Netta Barzilai

Fierce, self-loving, and powerful are three words to describe Netta Barzilai.

The songwriter was Eurovision 2018’s winning entry with the smash hit Toy, giving Israel its first win in 20 years. Undoubtedly Eurovision was an experience that brought Barzilai’s music to an international audience, positively impacting her music career for the better. Since then, she’s dropped an array of interesting EPs with Goody Bag & The Best Of Netta’s Office – Volume 1.  Alongside those projects, she’s also starred in Netflix’s The Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga alongside Will Ferrell and Rachel Mcadams. Now her latest musical release is a collaboration with Afrobeat artist Mr Eazi entitled Playground Politica. It’s a fun and imaginative tune. 

1883 sat down with Netta Barzilai to discuss Playground Politica, Eurovision, and more.



You were born and raised in Nigeria throughout your formative years. How much does this period of your life influence your creativity, especially as you attended a school that had such a range of cultures?

I owe a lot of who I am to the school I went to. I grew up with two kids from Nigeria, a girl from Japan, and a boy from England. There was so much for me to experience and learn there. All cultures were celebrated, and I knew Japanese nursery rhymes and Israeli songs from my home, because everyone was so different there were no options for groups, so everyone was the same, you didn’t notice physical differences. We grew up in a fairytale place funded by the UN, I was a very happy child. I was encouraged to imagine and given the space to express myself. 


Speaking of nursery rhymes, your new single Playground Politica featured the nursery rhyme ‘Nadneda’. What made you include the swingset as a place of comfort for you when writing this song?

Whenever I am in motion, even to this day, I have an easier time running away. I was very sad in school when we went back to Israel. The school kids noticed things about me in a bad way and it gave me a flight or fight situation – I chose flight because there was no other way for me. In retrospect, motion is very meditative.

When it was time to go home after school my mother would find me on the swing and I would refuse to get off it. When I was on the swing…I felt like I was back in Africa. This nursery rhyme is from the early 1900s, so for me, it’s an acute analogy of going back.


Afrobeats artist Mr Eazi also features on your latest track, what makes this collaboration special to you?

When we finished the track, the only sound was me and it felt very alone. The song was desperate for friendship, I needed someone else on the track to make others understand my happy place. I’d been listening to a lot of Grime and Afropop and I needed somebody who I believed fit me. I am a chilli pepper and I needed milk. I needed somebody who is soothing, smooth, intelligent and addictive. All this stuff is Mr Eazi.

At the time he was wanting to focus on his own stuff, but he played a load of different collaboration songs he got offered in his recording studio in front of other people and my track came on and he liked it. During the process  we found out that I’m born in 1991 and he was born in 1993, in a parallel universe we could have been in the same class. It felt like the world was telling us we were meant to meet and that we were doing the right thing.


In a recent interview on The Zach Sang Show, you talk about making the switch from Indie, blues and jazz music to making Pop music and how performing at blues nights or open mic nights gave you more confidence as an individual. What was the journey in reaching this point and do you still find it scary being vulnerable?

I was a very socially awkward girl. I found myself in very niche groups and as a 13-year-old I would go around in a Metallica T-shirt with the metal heads and then listen to Britney when I was back home. As I grew up, I was also convinced to think that if I wanted to be a singer, I should conform to playing the ‘Big Mama’ part – because I am big I would fit into everyone’s mould. When I started performing at Blues nights I understood the job of the bassist and the drummer and when an audience is interested or not, but also how to control that. All of a sudden I felt I was being myself and felt special. I started experimenting with clothes, I no longer needed my friends to come with me to push me. I remember buying a big yellow fisherman’s raincoat and that was my thing. Every week at Jam night I did something new, then suddenly realised I was drawn to Pop. I bought a loop machine and started experimenting, I understand it’s vulnerable but it’s very rewarding.


Throughout lockdown, you had a YouTube series which provided your audience with covers and improv ideas from your fans. Tell us about the song I Love My Nails…

I’ve been on a very long journey with who I am. I thought I was invisible to a point where I thought nobody could come for me. I changed that and fell in love with a very toxic man and all of a sudden I was spiralling. I felt so small again, I felt sorry for myself. The line, “I’ve been diving down deep into the blue” comes from finding it soothing to be on your own. One of the things that lifted me and made me feel better was doing my nails. It was an important lesson to learn not to let my guard down and not take things for granted. I feel it’s a cuter thing to say, ‘I Love My Nails’ Instead of, ‘I Love Myself’. 


You won the Eurovision song contest in 2018 with your song, Toy. The lyrics posed a feminist message against sexual harassment for all women. Do you remember how you felt at the time of your win?

I felt like It was bigger than me. It felt like we had just done something a lot bigger than just standing on stage and singing a song. We as a delegation connected with not only women but everyone who had been bullied, used or overpowered. I had so many messages from little girls to women who need to face their offenders in court or little boys who are laughed at for being feminine at school. 


How did being a contestant in a competition so global help to strengthen your musical career?

I was literally nobody before Eurovision. I didn’t have any music of my own out, not even on youtube or across socials. I didn’t have a career my biggest dream was that I might be a backup singer .‘Toy’ was my first single ever and it was fate. It all happened very fast, It’s not like the other stories from Eurovision winners where people have a tremendous peaking career before, for me it was everything. All these questions of what my voice and music meant to me and other people came after, all because of a reality show final.


You also featured in the Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga film in 2020. What was it like to be behind the scenes and united with fellow Eurovision contestants?

It was actually really amazing. Myself, Conchita and Loreen were sitting together eating scrambled eggs and found it funny talking about the Eurovision fans who would actually kill somebody to sit at this table. It was like a reunion of all the winners. It was fun and we all really enjoyed it. Will Ferrell was incredible and Rachel Mcadams is stunning. The whole experience of being in a trailer and doing our make-up together was so much fun.


Speaking with you it’s clear you are a massive advocate for change and diversity within your art. How has your time in the Israeli Navy Band affected your music?

In the Navy Band, I’ve learnt how to perform for people who are not very interested in seeing me. Everything in the military is mandatory, you have to sing for troops whilst having no idea if they will enjoy it. You just have to go and perform for them. They can be tired or hungry, but you’re there to make them happy. Really it’s where I learnt how to perform.


Lastly, your chart-topping hit Bassa Saba was featured on Just Dance 2020. Within the music video, you present yourself as a pink rhino, you also refer to your fans as little rhinos. What’s the message behind this?

The Rhino originates from when I was a kid. I was called a rhino because I was aggressive and I was very loud, almost violently loud and so because I was big people were afraid. I decided to reclaim this body shaming that people put on me when I was young. I created this pink rhino concept for myself. Shortly after this, it was Israeli Halloween which we call Purim, and as a kid, you all have to dress up for school. The obvious choice for me was to go as a Disney Princess I liked. I went as Jasmine in the second grade and I remember people really laughing at me, telling me I didn’t look like that character because I was fat. The Purim after ‘Bassa Saba’ I had thousands of chubby girl pictures of other girls dressed like the rhino. They had finally found someone to dress up as. I was so happy I cried.


Playground Politica is out now. Follow Netta Barzilai @nettabarzi

Interview by Moe Noble


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