Whatever the bookies said prior to Saturday night, I think it’s safe to say Sam Ryder’s second-placed victory (if that’s not too oxymoronic) took us all by surprise.
Whether down to Great British pessimism or simply the fact we’ve had some truly dismal results in recent years, there were moments at this year’s Eurovision that didn’t quite seem real. I’m not talking about the dancing fluorescent wolves or the lecture on Italian hand gestures – that stuff’s all par for the course on Eurovision. Of course, I’m referring to the UK’s victory in the jury vote, and subsequent second-placed finish overall.
Indeed, Sam Ryder’s runner-up place was the best result we’ve received since 1998, when Imaani sang ‘Where Are You?’. The answer to that thumping house track’s title, sung more than two decades ago has now been answered: we’re back to believing this is a competition we can win.
Ultimately, despite what some argue, Eurovision remains as much a popularity contest as anything else. Therefore there’s little doubt Ukraine deserved their victory. The buck-hat-wearing, flute-playing (it’s actually called a sopilka), folk rap group romped to the top of the table with an astounding 439 public votes – a symbolic show of support for the war-torn country from across Europe.
The fact the group, led by 27-year-old frontman Oleh Psiuk, have said they are likely to return to the frontline in the war against Russia from today puts it all into perspective. As did the fact the country’s broadcaster announced the results in tears, in an underground bunker.
With this in mind, Sam’s result is something of a triumph. Avoiding the same nul points situation as last year would have been something to at least smile about. Coming second now opens up new opportunities for the TikTok star.
For one thing, his intergalactic anthem ‘Space Man’ is likely to receive a hearty boost in the charts. Just five Eurovision acts in the last 15 years have turned their new-found acclaim into Top 10 chart success in the UK – were Sam to achieve that, it would mark another celebratory moment.
Sam will also now likely receive even more attention from his Parlophone label, seeking to capitalise on his European success.
Even prior to Saturday night, the label’s co-presidents Nick Burgess and Mark Mitchell were hailing ‘Space Man’ as not only being the song that convinced them to sign him, but “a true British song in [the tradition of the music] legacies of David Bowie, Queen and Elton John”. Strong words indeed. The Eurovision result will only strengthen their views on it.
Credit this year should also be given to TaP Music – the music management and publishing company who were tasked back in October to pick this year’s entrant for this year.
Skirting around the name John Newman (our unsuccessful act from last year), TaP’s co-founder Ben Mawson said about the selection process earlier this year: “For many years, we’ve witnessed the United Kingdom not doing as well as we would’ve liked, when pop music is something we usually excel at. The simple fact is it’s time to show what we can do and the wonderful musical talent we have – ultimately we can’t blame politics”.
Consequently, the company behind Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey opened the floor up to more experienced performers. Only, they then took something of a risk.
It might have appeared obvious to select the musician with the largest TikTok following in the UK; after all, if Eurovision is a numbers game when it comes to the public, then he already had a strong base to call on (even if you can’t vote for your own country, there’s a possibility some of his audience is based in mainland Europe).
What’s impressive about Sam, though, is his evident vocal range – as well as his strong look, with blonde, billowing hair. Questions remain as to whether some TikTok stars will be able to muster the showmanship of a live performance, having built their audiences through closer, intimate performances through the cameras on their phones.
Sam defies that approach, often bellowing his songs whilst skilfully climbing through the musical scales. His performance was never going to be a delicate affair.
Of course, relatively well-known names have done well for us in the past. Bucks Fizz, the 1981 winners, and Katrina and the Waves of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ fame also came top in 1997 with ‘Love Shine a Light’.
@samhairwolfryder OK! NOW WE NEED YOU ALL 🎉💛👩🏼🚀 VOTING IS OPEN NOW!!! Download the @eurovision app, find my name and smash the vote button 20 times for the UK 🙏🏻 LOVE YA ALL 💫💛 #eurovision2022 #fyp ♬ original sound – Sam Ryder
But something seems especially different for Sam Ryder, who can perhaps find similar widespread appeal as Måneskin. The Italian glam rock band’s return performance this year as reigning champions, highlighted how they’ve push beyond being just a Eurovision act. A sold-out tour in Europe and forthcoming shows in America will do likewise.
Having successfully built an audience of over 11.5 million followers even prior to appearing on Eurovision, Sam has shown he’s a pop star for the digital age, too.
“Eurovision is a beautiful, gorgeous moment in time that you’ve got to move past,” he recently told Music Week, in a suggestion he was already looking toward the future. “Just like anything in life, if you dine out on something, it quickly becomes quite sad, doesn’t it? So you just need to be present, experience it, live it, breathe it and move on as soon as it’s done.”
He’s also said he’s got singles “ready to go” and will be playing a number of festivals this summer. He’s even going, not quite to space, but to South Korea for some shows too.
No doubt our dazzling blonde hero will continue to be an incredible ambassador for the UK and keep up the work on improving the UK’s diplomatic relations. (No, Boris, not you).