People think world peace will come from politicians, but really it will come from musical artists like Britney Spears. Take Israel, for example, a nation mired in white-hot political strife since it was established in 1948. None of its heroic leaders — Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres — were able to create a lasting peace in the Middle East. Yitzhak Rabin, one of the most passionate peacemakers of our time, was assassinated by a far-right extremist. Pop stars and rock and rollers on the other hand, come to Israel, play to sold-out crowds and unite Arabs and Jews in song and dance in a way no government ever could.
Enter Spears, who on July 3 will join an ever-expanding list of musicians before her — Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Madonna — and perform for droves of twerking fans at Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park, the same venue where Michael Jackson made a stop on his 1993 “Dangerous” world tour, doing the moonwalk on stage as frenzied concertgoers screamed his name.
This is no small thing. Between Roger Waters’ divisive and counterproductive (and, thus far, failed) movement to boycott Israel — he tried to get Radiohead to cancel their July 19 show, their fourth in Tel Aviv, but they’ve refused — and ever-mounting international pressure from all sides, not every musical act follows through on its plan to perform in the Holy Land. So when they do, it’s cause for celebration, a clarion call of collective cultural pride. Spears’ concert (estimated to have a price tag of roughly $2 million) sends a loud message to the world that Israel, with its wounds and flaws and kosher McDonald’s on Ben Yehuda Street, is really just like any other country.
It comes as no surprise then that El Al, Israel’s official airline and Britney’s ride-in-the-sky come July, wanted to extend a hearty shalom to the multi-platinum Grammy-winning princess of pop. The resulting tribute video, a send-up of Spear’s flirty dance groove “Toxic” off her 2003 “In the Zone” album, is cheeky and fun, with El Al flight attendants lip-synching to the song while handing out pillows and rolling a beverage cart down the airplane aisle. It’s a (much tamer) nod to the original music video for “Toxic,” in which the singer, dressed in a futuristic blue stewardess uniform, slithers around the main cabin seducing its passengers. It’s a video that says, we love you Britney, and we hope you love us back.
Because that’s really all Israelis want.
Truth is, it’s not even so much about Spears’ music; it hasn’t been about her music for at least a full decade. “Oops!…I Did It Again” is one of the most genius songs ever recorded, but not because it’s profound, but because it’s simple and catchy and never pretends to be anything it’s not. It’s pure bubblegum, and that’s what people want these days — that’s what people need. They’re fed up with talk of walls and red lines and hate-filled rhetoric. They want Britney, singing (and lip-synching) her tuchas off, parading around in skimpy costumes, maybe wearing a snake around her neck. They want something light and magical and fun. They want to feel free.
And Britney Spears is as liberating as they come. She’s wields an umbrella like nobody’s business. She’s outrun paparazzi. She cracks gum during interviews. She’s crumbled and overcome. What Israelis love about Britney Spears — what everybody loves about Britney Spears — is that she’s nowhere close to perfect. She’s messy, but also shockingly beautiful. Which is pretty much how one could describe Israel.
El Al’s video is not only a thank you note to Spears, but a fiercely clever marketing strategy for an airline that many Israelis and international travelers have forsaken for the cheaper Turkish Airlines. Why pay through the teeth for in-flight bagels and a mini-can of Coke with Hebrew lettering when you can change planes in Istanbul for half the price? But now that Britney’s flying El Al, it’s cool again, if in a nostalgic 1990s sort of way. It reminds you that a trip to any foreign nation doesn’t begin when you land — but when you take off. You want the stale bagel at 35,000 feet, no matter what the cost.
Especially if Britney’s going to have it, too.
Watch El Al’s video below: