*The opinions made in this article only reflect those of the writer; it is not representative of the views of the entire Phoenix team, the EBU, Eurovision or the BBC*
I start writing this article in the early hours of May 15th 2022, merely a couple of hours ago Sam Ryder provided the UK’s 16th-second place in the Eurovision Song Contest, and most importantly, delivered arguably one of the best performances from the UK to hit the Eurovision stage to date.
Sam Ryder gave the UK something they haven’t had since 2002 – a potential winner. 2009, 2011, 2014 & 2017 are all highly regarded when it comes to UK entries whether the results reflect it or not, but did any of them have a real chance of making it to the top?
It’s safe to say from even the reaction from casual viewers, Sam had achieved his mission. He’d changed the perception of Eurovision in the UK, nevertheless giving the citizens a chance to see their country actually at the top of the scoreboard after winning the jury vote – a position untouched by the United Kingdom since early on in the 2011 voting when Blue received the crucial 10 points to reach first place for around 2 minutes.
So what did the BBC get right in 2022? In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the BBC, the TaP Music collaboration, Sam Ryder as a representative, and of course that result in the final on May 14th. Firstly though, let’s take a look at where this all began…
2021: The Aftermath of ‘Embers’
This time last year, the United Kingdom had just come last – ‘Embers’ by James Newman had received the UK’s second 0 points ever in a new system where that result should be – or was thought to be – extremely unachievable. The calls to withdraw were high, politics had overtaken the general population’s consensus to explain the poor result & the BBC were being begged by Eurovision fans to do better. I myself wrote an article about the situation & discussed the factors that may have come into play in 2021, and asked the question we were all thinking – ‘what’s next for the UK in Eurovision?’
James Newman gets a lot of criticism for his performance and most of it was technically out of his control. He may not have been the best live performer in the world, but was that his fault? The BBC had selected a man who’d only ever written songs for some of the country’s biggest artists over the years (Little Mix, Olly Murs, Louis Tomlinson, Calvin Harris, ZAYN, Jess Glynne etc.), had only featured on tracks he’d written for DJ’s, had no previous live performing ability on top of the fact he had to make a new song after the 2020 contest was cancelled. The BMG collaboration the BBC had struck up seemed almost non-existent by the time James reached Rotterdam & the polystyrene trumpets they used for staging rendered the use of pyrotechnics for a song literally with the lyric “light up the room” pointless in case they set the prop on fire.
After this, the UK hit a new rock bottom. Two consecutive last places (‘Bigger Than Us’ by Michael Rice also came 26th in 2019) led to an angry and frustrated collection of fans and even casual viewers (often referred to as ‘locals’) to question what’s next and to just relentlessly ask whoever the admin was of the BBC Eurovision social accounts & delegation member Lee Smithurst to do something, anything, to prove to Europe that the UK were worthy of points in Eurovision. I’ll go on record to say I personally don’t think ‘Embers’ as a studio track is a bad song, it was just the entire lead-up to and then the situation at Eurovision that let the song down.
The BBC’s BMG collaboration had clearly collapsed at some point in the process – whether it was before or after Eurovision is unknown, but if a record label couldn’t help, one of the country’s BRIT award-winning songwriters couldn’t provide a result, the ‘You Decide’ national final format was serving mainly bottom 5 results & the internals weren’t working either – what do the UK even do?
Cue TaP Music…
The TaP Music Collaboration
On October 21st 2021, the BBC announced via their social media that they’d be partnering with management company TaP Music in order to find a song and artist for Eurovision 2022. There were obvious reservations – the BMG partnership didn’t go to plan – and their choice to lead with a list of artists TaP manage (Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey, Ellie Goulding etc.) made people wary they were over-promising.
TaP Music’s co-founder Ben Mawson told The EuroTrip Podcast:
There is a general cynicism from the British public which isn’t shared in Europe […] everyone takes it [Eurovision] very seriously and we don’t.
