Every summer, the whole of Israel is set to a smash anthem, which generally takes the form of a kitschy Mizrahi pop song. Last year it was “Derech HaShalom,” a love song about a man who picks up a woman in a cafe on a hot night for a one-night stand; in 2013, it was “Tel Aviv,” written for the city’s Gay Pride parade, about how Tel Aviv is full of hot men. This year, the surprise hit is a satirical love ballad, also in the style of Mizrahi pop, about a man who hops from one woman to the other … and then onto a grouper (yes, the fish).
“Sweeter Than Life” (“Metuka MeHachaim”), the deliberately cringe-inducing lyrics tell the tale of an easily distracted man propelled from one fling to another by love at first sight, promising to give each sweetheart “everything she doesn’t have.”
The hit is the work of Eretz Nehederet (“A Wonderful Country”), which is Israel’s answer to Saturday Night Live. It’s sung by actor Asi Cohen, in the guise of Mizrahi pop singer Dadi Dadon. When it aired in May, it broke the internet (and it’s been broadcast so often on the radio that I didn’t even realize it was a parody until the lyrics were pointed out to me). The hit has already accumulated 6.3 million views on YouTube, nearly equivalent to the world’s total Hebrew-speaking population.
The song tells the story of man who starts off in Zara, where he gives a beautiful woman his space in the line at the department store—and promises to give her anything else she wants. They progress to a café, where he dumps her for the waitress. These two hit the beach, where the waitress doesn’t want to swim because she’s just had her hair blow-dried, so the man dumps her for a grouper. He and the lady fish set sail for Rhodes, Greece. But after the flight back to Ben Gurion, the female taxi driver asks him for his address, and again he promises to give her that and whatever else she wants, and the chorus repeats.
If the song sounds risibly bad, that is because it is—and self-indulgently so. It very self-consciously rips off the genre of Mizrahi pop, with its goo-goo-eyed protagonists salivating over their sweethearts. And precisely because it is so irreverent, Israelis are going wild.
In his article “Israel’s Happiness Revolution,” Tablet contributor Matti Friedman wrote that “Mizrahi songs are supposed to express the authentic spirit of the place they’re from without putting on airs.” And there is little more that is authentically Israeli than a desire to stop taking everything so seriously and just have a good time. In “Sweeter Than Life,” Israelis have a hit that encourages them not to take their own musical culture seriously and to embrace the absurd. Far from merely ridiculing national culture, then, this satire is an expression of it. And for a country where summers are now synonymous with wars, that self-deprecating humor is a vital and healthy national characteristic.