boson (the newly identified “God” particle that showed up after half a century of speculation) that drew 230 people.

“You can think from TV shows and reality shows that people are dumb,” he says. “But that’s not true. People want to know more about their lives.”

Lahav approached the Cinemateque a few years ago about giving a series of lectures in their halls that integrate film and other multimedia (like John Lennon songs) into the talk. For example: A scene from “The Truman Show,” the 1998 Jim Carrey film about a man who discovers that the world around him is not what it seems – which is basically Lahav’s point.

Despite its location, don’t expect a night at the movies: The hour-and-an-half lecture is really a lecture (in Hebrew) in which film plays a small supporting role. Lahav covers a broad survey of topics from the placebo effect and its relationship to alternative medicine to debunking the predictions of Nostradamus or showing why you can’t extract coded messages from the Bible, all punctuated by quotes from philosophers, animated videos, participatory games, optical illusions and a healthy dose of pop culture references.

The mash-up of styles is how Lahav likes it. “I think it’s all one subject, really,” he says of science, philosophy and art. “All this separating is artificial.”

Lahav brings them together with ease and enthusiasm, allowing audience members to experience concepts in digestible ways, which is where he sees the power of art. “Through art, you explore yourself and the world through experience, not through the scientific method but through the experiential method,” he says.

“It’s a high level of understanding.” Amen.

You can attend Nir’s performance at the following Cinemateques: Rosh Pina (January 3), Sderot (January 13) and Holon (January 17).

Fairy tale princesses and a case of mistaken identity

“The Nutcracker” has become the bread and butter of most ballet companies around the world. It’s a classic that became a holiday tradition that became a cash cow. But what’s a ballet company in a predominantly Jewish country to do with this quintessential Christmas tale?

Well, the majority religion here hasn’t prevented the Israel Ballet from producing their own “Nutcracker” in the past but this year they opted to do “Sleeping Beauty,” which features another gorgeous Tchaikovsky score, during Hanukkah instead.

Planning to examine this cultural alternative, I acquired two tickets, recruited a date, and arrived at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center ready for a classy evening.

I didn’t think much of the river of children I was wading through until my date pointed it out. Well, I explained, this must be a special “family” performance, which is why it was starting so early.

The two of us, both big guys in leather jackets, passed by the dangling legs of the tykes to take our seats, eyeing each other nervously. To the parents, we must have looked quite the suspicious pair. But I remained hopeful. This is great, I insisted, so many children at the ballet is an encouraging sign for the future of arts patronage.

Then the show started and a trio of neon-colored pixies darted to the front of the stage and started singing about how great it is to be a fairy. Well, I thought, I’ve never seen a ballet with singing before. My companion gaped in horror, his mouth widening even further when a burly fairy-mother in drag joined them.

Turns out, we had accidentally stumbled into “Cinderella,” this year’s production of Festigal, the annual Hanukkah show for children. Launched in 1981 in Haifa as a local singing competition, the event has exploded into a major nationwide musical event with over 100 performances around the country each winter and millions of shekels allotted to the extravagant productions. Celebrities like singers Gidi Gov and Rita or actor Yehuda Levi often show up in key roles to draw crowds and offer something to the generous, exhausted parents.

But we weren’t having it. We’re thirty-something dudes and damned if we sit through this kiddie spectacle (plus we were getting killer looks from the four-year-old princess next to me for laughing so hard at our mistake). After the first musical number, we scooted out and quickly went to the movies to see “Skyfall,” the new James Bond film, to reclaim our pride and masculinity.

It was only the next day, relaying our shameful story, that someone said, “Hey, didn’t Bar Refaeli star as Cinderella?”

Turns out she did. Now robbed of some serious bragging rights to my brothers, I was reminded of the first rule of theater: Never leave before the show is over. You never know what comes next, how a show might redeem itself, what moment of unexpected magic could be in store … or what international supermodel might grace you with her presence.

Tess Scheflan