We’re going to take it seriously and we are gonna apply everything we apply to the development of an artist and finding the right song […] we want to try and do is get everyone behind what we are doingBen Mawson, The EuroTrip Podcast
Ben also told MusicWeek.com
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 politicsBen Mawson, Music Week
The attitude from TaP Music had fans excited & hopeful. After years of having hopes dashed by the BBC’s solo efforts (and BMG), hearing a company be so open to sending something reflective of British music & actually taking Eurovision as the serious music show it should be was great to hear.
The BBC went silent again until TaP provided an update to Music Week in January 2022 on the process. TaP artists such as Lana Del Rey, Elton John, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Dua Lipa all provided their full support to TaP ahead of Eurovision at this time.
Ben and Ed have always liked a challenge, proud of them for taking this on…and I’ll be wishing them and the UK the best of luck on the nightLana Del Rey, Music Week
The other co-founder of TaP, Ed Millett, said:
The challenge has been finding a talent that has both an incredible voice – because live vocals to 200 million people is no easy feat – as well as having incredible stage presence and an unforgettable song – it is the Song Contest after all. The reason we want to do this, whether our act tops the leader board or not, is to do something special on stage that the UK can be proud ofEd Millett, Music Week
Following on from this, there were no further updates until rumours began to emerge surrounding TikTok singer Sam Ryder…
Sam Ryder & Changing Attitudes
On March 10th 2022, it was officially confirmed that ‘Space Man’ by Sam Ryder was to represent the UK in Turin at Eurovision 2022. The song was released on February 22nd 2022, and was getting airplay on Radio 1 prior to this announcement.
Sam Ryder rose to prominence in 2020, after his TikTok video singing ‘Baby One More Time’ by Britney Spears went viral. He’s the most followed UK artist on the platform, with 12.8 million followers. He also had a back catalogue of music, including a recently released EP ‘The Sun’s Gonna Rise’ which featured songs such as ‘Tiny Riot’ & ‘More’. Sam obviously wasn’t unknown & could be considered fairly established especially with his success slowly growing towards the end of 2021, but he also wasn’t a household name.
Sam was put forward by Scott Mills (UK commentator & BBC Radio 1 DJ) after he’d seen him perform live. Following discussions with TaP, Sam agreed to do Eurovision. Scott Mills then went on a “positivity mission” ahead of the announcement for Sam, in order to start getting people on board with the contest again.
The song received mainly positive reviews from fans. It was labelled ‘authentic’, with some saying it felt very ‘British’. There were worries that the UK was sending yet another man with a pop-style track after the last two years, but overall people’s energy directed towards this song was far more confident from both national & international fans.
In Sam’s first BBC Radio 1 interview following the artist announcement, he told Scott:
[The] need for positivity around the whole thing, it’s so crucial, hopefully we can do that this yearSam Ryder, BBC Radio 1, March 10th 2022
The same day, Sam appeared on The One Show for his first performance of ‘Space Man’ on TV. Whilst on the show, he told hosts Alex Jones and Ronan Keating:
It was really important for me to not let that fear of the stigma get in the way of just being a part of something that I love with all my heart, what an honour, I’m so stoked.Sam Ryder, The One Show
‘Space Man’ was never intended for the contest, and was written just as a single for Sam to release generally. This was something fans had been waiting for. For the last 7 years, the UK had sent songs made specifically for the contest and as seen in the 2021 contest, songs that were more true to the artist’s style did the best (‘Zitti E Buoni’ 🇮🇹, ‘Voilà’ 🇫🇷, ‘Tout L’univers’ 🇨🇭 etc.).
‘Space Man’ was written about a year and a half ago […]. ‘Space Man’ was never intended to be the Eurovision song, but it was such a special song even then cause at that point I was sharing covers online […] it still wasn’t enough to kind of, if we say your music career is a series of rooms, move me to the next room, but ‘Space Man’ was the song that got that job done and I’m so grateful that day happened , it changed my life.Sam Ryder, ‘Road To Eurovision’ Documentary
As for the 2020 & 2021 contests, the BBC produced a ‘Road To Eurovision’ documentary. This documentary followed Sam from the day of his announcement to Eurovision 2022. You can watch it below:
Sam began to pick up fans along the way over pre-party season. Not only was he humble, but also so dedicated to changing the UK’s perception of Eurovision. Sam’s goal wasn’t to give half his energy to the contest, do what previous contestants have done – remove all traces of it from their social media and just move on. He made it his mission not only as a Eurovision fan but also as a representative of the country to do everything he could to make Eurovision appreciated in the UK again & something worthwhile for his career.
