When Israeli singer Mergui took the stage at the Sun Rose in Los Angeles on Thursday night, it was clear the 22-year-old has some big-time backers in his corner. Chief among them: Haim Saban, the veteran businessman, philanthropist, owner of the Power Rangers IP and label head, who launched Saban Music Group in 2019, and was seated front and center (doubly-masked and wearing surgical gloves) to cheer on his latest signing. At Saban’s side was Universal Music Publishing Group chairman Jody Gerson and next to her, Aton Ben-Horin, head of global A&R for Warner Music Group. Elsewhere in the room was Saban CEO Gustavo Lopez, top music agents from CAA and UTA, APG founder Mike Caren, radio programmers and personalities.
For a new artist to have that many gatekeepers attend their first major U.S. showcase is the stuff of dreams. For Mergui, who, after finishing second on singing competition “Rising Star,” developed a successful career in his home country on the strength of a pair of Hebrew pop hits (in May, he opened for Maroon 5 in Tel Aviv, performing for tens of thousands), it marked an all-too-familiar restart for Israeli artists looking to break into the American market: back to zero.
But Mergui’s English-language debut arrives with some baggage, as his first single, “Sucks to Know You (FU)” demonstrates unapologetically in its snarling, guitar-driven chorus: “Fuck you / I hate you / I miss you / Sucks to know you.”
At the Sun Rose, Mergui didn’t name names, but did share some details. “Back in Israel, I dated another artist, and it was a unique relationship,” he said introducing the song “Falling.” “It was in front of the cameras. The media was almost sleeping in our bed.”
Earlier on Thursday during an interview with Variety, he confirmed that his ex Noa Kirel, the Israeli pop star who is herself working on crossing over internationally, is at the heart of his soon-to-be-released “Dark Side of the Rainbow” EP.
Of the four songs that make up the collection, “Sucks to Know You (FU)” is actually the last in a succession of tracks chronicling the dismantling of a relationship.
“It’s a post-relationship situation; we were already broken up,” Mergui explains. “It’s almost a fantasy of what will happen when you see your ex for the first time after a while. And what would you tell her? Because obviously there’s this tornado of feelings inside you, right? And you have a thousand things to say to her. But like you need to sum it up somehow. So I sum it up in those four things.” (Watch the video for “Sucks to Know You” below.)
Breakup records have been around since the dawn of commercial pop music and include seminal albums of heartbreak by such artists as Marvin Gaye, Alanis Morissette and Adele. Mergui’s process, it seems, turns sting to spite. (Worth noting: his “Sucks to Know You” drops a year after Noa Kirel released her debut single, “Please Don’t Suck,” in 2021, almost to the day. Coincidence?)
“We were kind of a power couple — very talked about, with cameras and media on us all the time,” Mergui shares. “You can only imagine how difficult it was for us.”
The EP’s title pretty much sums it up. “Everybody thought it was a rainbow,” he says of the time he and Kirel dated. “But deep down, I knew it wasn’t going to work. To fix it was complicated and tricky, so I looked aside and almost pretended that, you know, I got this.”
The video for “Sucks to Know You,” which was filmed in Croatia, addresses this breakdown in the form of a visual metaphor. “It’s like me pulling a car that doesn’t work anymore,” says Mergui. “When something in a car is broken or damaged, you can always fix it. But when the engine’s damaged, and there’s no love anymore, there’s nothing you can do.”
“Dark Side of the Rainbow” as a collection is “a relationship story from start to end,” Mergui continues, giving credit to collaborators like Israeli producers Johnny Goldstein and Jordi, singer Noga Erez (a labelmate of Kirel’s on Atlantic Records) and Mike Dean, producer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire who’s worked extensively with Kanye West and Travis Scott and is currently on tour with the Weeknd.
The EP’s not all sad, though. It ends on a positive note, titled “Paradise.” Says Mergui: “It’s the beginning of a new chapter. I already realized that it’s gone and I’m, like, accepting it and ready to move on and start all over again. It’s like what I’m doing here in the U.S.”
Mergui and Kirel haven’t talked in a minute, but he did recently reach out to let her know “it’s coming,” he says. “I felt the need to write her. She said, ‘I’m happy for you that it’s coming out.’ But we haven’t released it here [yet], so I don’t know how she’s going to respond.”
Three years of work led to four deeply personal songs, on which you can hear several of Mergui’s influences, including Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars. There was even a hint of Harry Styles in Mergui’s onstage swagger at the Sun Rose.
“It took time for me because, I knew who I was; I knew what I wanted to say; but I didn’t know, what is it going to sound like,” says Mergui, who also writes and produces. “I had to find my musical identity; build it brick by brick; and I feel like we found it.”
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