By Amanda Weston
Growing up in Israel, young Netta Barzilai was made to feel ashamed about her looks and how she sounded. After becoming the first Israeli to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 20 years, Netta the international pop star is spreading messages of love and female empowerment.
The once-shy girl said the experience belting out her hit song "Toy" to hundreds of millions people around the world is "insane."
"You can't even take that in," Netta said Wednesday in an interview on Cheddar. "You say, 'OK, let's like try and turn 180 million people into a local bar.' It's like making people connect with you. You have to tell the truth in order for people to connect."
"Toy" has made it to the top of Spotify's Viral 50 and has more than 88 million views on YouTube. The international hit has found its way to the U.S. charts, registering on Billboard's dance and EDM lists.
Initially, she said she was advised to pursue a different image than her pop-star style. She said she was told to dress in black and sing soulful music similar to Aretha Franklin and Adele. But the Netta said her appeal is based on her authenticity.
"There's not a lot of plus-size singers doing pop, celebrating themselves being sexy. It's not considered OK, especially in Israel," she said. "Never have I seen someone looking like me, someone looking like my family. There's like only one color and only one kind of beauty, and it was very depressing to grow up as a child."
Netta got her start performing in bars, where she said she was paid in beer and improvised songs about people in the crowd. The more at ease she was performing how she wanted to perform, the more enthusiastic the response.
"I realized when I was like 18, when I was out of school and it was like, the silence all of a sudden," said Netta. "Okay, I can be whatever I want to be."
Netta has become a role model. She told the BBC she has received fan mail and messages from young boys and girls talking about accepting their differences. And she and Prince William met earlier this year on the British royal's visit to Israel; she said the two talked about being positive examples for young people, and how to change perspectives and break boundaries.
Netta was recently signed to S-Curve Records and is working on new music.