Israel's Netta Wins 2018 Eurovision Song Contest With 'Toy'

After lagging in the jury votes, Netta Barzilai comes back to overtake main rival Cyprus by winning the popular vote ■ Netanyahu calls Barzilai 'Israel's greatest ambassador'

Netta from Israel celebrates after winning the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 12, 2018 during the Eurovision Song Contest grand final.
Armando Franca/AP

Israel won the 2018 Eurovision contest with Netta Barzilai's song "Toy," beating Cyprus and Austria in the popular vote. This is the first time since 1998 that Israel wins the song contest, and fourth time overall.

The first time Israel won was in 1978 with the song "Ah-Bah-Nee-Bee," performed by Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta. Israel won again the following year with the song "Hallelujah," and in 1998, artist Dana International won over the judges and audience with the song "Diva."

Eurovision 2018 Grande Finale

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Israel earned 529 points with a majority of the popular vote in hand, Cyprus with its song "Fuego" gained 436 points and Austria came in third with 342 points.

Over 25 million viewers tuned into Saturday's grand finale in Lisbon. 26 countries participated in the final, including France, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy. The host country, Portugal, which won last year’s Eurovision, drew its exact starting position at eight.

Celebrations in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.

Co-written by Doron Medalie and Stav Berger, "Toy" garnered an impressive following of over 17 million views on YouTube and even hit the No. 1 spot on Spotify Israel. The winning song is also featured on the iTunes hit parade at home and in Europe.

Thanking the audience for their vote, the 25-year-old singer praised their choice to accept diversity and for choosing something different. Afterwards, she proclaimed her victory by screaming: "I love my country, next year in Jerusalem," and concluded by saying "Thank you, Europe!"

In what went against polling results and expert opinions, Austria led the jury vote and held a substantial lead over Israel and Cyprus, the two projected leads. Sweden also surpassed expected winners, only to drop in ranking along with Austria once the popular vote was counted.

For the first time, Russia didn't make it to the final despite its participation in the semi-final round.           

Ireland, on the other hand, was considered a weak contender, but pulled through to qualify for the final because of singer Ryan O'Shaughnessy 's powerful performance, which featured a same-sex couple dancing on stage, making waves in the international media.

In China, the semi-final and grand finale were both censored.

The final showdown transpired as forecasted: it was a call between Cyprus and Israel, with Barzilai claiming the win and leaving Cyprus' Eleni Foureira in second place.

People celebrate in Tel Aviv the winning of the Eurovision Song Contest by Israel's Netta, May 12, 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum
Celebrating in Tel Aviv, May 12, 2018.
David Bachar

Cultue Minister Miri Regev spoke to Barzilai following her victory, commending her for the performance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also posted praise on his social network accounts, and spoke to Barzilai on the phone during the broadcast. The premier called Barzilai "wonderful," and told her she "charmed the whole world." He concluded by saying she was Israel's greatest ambassador.

As for her future, Barzilai expressed hope that fans would be open to her subsequent offerings, and know that she's not always going to be a "cute" pop singer.

Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, thousands of people gathered to celebrate  Barzilai’s victory in Rabin Square, chanting "Toy" while her name was projected on the municipality building alongside the Israeli flag.

The police seemed taken by surprise as they tried to get the crowd toward the center of the square since they were blocking traffic. People waved Israeli flags while chanting Barzilai’s victorious song over and over again. Some chanted “who’s not jumping supported Cyprus,” teasing the Cyprus entry in Eurovision who seemed close to winning until Barzilai received a disproportionate amount of votes from the public.

“It means a lot to us, after 70 years Israel is finally on the map, we did not expect so many votes from European countries,” said some Barzilai supporters in the square who didn't want to reveal their names. “Next year we want to see Eurovision in our capital, that is Jerusalem!” they concluded.

Ratings peak

Netta Barzilai’s Eurovision win brought the highest ratings for the contest in Israel since 2005, with 1.05 million viewers watched her performance Saturday night on Israel's new state broadcaster Kan. This is also the highest ratings for television viewing in Israel since Channel 2 split in November 2017, a major reshuffle in the television market. The previously highest ratings last week were for the launch of “Big Brother.”

Kan reported that the Eurovision contest was watched online by 750,000 views, either on Facebook or its mobile application. Barzilai’s song, “Toy” has had more than 50 million views so far on You Tube.

The all-time highest Eurovision ratings in Israel still belongs to the broadcast in 1999 of the song contest in Israel, featuring the band Eden – 1.34 million views. Ratings in Jewish households (a figure used in  television commercial marketing), were 35 percent on Saturday night, as opposed to 48.9 percent in 1999.

Peak viewing on Saturday night was when Barzilai took to the stage, with 1.45 million viewers tuned in. The figure dropped in Israel by 1:30 AM, when Barzilai was declared the winner.