I wanna come home after May 14th and feel that I was on that stage singing with the same intention that I was singing with since I first fell in love with singing and it was a way of expressing joy and finding happiness, it means everything to me. […] I hope Eurovision is an extension of that journey, I’m not looking for validation outside of that energy, I’m excited for what the future holds.Sam Ryder, ‘Road To Eurovision’ Documentary
Sam also from the start was extremely vocal about changing the UK’s attitude, which followed him to Eurovision. He wouldn’t buy into the Brexit narrative, didn’t care for how many points he received and what the future would hold – he was simply happy to be there, and just hoped to give the country something to be proud of once again.
The level of songwriting, performance, musicianship – it keeps elevating every year and that’s why I’m so excited for not just the distant future of Eurovision but the immediate future especially in the UK cause I feel a shift in the attitude, there’s a new, younger audience getting involved through apps like TikTok and I think it’s gonna be incredible, it already is incredible, but it’s changing and I think it’s gonna become absolutely unstoppable and I really am looking forward to the moment it’s starting to launch careers in the UKSam Ryder, ‘Road To Eurovision’ Documentary
Before Eurovision, Sam took part in all Pre-Parties aside from Madrid and Israel Calling and performed on TV across Europe including in Bulgaria and Serbia. He also appeared on Radio & TV in Belgium, The Netherlands and San Marino, to name a few. He went on a UK press tour of TV and radio before and during his time in Turin.
Sam’s momentum began to skyrocket as soon as the staging photos came out. A strong pre-party run that showed his live vocal capabilities and stage presence aided this momentum, but when the first rehearsals began, it was only then that Sam was seen as a real threat for the trophy. Worries about the staging based on prior showings from the BBC were gone – this staging concept was Sam’s idea, and worked perfectly for the song. His odds began to rise and going into the Eurovision week, he remained in the top 4, sitting mainly at 2nd behind Ukraine.
Sam was the ideal UK representative. He was driven, had a great attitude, was not afraid to take on the ‘it’s all political’ standpoints, was engaged with fans and most importantly, was just incredibly likeable – which came across on stage. You could tell that he genuinely loves performing and is passionate about his music. He, TaP and the BBC made a real effort to drive the contest in a new direction, and had hopes that it would pay off…
May 14th: What Dreams Are Made Of
May 14th was a nerve-wracking day for British Eurofans. The idea that the UK could end up coming not only on the left-hand side, but also in the top 5 was something unheard of – the last time there was this much buzz for a UK entry dates back to potentially 2011, or even 2009. Even then, the UK hadn’t been an expected winner since 2002 – the last time they’d reached the top 3.
Sam performed in 22nd place, after Australia’s ‘Not The Same’ by Sheldon Riley and before Poland’s ‘River’ by Ochman. The run of three, hugely competent male vocalists did worry fans, but due to the props Sheldon and Sam used, there had to be a break. Sam actually ended up having a break before and after his performance so his prop could be moved – which could’ve benefitted him.
As the performance progressed, I think it’s fair to say that the UK were easily a threat to win. ‘Space Man’ had been well-received when released, but people were concerned that it could end up like other UK entries. However, Sam elevated his vocals with extra ad-libs and the most crucial part – the guitar solo at the end – which really did turn a good song into a great one. This was the biggest audience Sam had played to, but it didn’t phase him at all. Seeing the United Kingdom not only show up with an authentic, British-sounding song and an excellent performer but show up with what Sam did with ‘Space Man’ was incredible to see. A once disregarded country in the contest that would send songs like ‘Teenage Life’ (2006), ‘Flying The Flag’ (2007), ‘Love Will Set You Free’ (2012), ‘Still In Love With You’ (2015) and ‘Bigger Than Us’ (2019) to name just a few coming to the contest with something polished, professional, thought-out and a perfect contender for the trophy was genuinely incredible to see, and as a UK Eurofan myself, I can’t deny that there were a few emotional moments leading up to the contest and on the night itself not just from me but from so many of us that had been waiting years for this again. We were so proud of what we’d presented at the contest, and that all came down to one man – Sam Ryder. He had done so much for the fans in the UK, and all we wanted was for the result to reflect his effort – and it sure did.
