Sam Ryder scoring second place in the Eurovision Song Contest represents the highest rank a UK act has achieved in over 20 years. His unashamedly spirited, sincere song ‘Space Man’ along with his incredible vocal range, beautifully walked a line between classic Eurovision and the best of British rock music. In Ryder’s Grand Final performance, viewers could hear shades of David Bowie, Elton John and Queen (Ryder even warms up with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’).
Ryder’s excellent song (co-written by Ed Sheeran collaborator Amy Wadge) and fantastic performance got UK audiences to push aside years of cynicism around Eurovision and engage with the contest with a level of sincerity and hope.
That was no small feat. The cynicism towards Eurovision that British audiences have felt was, in part, the result of years of indifference from the UK music industry. Record labels and Eurovision had been locked in a cycle of “self-imposed decline”, writes BBC Music Correspondent Mark Savage. The industry distanced itself from Eurovision in the 90s, viewing it as irrelevant to current music. And as the quality of UK entrants deteriorated, record labels became less likely to put forward their best talent, for fear of possible Eurovision defeat ending an artist’s career early.
But in 2021, with Italian glam-rock act Måneskin winning the contest and going on to enjoy global success, it became apparent to UK Eurovision producers that the contest was more relevant on the world stage than ever. (In the same year, the UK’s entry placed last.)
The ensuing talent search for 2022’s entry, as part of the BBC’s team-up with TaP Management, singled out Essex-based singer Sam Ryder who had already amassed 12 million followers on TikTok, and endorsements from A-list music talent. This was followed up with a wide-ranging PR campaign to seed ‘Space Man’ with audiences across Europe and at home.
So what can we tell about Sam Ryder’s music with AI? On a musical level, why did ‘Space Man’ land so well?
Eurovision vs UK singles chart
There are a couple of major differences between the sound of Eurovision hits and the current UK Top 40. When selecting talent and songs, these should be taken into account.
First, Eurovision tends to favour rock genres over hip hop and R&B. Second, with our moods classifier, we can see that there are common moods between Eurovision winners and the current UK Top 40. Moods that are extremely common in both are powerful, romantic and energetic.
The big difference with Eurovision winners is the high percentage of dark moods. This chimes with what we know about Eurovision songs: they’re often melodramatic ballads. The differentiator for the UK Top 40 is that the most prominent mood is quirky, while the dark mood is nowhere to be seen.
Another intriguing data point comes from our vocal gender classifier. Eurovision hits from 2011 to 2021 have a much higher incidence of “mixed” gender make-up than the UK Top 40. The “mixed” vocal gender tag is when the AI recognises a voice that sounds both male and female. This could be a male-female collab or duo, but could also be triggered by male artists such as Sam Ryder and Freddie Mercury who sing in falsetto or have wide vocal ranges.
A blueprint for Eurovision success for UK acts?
Let’s dig into the tagging data for Sam Ryder’s track ‘Space Man’.
As far as the music goes, we can partly attribute his success to genre. Performing in a rock style goes over well at Eurovision in a way that it doesn’t tend to in the UK singles chart.
Also, the moods that his performance triggered in our AI were powerful and romantic, which are prevalent moods for both Eurovision and regular UK chart hits.
By not incorporating dark or quirky moods, which could limit the song’s potential, Sam walks a fine line between Eurovision acceptability and UK chart potential, which could explain why he’s shooting up the charts right now.
The future of UK acts at Eurovision
We hope that Sam Ryder has permanently shifted the British perception of Eurovision from a kitsch contest with little mainstream international relevance, to a real engine for exposing great acts on the world stage.
Here’s a final thought for future artist selections. One of the reasons ‘Space Man’ sounds so familiar is that it is written in genres and moods that play well in Eurovision, and that recall British rock history. Sam Ryder is open about being inspired by ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity', and his track shares mood and genre tags with both.
With that in mind, maybe the question is: How do you find acts that play on the positive nostalgia of great UK artists, but also understand and respect the Eurovision paradigm? Understanding the musical data could be a good place to start.
To find out more about how you can use Musiio technology, or if you see anything in the data that you think we’ve missed, let us know! Just drop us a message on Twitter, LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org.