The team responsible for selecting Sam Ryder as the UK’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 have spoken to NME about the singer’s chances of winning, and the need to put politics aside.
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Last year it was announced that TaP Music (the music publishing and management company behind the likes of Dua Lipa, Lana del Rey and Ellie Goulding) would be collaborating with the BBC to choose the next song and act to represent the UK at Eurovision.
They selected viral TikTok sensation Sam Ryder, who, with his song ‘Space Man’, is currently the second-favourite to win the competition, according to bookmakers.
Speaking to NME about the selection process, TaP’s Ben Mawson – who previously managed Dua Lipa – said: “I remember thinking, ‘Why do we do so badly every year? We’re one of the homes of some of the best pop music of all time. Is it political, or is there more to it than that?’”
He continued: “There’s this historic cynicism in the UK, and maybe we’ve been too casual about it. We weren’t convinced that you could blame it on politics. We thought that more effort show go into thinking about the song. It’s a particularly unique formula. We got to thinking about what that was.”
Landing the job of selector after originally considering making a documentary about the UK’s attitude towards Eurovision, Mawson discovered that there was an annual rivalry among major labels to put their acts forward for the competition.
“It’s such a huge platform with 200million viewers,” he said. “That’s double the size of the Super Bowl halftime show. Then Måneskin exploded off the back of it last year, getting a top 10 on Global Spotify and millions of streams. I was intrigued by the whole thing and why it was going so wrong.
“The main thing we wanted to do was take it really seriously and put everything into every aspect of it to get it right. We had a lot of learning to do.”
After being offered the role as consultants, TaP worked with the likes of BBC Radio One DJ and Eurovision semi-final host Scott Mills to find a suitable singer and song.
“Our job was threefold,” said Mawson. “We had to find the right song, because a traditional pop song doesn’t usually work. A certain type of song with a certain structure to really work in three minutes was essential. We had to get a spectacular voice who was really able to sing live. And, finally, we needed a label who were willing to back it, because they ultimately fund the staging.”
Before finding Ryder, TaP went through a number of other options for who would best represent the UK.
“We initially thought about creating some kind of supergroup,” said Mawson. “We thought if we did that, then the artist would be less scared about failure because it would be two or three of them together. They were all established acts of a younger generation who had Number One albums in recent times.
“We were also looking at brand new artists who hadn’t released anything yet, but there was a danger that this platform wasn’t for them. It was a very stressful process.”
TaP were then put in touch with Dua Lipa producer Koz, who had been working with Ryder on new music, and put the song ‘Space Man’ forward as a contender.
“We all thought, ‘Hey, this song is amazing’. It’s referencing a legacy of British pop with a bit of Elton, a bit of Queen, and a bit of Bowie,” said Mawson. “He’s got this astonishing voice, can pull it off live and he’s the biggest TikTok musician in the UK. We thought that was significant because we had learned that the demographic of Eurovision is getting younger and younger. Traditionally, it had been quite middle-aged.”
After working with Ryder’s manager David May, Mawson said that the singer “took a bit of persuading” but soon came around. “He quickly got over it, but he was briefly nervous about the history, the context and if he was bound to be doomed whatever he did,” said Mawson. “He soon realised that he loved singing and wanted to enjoy himself in front of a huge audience. He’d always been a fan of Eurovision too, which really helped.”
With the song’s lyrics relating to being alone in space and wanting to go home and feel grounded by the ones you love, Mawson said he felt hopeful and confident that it would land well with audiences across Europe, describing it as “a perfect track – traditional, but with a modern edge”.
The song aside, Mawson also said that Ryder’s “star quality” should stand him in good stead with viewers and voters.
“When we met him, what struck me straight away was how charming, warm, positive and endearing he was,” he revealed. “Remove the music element and presume it’s political, Sam is charming and likeable. He’s been around engaging European countries in a humble and impressive way. It’s very hard not to like him. ”
Moving forward, Mawson said that the overall ambition was to have Eurovision taken seriously and feel like “something that everyone wants to do”.
“Maybe it’s the Måneskin effect, maybe it happened before that, but people’s attitudes has previously been wrong about Eurovision,” he said. “They tend to treat it as a one-off TV opportunity, but in reality, with the right approach, an artist can do really well out of it. This will be just one bit of a very long career for Sam. How he does on the scoreboard is important, but what we want more is for him to be taken on to another level. In future, it’ll be the same for other British acts.”
Mawson agreed that Ukrainian entry Kalush Orchestra were “rightfully the favourites” to win, regardless of audiences being sympathetic towards their situation with the war with Russia, and especially as they had “a really good song” with ‘Stefania’.
He added: “Politics is still very prevalent, and Brexit certainly hasn’t helped the perception of us. We’re partly up against that, but we personally don’t believe that politics is as strong a force in our Eurovision performance as people seem to think.
“We believe that Sam, his voice, his song and his personality have put him in a position to do well.”