Just to remind you again – in 2021 the UK got 0 points in both the televote and jury. Therefore, literally anything – even last place with points – would’ve meant they’d done better than last year.
The United Kingdom didn’t just come left-hand-side, top 10 or top 5. They came 2nd. Their best result for 24 years, first top 3 since 2002 and the 16th-second-place overall for the nation – extending their lead as the country with the most second places ever in Eurovision. The UK won the jury for the very first time with 283 points (the second-highest jury score since Salvador Sobral in 2017), and came 5th in the televote (equal to 2011) with 183 points, scoring 466 overall.
As for Sam Ryder, he is the highest-scoring artist ever for the United Kingdom in Eurovision. ‘Space Man’ received nine sets of 12 points overall (eight from the jury, one from the televote) – the highest ever amount since 1997 (ten sets). In the last 22 years, the UK has only received seven sets of 12s collectively, and only in five different years (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2017). It is also one of the biggest jumps in placements between contests – 26th in 2021 to 2nd in 2022 (24 place difference).
The UK received 12 points from Ukraine, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic (jury) and Azerbaijan and Georgia (aggregate jury scores – read more about that here), as well as Malta (televote).
Post-Eurovision: Press Tour, Chart Battle and Platinum Jubilee
When Sam returned from Turin, he was treated almost as if he’d won. He returned wearing Kalush Orchestra merchandise (the winner of the 2022 contest for Ukraine) and seemed in extremely good spirits.
After Sam returned to the UK, he was sent on a press tour across TV and Radio, speaking about his experience at Eurovision.
During the televoting, Switzerland’s Marius Bear received 0 Points from the televote. Sam spoke to BBC Breakfast about this moment
When Marius, he did well in the jury vote, but when the public votes came in and Switzerland unfortunately got 0, it sucks because he did such a good job even getting on that stage. The song was amazing, his voice, his character, he’s a strong, fantatstic, inspirational artist like all of the other delegates and yeah I just wanted to give him a hug. When something like that happens, you just wanna make sure they’re ok and I’m sure he was absolutely fine it was just me – I wanted to give him a massive hug.Sam Ryder about Marius Bear’s televote score, BBC Breakfast
Marius posted the moment on TikTok, and thanked Sam for picking him up when he was ‘at his lowest’. You can watch the video below:
Sam also spoke of Ukraine’s win, touching on how it represents the spirit of Eurovision.
I was so happy with the result because we kind of, we were all in that room, we were just rooting for them, standing in solidarity that’s all you can do, again what is the bigger part of Eurovision that’s so much bigger than those three minutes at the end and far bigger still than the scoreboard is what it’s about, again like I said it’s how often do we turn to music when there’s darkness in the world? We use music as a way of radiating light into that darkeness and I think Eurovision is the perfect platform for which artists come together, stand behind a common cause and show solidarity. This year it was for the guys in Ukraine, beautiful people there that are struggling and that team were representing their country at the most crucial point in its modern history. I couldnt be more thrilled that we were part of that journey with them.Sam on Ukraine’s win, BBC Breakfast
On Lorraine, Lorraine Kelly said to Sam: “In any other year you would’ve won, but actually I guess you don’t mind being second to that song [Stefania]”. He responded, saying:
Absolutely not. I would, if there was another year and lets just for arguments sake say there was a possibility of going and living this experience in a different year and winning I’d still rather have experienced this year and have been part of that sign of solidarity for Ukraine because those guys and that whole team were amazing. They’re incredible and what they did, how they carried themselves was admirable and just completely inspirational so just the best feeling ever – total and pure joy and elatation.Sam Ryder about Ukraine on Lorraine
Sam spoke to ITV News about a potential collaboration with Kalush Orchestra – you can watch this below:
Lorraine also asked Sam about bringing a younger generation to Eurovision:
I’m such a big Eurovision fan. It will be the most important and rewarding experience and moment of my life, meeting those artists and sharing that space, everyone being so admirable to get on that stage in front of that many people it’s not easy and your minds racing a lot of the time and just to have shared it with those people is unforgettable.
