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Israeli Pop Starlets Ditch Substance for Sex Appeal—But Will It Sell?

A blonde bombshell wearing a gold lamé leotard and over-the-top Xena: Warrior Princess-style accessories ditches rapper Sean Kingston–you know, the chubby Jamaican kid from the 2007 hit “Beautiful Girls”–as she jumps from a golden airplane, landing in a group of dancers gyrating in the desert. A strawberry-blonde waif in knee-high socks is carried on a man’s back all the way from the suburbs of New York to Manhattan, pausing only to lie naked on a couch and strike teasing poses in the grass while singing a quirky, uber-chic pop song. A seductive brunette femme fatale in black lingerie is lying on the floor, singing a dramatic piano ballad with a slight lisp.

No, these aren’t low-budget soft-core porn films, they’re three music videos released in the past year. And the pop harlots starring in them are none other than Israel’s latest cultural exports—nice Jewish girls with a seriously sexy twist (though honestly, you’d never know they were Jewish).

The sky-diving diva? Israeli actress and singer Meital Dohan. Born and raised in a village outside Raanana, Dohan made it all the way from the IDF Entertainment Corps to land a recurring role as Yael Hoffman on the Showtime series Weeds. She also had a role in the 2010 dramatic thriller Monogamy, alongside Rashida Jones and Chris Messina.

The Xena-esque music video is for “On Ya”—as in, “I wanna be on ya, on ya”—which was released a few months ago in the United States. It’s the second single from her upcoming debut album, I’m In Hate With Love, which boasts producers like Rami Afuni of LMFAO and Che Pope, known for his work with Dr. Dre and Eminem. In the video for her clubby first single, “Yummy”, she plays a naked boxer in red leather knee-high boots—and two superimposed hot pink censor bars—who goes around town inexplicably punching people.

The little Lolita? Model, singer, and student Sivan Meller from Haifa, who adopted the convenient stage name Petite. She modeled for a while and later donned shiny leotards and embodied her nickname to perfection as the French-whispering, keyboard-playing, underage-seeming member of the electro-pop group Terry Poison. The band opened for Depeche Mode at the Ramat Gan Stadium, showcased at SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, and spent who knows how many nights playing club gigs throughout the world.

Now she’s launching a solo career in New York while finishing her thesis in the philosophy department of Tel Aviv University. Today she’s 30 going on 13—seriously, she hasn’t aged a bit—and in her debut video, “NYC Time,” released last summer, she falls back on reliable material, playing pouty Little Girl Lost who doesn’t like to wear much. She also, apparently, isn’t fond of walking; the bulk of the video features her listlessly being carried around by a large black man, walking from a small village into New York City. The rest of the video looks like a parody of smutty French Lolita films from the 1970s, and the fact that Petite is actually closer to middle age than barely legal makes it all the more confusing.

The brunette seductress? None other than Daniela Pick from Ramat Ha-Sharon, daughter of Israel’s most famous pop-star, Tsvika Pick. Known in Israel more as a celebrity than a singer, she entered the local music scene with her older sister Sharona as the pop-duo The Pick Sisters, and the highlight of her resume so far is dating Quentin Tarantino briefly in 2009.

Her new single, “Love Me,” is her third solo offering in English, following the Shakira-styled “Yalla Yalla” (recorded in London with well-known British producer Matt Schwartz) and a contemporary R&B rendition of Haddaway’s 1993 Eurodance hit, “What is Love”—immortalized by the Will Ferrell movie, A Night At the Roxbury. In that video, however, she opted for white lingerie instead of black.

These wannabe stars are prime examples of Israel’s latest attempt at Western pop culture dominance. All three women are around 30 years old, and, since slutty dance-pop never really crossed over into the Israeli mainstream, haven’t ever made it big in their home country. Now they’re angling for fame in the United States, shunning the earthy, exotic approach of Ofra Haza, the late Israeli singer who became one of the first world-music artists to reach crossover success on the pop charts, in favor of total assimilation—and hyper-sexualization.

As Petite eloquently explained in an interview for Tel Aviv magazine Achbar Ha-Ir: “Pop and sexuality go hand in hand.” In America, at least, that seems to be the case. From Madonna to Miley, American female pop culture icons have become overwhelmingly sexier, saucier, and more scantily clad. Ever since the gift of cable brought MTV to Israel in the early 1990s, instilling dreams of international stardom in the hearts of impressionable young girls across the country, they’ve felt just as much right to the pop throne as anyone else.

However, while American pop culture is eagerly absorbed by Israeli consumers, it hasn’t yet found a proper outlet. MTV-style dance-pop never found success the Israeli market, even when recorded in Hebrew. Israeli mainstream radio prefers its female singers sensitive and heart-broken, so if you grew up on Madonna and want to sing like her, your only option is to try and repackage it for the place it came from: America. Unfortunately, though, not only are these girls trying to sell ice to eskimos, their slushies aren’t exactly high quality.

Contemporary Israeli pop singers like Ninet Tayeb and Riff Cohen, trying to make it in the European market, established sophisticated personas to set themselves apart. But in America, sex sells—and if that’s where you want to go, it seems you’d better be prepared to put out. As Dohan, Petite, and Pick show, that certainly isn’t a problem. But while these women certainly can turn heads, can they make a lasting impression?

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