Madonna's Israel Trip for Eurovision Finale Has Billionaire Backer Aiming to Bolster Country's Image
The pop icon's "problematic" new song reportedly proved an obstacle in negotiations over the performance.
With a month to the start of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, the addition of the Queen of Pop has raised the stakes.
Following weeks of speculation, Live Nation Israel announced Monday that Madonna will serve as the interval act in the Grand Final of the annual singing competition on May 18. The performance is set to coincide with promoting her new album, with a world tour expected to follow.
Madonna is expected to take the stage at the halfway mark of the final night singing a back-catalogue favorite and "a new song from her upcoming album," per the official announcement by Live Nation Israel.
Israeli news website Ynet revealed last month that the content of the new song proved an obstacle throughout negotiations. According to the report, there was concern within the local Eurovision production about what has been described as a "problematic" song, with fears that its theme might include a political message on stage, something organizers want to avoid.
Eldad Koblenz, who heads Kan, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, reportedly urged local producers to back off and not interfere with the entertainer's artistic choices and the matter was resolved soon after.
Politics and ongoing calls by the Palestinian-led movement Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), and its vocal ally, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, have grown as a point of contention leading up to this year's Eurovision.
"Israel is shamelessly using Eurovision as part of its official Brand Israel strategy, which presents 'Israel's prettier face' to whitewash and distract attention from its war crimes against Palestinians," read a January statement by BDS.
Madonna, who is managed by Guy Oseary, an Israeli-American businessman, is a strategic coup for organizers. She has advocated for peace, including during visits to Israel where she closed her 2008-2009 Sticky & Sweet World Tour and kicked off her 2012 MDNA World Tour.
Her appearance this year was made possible thanks to a powerful financial backer.
Jewish-Canadian philanthropist Sylvan Adams -- whose real estate mogul father Marcel Adams has long helped finance concerts in Israel by such artists as Elton John, Justin Bieber and Leonard Cohen -- reportedly put up $1.35 million to secure Madonna.
Last year, Adams was behind bringing the multi-stage bicycle race Giro d'Italia to Jerusalem, the biggest sporting event ever in Israel. A self-proclaimed Zionist who recently started a cultural fund to help draw big name artists to perform in Israel, Adams' business partner Danny Ben Naim told Ynet that securing Madonna for Eurovision was a way to "increase the exposure and media coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest itself ... as well as of the wonderful people and beauty of the State of Israel." That likely includes strengthening Israel's image globally and fighting off boycott efforts.
Madonna's presence as a high caliber guest artist in the European mega event is not without precedent. Three years ago, Justin Timberlake, fresh off a promotional visit to the Cannes Film Festival in support of Trolls, stopped by the 2016 Eurovision in Stockholm to perform his later Oscar-nominated "Can't Stop the Feeling" and popular staple "Rock Your Body."
The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Tel Aviv on May 14-18.