Hopefully people will be tuning into Eurovision going forward getting stoked about it in the future cause life’s too short to not bask in its glory.Sam on getting a younger generation into Eurovision, Lorraine
BBC Breakfast asked if Sam would take part in Eurovision again in the future:
Absolutely in a heartbeat. I don’t know if I’d do it next year I think I’ll still be catching up on sleep [laughs]. It is brutal the schedule for Euorvision.
The main thing I really wish and hope that the future of Eurovision and the attutiude changes, that was our goal right from the beginning to try and lift the negative stigma because I really believe it’s unfounded it shouldn’t exist it’s beautiful and should be celebrated so much more. We’re so lucky to have it and life’s to short to not enjoy Eurovision in my opinion.
Now that we’ve shone a bit of that positivity there hopefully the plethora of diverse amazing talent in the UK will be beating down the doors to be involved in Eurovision going forward and I think that can only be an amazing thingSam on doing Eurovision again, BBC Breakfast
The BBC Eurovision team were also delighted with the result. The BBC Press office released the below statement:
Head of Delegation Andrew Cartmell spoke of his determination to keep up the good results:
We have to carry on. This cannot just be a one off. We must continue.
The British music industry is perhaps the best music industry in the world. This is the result we should have been having, and we have to make sure the UK is a powerhouse of Eurovision for years to come.Andrew Cartmell, HoD BBC
Lee Smithurst, producer and delegation member tweeted about his conversation with the Spanish HoD after the 2021 contest ended about returning their countries to success in 2022. This year, Spain did just that too – Chanel came 3rd with ‘SloMo’.
Sam also spoke about the team to the BBC and ITV’s This Morning:
The team around it is so crucial. The energy of your friends and being around that kindness and patience and just consistency is incredibly important beacuse it’s [Eurovision] a very psychological experienceSam on the BBC team
It’s just so wonderful watching that [the performance] and being around your pals with that news coming in and all of us just sitting on that couch had no expectation of what could possibly happen. […] The whole team just pulled together in such a positive way, it just couldn’t have happened without that team effort.Sam on the team, This Morning
This year, it was clear the BBC team had belief, and that the result Sam achieved has refreshed their motivation again. Members of the team such as Lee have been engaged with fans online, and he’s often the insight into the UK delegation for fans. Having a completely confident team behind an entry is so important to the artist’s mentality. Whether the result is good or not, it doesn’t hurt to send something you can still be proud of. Take ‘Fulenn’ by Alvan and Ahez (France 2022) for example. Many loved and appreciated the song, but it didn’t do as well as it was expected to. The UK won’t be looking to repeat the French 2021-2022 run anytime soon, but at least ‘Fulenn’ was a strong, well-performed and staged entry. Now the BBC and the British public have had a taste of success in the contest again, they’ll want to keep it for years to come.
For Sam, his week was getting better. He was locked in a chart battle for Number 1 on the Official Charts with Harry Styles. ‘Space Man’ was firmly holding onto Number 1 on iTunes, with other versions of the song also climbing the sales and streaming charts. Sam also released the Eurovision version of the song. Despite this and the effort of Sam and fans, ‘As It Was’ by Harry Styles ultimately claimed Number 1 for a 7th week in a row, with Sam sitting at #2. This seemed to be Sam’s lucky number – he released Space Man on 22/02/2022, gave his first ‘preview’ performance in Semi-Final 2, drew the 2nd half of the Final in which he performed 22nd, he placed 2nd overall in Eurovision and was now #2 on the Official Charts.
