Eurovision is an international song contest featuring over forty countries that send in an original song to be performed live that battle it out for ratings and votes from both international juries and viewers at home. As an American, I had no stakes in my country winning. After reading an article so close to the point that it can’t even see it, I thought I’d write my defense of Netta’s “Toy” that won Eurovision 2018 for Israel after a twenty-year drought. While I thoroughly enjoy “Toy,” I admit that it is not the best song in Eurovision history, nor for this year. However, it is a highly successful song and to ignore that fact is to completely miss the point of how winners are produced.
To start off, “Toy” is written by Doron Medalie and Stav Beger, and Doron admitted in an interview that it was inspired by the #MeToo movement. The lyrics contained within the song are a clear echoing of it with lyrics with empowerment like “My ‘Simon says’ leave me alone,” “Wonder Woman don’t you ever forget/ You’re divine, and he’s about to regret,” and the obvious “I’m not your toy.” Some people flavor their feminism with more robust power behind it while criticizing masculine gender roles, like in this case, and that’s not everyone’s flavor. The article “The Worst Song Won Eurovision,” by Jackson, situates the song with “commercialized empowerment feminism.” While Netta herself appears to believe in the message, that is the exact purpose of the song: a marketable sort of feminist anthem.
The aspect of pop culture (in other words, commercialism) is one of the significant aesthetics to the song, along with the imagery. Japan has tons of mascots, even for things like trains. Mascots help for advertising purposes, along with creating merchandise to be sold in addition to whatever the service is in the first place. Pikachu is mentioned explicitly in the lyrics, calling an homage to a character of a franchise that generates an estimated $1.5 billion a year. Netta herself admits to being quite the Pokemon fan, so the connection is valid as to why it would be included in the song at all. Additionally, the Maneki Neko statues in the background serve as a reminder to the commercialization by their ideals of bringing good fortune, inviting happiness, and bringing prosperity to business. The cats featured in the stage were all gold, which alludes to “intense wealth,” which a song like this can produce. Even at the most basic level, the entire second verse is about money and rejecting the idea of a man with lots of money.
Another aspect of the song is calling out a specific type of men that act like chickens through stylistic choices. The chicken imagery is playful and is incorporated mainly through her use of beatboxing, but along with imitating chicken sounds. The wind instruments in the beginning even resemble chicken noises. Something else that Jackson mentioned in her article that also serves the purpose of the song entirely was the inclusion of the Japanese word “Baka,” which means stupid. It also clearly evokes the chicken percussiveness and sounds like the rest of the beatboxing, and even the use of “motherbucka” instead of the alternate swear word.
The theme of this year’s contest was “All Aboard,” using the imagery of the logo to promote “diversity, respect, and tolerance,” all of which “Toy” accomplishes. Whether it’s entirely genuine or not is another point. It is unique through her use of beatboxing and vocal looping to provide layers through her pop genre, and the evocation of specific imagery. Eurovision claims that there are no political involvements in the show, although in the past—looking at you Ukraine in 2016— there are clear glimpses that the opposite is just as true as well. She wasn’t the first choice by the jury, but the fans who are being sold the image of this sort of feminism ate it up. It wanted to sell, and it sold. It’ll loop around in your head like it did on the looper on stage. Who doesn’t love a good excuse to sing along to a sassy song with chicken noises?