The Best Jewish Music of 5779Part of: The Almas 5779
This year in Jewish music blessed us with two sets of sister bands with the last name Haim, Vampire Weekend’s most Jewish album yet, and the rise of gay Australian pop star Troye Sivan. The mainstreaming of Jewish musicians isn’t new (Barbra Streisand! Neil Diamond! Simon & Garfunkel! Lenny Kravitz!), but 5779 felt like a particularly big year for menschy musicians. The Almas for Music go to…
JUMP AHEAD: MUSICIANS / MUSIC / MISCELLANEOUS
Best Jewish Singer
Troye Sivan. We love Troye Sivan. Sivan, 24, was born in South Africa and raised in Australia in a Modern Orthodox family. He’s released two albums, Blue Neighborhood in 2015 and Bloom in 2018. Bloom was released just before the Jewish New Year last year, so its real impact was felt in 5779. Sivan was simply everywhere. He was profiled in Vogue (he did the iconic 73 questions!), he wrote Ariana Grande’s TIME 100 profile, and he released a song about 1999, called 1999, with Charli XCX.
And, he doesn’t shy away from his Jewishness. In a June 2019 profile in The New Yorker, we learned, “Last year, [Sivan] and Bixenman (whom his parents jokingly call Yakov Bixenstein) hosted their first Passover Seder. The guests included Ariana Grande, the model and actress Hari Nef, who narrated the Passover story from memory, and the actor Lucas Hedges, with whom Sivan starred in ‘Boy Erased.'” Bonus? In October 2018, two nice Jewish boys got engaged at a Troye Sivan concert at Radio City Music Hall, and he wished them a hearty “Mazel tov!”
Best Jewish Breakout Artist
King Princess. What makes queer Jewish pop icon Michaela Straus — better known as King Princess — worthy of this award? She stans Barbra Streisand and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, loves pickles, and, above all, she wrote a song called “Pussy Is God.” Straus is a non-practicing Jew, but her most popular songs drip with religious imagery. It’s her transparent, cutting lyrics that make her sensational, and we can’t wait to see what’s to come for our dream-pop royalty. (Read our interview with King Princess here.)
Our first runner up for this prestigious award is fellow bisexual icon Sabrina Teitelbaum, known as (bim bim) BAUM. Soaked in body positivity and self love, Teitelbaum’s lyrics and melodic voice make her the queer Jewish princess of dark pop, and mark our words: She’s about to blow up. (Read our interview with BAUM here.)
Best Jewish Rapper
Eden Derso. Eden Derso, a 21-year-old Ethiopian Israeli, is headed for superstardom. Vogue profiled her in April 2019, introducing her to the English-speaking world, and we’ve been obsessed ever since. She was born and raised in Rehovot, Israel (a city to the south of Tel Aviv), and although she started rapping in English, she soon switched to Hebrew. Even though we can’t necessarily understand what she’s rapping about (Hebrew school, you failed us), she sounds damn good.
Her debut album is called Keter Shakuf (כתר שקוף), which translates to “Transparent Crown.” She explains that as an Ethiopian Jew, “I know we live in a time where our color is considered a threat, but I choose that my music will focus on how beautiful we are, and [that] could be because I truly believe we have a transparent crown on our head.” Eden Derso hive, assemble!
Best Jewish Sister Band With the Last Name Haim
It’s a tie between HAIM and A-WA! Can you believe they are both Jewish sister bands with the last name Haim!? And they’re both making amazing music!? In an interview with Alma, Tair Haim (of A-WA), said of the band, Haim, “We love them and their style! And it’s so cool that we have the same last name. We actually met — they’re so nice! We played in L.A. last summer and two of them came to our show. We met Este and Alana, and they were so sweet. Of course, we make a different kind of music, and I don’t think we’re related or anything, but we really like them! I mean, what are the odds? It’s working for them, it’s working for us, and we hope to see them again.” Please, sisters Haim: collab. It’s all we want.
Jewiest Music Video
“This Life” by Vampire Weekend. Vampire Weekend’s latest album, Father of the Bride, is ridiculously Jewish (and not just because it features Danielle Haim prominently). They’re taking the award for Jewiest music video for “This Life” because of the prominence of a seder. Yes, a seder.
It was filmed during Coachella at a seder in Palm Springs, California, and led by Jewish producer Mark Ronson, using Goldberg Passover haggadahs.
Read more analysis of “This Life” here.
Runner up for Jewiest Music Video: “Sunflowers” by Vampire Weekend was also super Jewish! Surprise! It took place in a Jewish deli, starred Jerry Seinfeld, and was directed by Jonah Hill (truly, omfg). Honestly, “This Life” only won because it was so explicitly Jewish — but one could argue that Jewish delis are just as explicitly Jewish as seders.
“Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” by Vampire Weekend.
Oops, Vampire Weekend again! We told you this album was super Jewish! Alma contributor Rachel Myerson wrote about how “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” makes her feel seen on so many levels. Vampire Weekend lead singer Ezra Koenig sings about three centers of Jewish life and references the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (explanation of that here), Psalm 137 (the “If I forget you, O Jerusalem” one), that “genocidal feeling / that beats in every heart” (you know, anti-Semitism), and “three stones on a mountain” (the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Listen to the song here.
Best Jewish Concert
Ben Platt. Ben Platt went on tour this year for his album Sing To Me Instead, and it was incredible. As Alma contributor Deanna Schwartz writes in her review, “Obviously, I knew Ben Platt was Jewish. But I didn’t expect every other sentence spoken during his concert to be about him being Jewish — and I certainly didn’t expect for it to make me feel so at home.” On tour, he talked about going to Israel, coming out to his parents from a hotel in Tel Aviv, Jewish sleepaway camp, JSwipe, and so much more. We’re just so proud of him.
Runner up: Rachel Bloom’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live, where she asked “How many Jews are in the audience tonight?” and got a pretty enthusiastic response (including from most of the Alma staff).
Best Jewish Tiny Desk Concert
A-WA. Featuring their mix of Yemenite, electronic, and Arabic music, they shined in their NPR performance. They performed three songs – “Habib Galbi,” which went viral in 2016 as the first Arabic song to top the Israeli pop charts, and two songs off their new album, Batyti Fi Rasi (My Home Is In My Head). Watch here, they’re incredible.
Best Music Video Filmed at a Judaica Store
Rachel Bloom. Okay, this wasn’t technicalllllly a music video, it was more an attempt at a music video, but it’s really worth including. While doing a Q&A on Twitter about her Hanukkah comedy album, Suck It, Christmas!!!, Rachel Bloom’s husband, Dan Gregor, shared a snippet of filming in an Israeli Judaica store for the track “Judaica.” (And, fun fact, “Judaica” is her favorite track on the album!) Watch it here.
Best Haim Matching Outfit
It’s a tie between Haim and A-WA, again. Okay, we truly can’t decide. We love them both so much. And both trios of Haim sisters are very good at coordinating their #lewks. Here’s Este, Danielle, and Alana:
And Tair, Liron, and Tagel:
They keep their individuality while also looking cohesive as a unit. Sisters, y’all!
Best Troye Sivan Tweet
“I’m so proud to be Jewish.” We’ve already waxed on how much we love Troye Sivan, but something we didn’t mention is just how good he is at social media. (Guess it’s to be expected for a star who got his start on YouTube!) Our favorite Troye tweet?
Best Yiddish Ghost to Haunt a Musician
Post Malone’s Yiddish Ghost. We just want to remind you of this truly bonkers story. And with that, it ends The Almas for music!