It feels amazing, Harry is a legend. I feel like what Harry stands for, as a fan of his and listening to his music, he stands for the same things that Eurovision celebrates; a freedom of expression, of inclusivity. A celebration of music, joy and togetherness.Sam on his chart battle with Harry Styles, Offical Charts Company
‘Space Man’ is the highest-charting Eurovision song in 26 years – ‘(Ooh Aah) Just A Little Bit’ by Gina G was the last UK ESC song to hit #1 in 1996. Sam also charted higher than 1997 winner ‘Love Shine A Light’. It is the highest-charting UK Eurovision & general Eurovision song of the 21st century in the UK. It’s also the first Eurovision song to go to #2 on the UK charts since Ireland’s winner ‘Hold Me Now’ by Johnny Logan in 1987, and in terms of UK entries, the first to go to #2 since Bardo in 1982.
‘Space Man’ did however reach #1 on the Offical Big Top 40 charts, which is based on Apple Music Data and airplay across the Global Radio network in the UK.
Platinum Jubilee Concert
On May 18th 2022, Sam was included in the lineup for the Platinum Jubilee Concert, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 Years on the throne. This was huge for both Eurovision fans and Sam – usually, after Eurovision, UK artists fade into obscurity, but Sam’s success seemed to be pushing him to become the newest upcoming artist in the British music scene. He’ll perform alongside artists such as Alicia Keys, Queen, George Ezra and Andrea Bocelli, amongst others. Sam told This Morning:
It’s unreal, hearing you say it. I’m so happy and so grateful for the opportunity I’m a bit speechless. It’s just wicked to experience something like that and be invited I couldn’t be happier.Sam on performing at the Jubilee Concert
Could This Be The Start of Something New for The United Kingdom? Can The BBC Continue This Momentum?
It’s safe to say that TaP Music had a huge influence on Eurovision this year, and the BBC were happy to work alongside them and partake in their vision. Choosing someone like Sam who’s charismatic, a Eurovision fan and genuinely in it for the love of music instead of coming at it attempting to create a ‘winning’ Eurovision song is so important to becoming successful in the contest. Eurovision is becoming more authentic, and artists who have creative control over all aspects are finding themselves emerging as the most successful in the 2020’s ESC era. If the BBC continue to follow this formula as a guideline – and not just do a carbon copy in the years to come – there’s a big possibility we’ll continue to see good results from the UK.
The momentum is so high for 2023, and even though it’s unlikely the country could reach the same result Sam did next year (the only way is up – which is now 1st place), anything on the left-hand side would be something to be proud of. The BBC clearly have a want to do well, and this feeling needs to remain going forward. One bad result can’t throw them off anymore. Even if the UK ends up with a fan favourite that doesn’t do well as expected, at least it’s an entry that can be respected and appreciated. There’s no harm in trying something new or different, as long as it can connect with viewers.
Sam also trusted the BBC team, and that trust helped both parties work together to create a moment at Eurovison. They also helped him to control his nerves before the show.
There’s definitley an essence of relinquishing all control, there has to be an element of trust I think. Like I said to you last time, I’ve been singing a long time and most of that time has been to empty rooms but it never affected the joy that singing and music bought me. I was already fulfilled before stepping foot in Turin or saying yes to the opportunity of Eurovison I was already happy and it was just an absolute bonus to experience that as a fan from the other side of the TV screen.
Being around your friends, that’s so crucial because the attitude and the kindness and the positivity and the empathy of people, your friends around you, it picks you up when you’re down and likewise we can pick each other up when we’re down we keep the team going. You’re stood backstage you’ve got 40 seconds [before performing], the crew are amazing they can turn that stage round so fast so you haven’t got much time to think about it.Sam speaking about the team, This Morning
What will happen in 2023 remains unknown, and with the BBC’s recent track record it’s unlikely we’ll know anything about the entry until the end of February/beginning of March 2023. We can only hope that next year will once again be another great year for the UK in Eurovision.
I finished writing this article 2 weeks on from the final, and personally would like to give my own thanks to Sam, TaP and the BBC for their efforts this year. After watching so many interviews Sam has done before and after the contest, being able to write positively about my country, seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from casual viewers and the British media, alongside the continuation of Sam’s upbeat attitude towards the contest, has been a pleasure to experience throughout the 2022 Eurovision season, and I look forward to what’s to come in the coming years.
What did you think of the UK this year? Let us know in the comments!