With a love for R&B and the sudden freedom to explore, where else does an Israeli singer go after the Israel Defense Forces to pursue music?
Motown Philly — or as singer-songwriter Hadar lovingly calls it, her “second Jerusalem.”
Hadar McNeill, whose first name is her stage name, moved to Philadelphia in 2010.
“I was straight out of the army,” she recalled, “and I knew that I wanted to explore singing outside of Israel just because I was influenced by pop music, international music.”
When she traveled to the United States for the first time, she happened upon Philadelphia — a great central location where she already knew some people.
Influenced by R&B music, she connected to Philly’s soulful roots and fell in love with the city — as well as her future husband, KJ McNeill.
“I love my city,” she said of her native Jerusalem. “There’s so much going on there outside of the obvious conflicts. I felt that it was very international and almost like another city in Europe.
“I can’t explain it, but [Philly] feels like my second home away from Israel.”
Hadar was classically trained, beginning in choir at the age of 7. Classical music composed her teen years, too, while studying at The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
Her parents wanted to give her the best musical education possible, but there weren’t enough professional facilities for contemporary or pop music in Israel.
But her passion for pop was always there.
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave her family, all of whom still live in Israel, but the 29-year-old said she felt she “needed to evolve as an artist.”
Growing up, her idol was Ofra Haza, a renowned Israeli singer, as well as Arik Einstein and some American influences like Prince, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston.
“I grew up on Israeli music, and it’s part of me,” she said. But her Israeli music background and discovery of Prince really influenced her sound, she added.
After some self-discovery, Hadar’s sound evolved to what is now electronic pop. She’s performed at shows around Philly and for the Jewish community, exploring her voice over the years until she found her niche.
Her husband also works as her producer. The couple married in 2013 and live in Wynnefield Heights.
“It wasn’t until we started working together [that] it helped me explore more of how I wanted to sound and what my voice as an artist would be,” Hadar said.
Hadar’s next project — a five-song EP called Simple Complex that was recorded in Philly — is set to be released early next year.
“It’s a project that is very young,” she said. “The messages behind it are very real and organic and document my journey through coping with anxiety and knowing how to feel comfortable in my own skin.”
She’s unsure why she struggles with anxiety — “maybe it’s my Jewish genes,” she joked — but she addresses it in her music, as the stigma associated with anxiety or depression is just now starting to dissipate in today’s society.
“It was taboo for so long,” she added. “For a long time, especially in my early 20s, I had felt like something was wrong with me. People make you feel like you’re crazy until you realize that you’re just normal and you’re just going through things that a lot of people are going through.”
Her music is individualistic, showcasing her journey to find the courage to openly and honestly be herself.
“When you have anxiety it feels like there’s something outside of you that’s taking over your body. Only people who experience it know what I’m talking about.”
One song in particular, “Incomplete,” was written for History Unerased, an LGBTQ organization that tries to bring LGBTQ history into classrooms, which she performed at Outfest last month.
“As somebody who has been writing about feeling comfortable in my own skin, writing a song to represent History Unerased … has to represent the community and this idea that there’s parts of our story, as a community, as a people, that people didn’t tell us about.”
Though she travels for concerts or other events, she remains tied to her new Philly roots.
“There’s something really warm and embracing about the people of Philadelphia,” she said. “They’re very connected to where they are.”