Based on all accepted criteria for rating a pop song, “Golden Boy” – Israel’s official entry for this week’s Eurovision Song Contest – is pretty poor. Or worse. Internal logic and emotional development are not its strong points. Not musically (it jumps from one style to another, without any bridge or link between them), and not lyrically.
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Less that 50 seconds transpire from the lyric “Mama, someone broke my heart again” – which singer Nadav Guedj mournfully howls – to the words “I’m the king of fun,” chanted in a trance-like atmosphere fueled by Vodka Red Bull. It’s a swift transition – so fast it is almost ridiculous – even for a song whose underlying narrative is, “She broke my heart, and now I’m going to dance the pain away.” Even allowing for that rapid transition, the mere presence of a line like “I’m the king of fun” in a song representing Israel is reason enough to root for the Estonians.
The French-Israeli Guedj, 16, will be competing in the annual European songfest that is this year held in Vienna. He will appear in the second semifinal on Thursday. If he’s successful, he’ll proceed to Saturday night’s final.
Examining “Golden Boy” in a normal pop light would be a mistake. The song may not have any internal logic, but it has a purpose – and its ends justify the means.
It actually has two goals. The obvious one is to win Eurovision; this is unlikely to happen. The second is to present Eurovision – which will be watched by hundreds of millions of people all over the continent – with a Mizrahi [Middle Eastern-inspired] pop song in English, for universal consumption. And how do you sell Mizrahi pop to the goyim? You need a sophisticated manipulation, and you can count on “Golden Boy” writer Doron Medalie for that. Medalie, who in his day job writes songs for Omer Adam and Lior Narkis, knows how to press all the right buttons.
The first manipulation is a sleight of hand: “Golden Boy” must only reveal that it’s actually a Mizrahi pop song during the chorus – the moment of truth. If it did so any earlier, it would burn out. So it starts like a ballad from “American Idol,” then cuts right into boy-band pop, and then moves into 2015 chart music terrain. And it’s only then, after a full minute, when the confused listener doesn’t understand what the true nature of the song is, that Medalie drops the bomb – an in-your-face Mizrahi pop chorus.
Poor Mizrahi pop – that’s the second manipulation. The Eurovision audience doesn’t know Israeli culture and the contextual network in which Mediterranean music exists, so the listeners don’t have the tools to evaluate good Mizrahi pop. There is a far greater chance they will fly with bad Mizrahi pop. “Golden Boy,” with the payoff line “Let me show you Tel Aviv,” sounds like the warmed-up leftovers of “Yahabibi Tel Aviv.” The problem is, only a few thousand hunks know Omer Adam’s song, while Guedj’s song is going to be heard by hundreds of millions.