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Sam Ryder on Being Championed by Sia, Eurovision Success and New Album ‘There’s Nothing but Space, Man!’

Sam Ryder
Simon Emmett courtesy of Elektra/Parlophone Records

Sam Ryder could reasonably be described as the most positive person in pop. When greeted with a “How are you?” as he pops up on Zoom, Ryder replies “I’m fantastic!” During the interview, he uses the word “joy” seven times in response to a single question and (jokingly, in fairness) describes the M4 – a soulless stretch of freeway that runs through the West of England – as “a gorgeous, picturesque stretch of road.” His natural energy and enthusiasm could, if bottled, easily be used to fuel a small country.

Of course, Ryder has plenty to be positive about. In the space of just a few years he has risen from wedding singer to TikTok star (where he’s garnered 14 million followers and 120 million likes) to British national treasure, thanks to his success at the Eurovision Song Contest in May (more on which shortly). That was followed in quick succession by an appearance at Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace, where he performed alongside acts including Queen and Alicia Keys, a European tour, festival dates, a cameo alongside Brian May at the Taylor Hawkins tribute concert in London, and finally, this week, the release of his debut album, “There’s Nothing but Space, Man!”

“[This] last year has been bonkers,” he says unsurprisingly. “And bonkers because every single thing that’s happened has led straight in to the next.” Ryder says his manager recently told him he’s had a total of five days off this year. But he’s not complaining. “It’s just been so amazing,” he marvels.

The highlight of the past 12 months was the Platinum Jubilee concert. “I can remember, like, the color of the sky that day, the quality of the light. I remember all the pollen in the air,” he says. “I just remember it so vividly.”

But let’s dial back for a second. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryder had spent around eight years playing weddings. “Weddings are great,” he says. “Most of the time, unless there’s any drama, weddings are fantastic. And you turn up and you sing, and you have an absolute blast.” When the world shut down during COVID, he turned to TikTok, posting videos of himself singing at home and quickly building-up a following that included Sia and Justin Bieber. Soon after, he found himself signed to Parlophone and by early 2022 was embarking on his first U.K. tour.

Sam Ryder performing at Eurovision 2022 (Giorgio Perottino/Getty Images)

Which is when he got an unexpected call from the president of the label. “I was on a layby on the M4,” he recalls. “I was on my way to a show, on the tour. And it was the first tour I’d ever done. So I was already in a state where I was like, ‘This is a big deal for me.’ Like, we’re going to the next show, it’s sold out. And I’m used to playing gigs to no one. So to be driving on my way to a gig where I know there’s going to be people, that was already quite overwhelming.”

When Ryder pulled over to take the call things got even more overwhelming. The label president, it turned out, had phoned to ask if Ryder wanted to represent the U.K. at the Eurovision Song Contest. “My mind was blown,” Ryder recalls. “Initially, my heart was screaming ‘Yes!’ because I’m such a fan of Eurovision. And then a millisecond later my head took over, and was like, ‘Yeah… but what if you come last?’”

Because, as Ryder knew full well, representing the U.K. at Eurovision has become something of a poisoned chalice. Sure, it’s a chance to perform in front of millions of people. But despite the U.K. being one of the biggest funders of the contest, the country hasn’t managed to climb out of the bottom half of the leaderboard in over a decade. The situation has only gotten worse since Brexit, with the U.K. coming last in the previous two contests before Ryder’s appearance. But even before Brexit, acts from across Europe who’ve performed relatively well in the competition have rarely gone on to find lasting success (with the exception of ABBA). What on earth persuaded Ryder to say yes?

“Well, the reason that I did it is first of all because I’m a fan,” he replies. “And the reasons that I was worried about doing it was because of fear of coming last. So out of those two emotions, I’m going to pick enthusiasm every time over fear. Because I don’t want to live my life – you know, no one wants to live their life – in a state of fear and then regret comes from fear and then after that comes misery. Whereas if you go for enthusiasm, you find purpose, and then hopefully fulfilment, and then joy. So you’ve got to think of the things that come after these important decisions that you make.”

As it turns out, Ryder’s instinct – and that overwhelming positivity – ultimately shined through and he defied Eurovision watchers’ bleakest expectations to reach second place with his soaring hit single “Space Man.” (There is little doubt among most Eurovision fans Ryder would have nabbed the top spot, which went to Ukraine, had it not been for voters wanting to shows support following Russia’s invasion three months earlier).

While Eurovision tradition usually sees a winning country host the following year’s competition, due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the 2023 contest will be held in the U.K., jointly celebrating Britain and Ukraine. Will Ryder be involved? “I don’t want to presume anything,” he says. “As a fan, I would just love the opportunity to be there. Anything more would be a bonus. But I think that the most important thing is the massive responsibility we have of throwing the best party for Ukraine. They can’t throw their party at home, so we’re gonna let them do it at our house. That’s how I’ve made sense of it in my mind.”

In the meantime, he is focused on his album, which drops this week and features his singles “Space Man,” “Somebody” and latest release “All The Way Over.” “We thought the best way, after a year of blessings that we’ve been lucky enough to experience this year, the best way to give something back and really the only way you can give something back as a musician is to put work out, right?” he says. “So I thought what better way to tie off the year with some of my own work for people that have supported and made this all possible. Because God knows it wasn’t me. It was people rallying behind you and giving you their energy that therefore gets energy out you. And that’s what the album is.”

Sam Ryder (Simon Emmett courtesy of Elektra/Parlophone Records)

“There’s Nothing but Space, Man!” was written before Ryder got the Eurovision call, the final tracklist whittled down from a hundred songs he had squirrelled away on his hard drive. Was it easy to re-connect with the person he was when he co-wrote those songs? “100% yeah,” he says.

“I think if I was in my early 20s, or late teens or whatever, then maybe that would have been a jarring change, because a lot can happen within a year at that age. But as you as you get older, I think you know yourself a bit more and … you’re far more considered.”

Many of those hundred songs, he said, still chimed with him in terms of their content. Some provided a useful reminder of things he had forgotten. And some, he said, didn’t resonate at all. “That sometimes happens in co-writing sessions too,” Ryder explains. “You write a song and sometimes songs sound like session songs. Like they’re kind of off the peg. There’s nothing that you’re adding. There’s no nutrition that you’re adding to someone’s life. It might be really catchy and it might be great, but is it nutritious? Is it like, hearty? And is it wholesome?”

Having achieved so much in 2022, is there anything still left on Ryder’s bucket list? Naturally Glastonbury is on there as well as collaborating with Alicia Keys, whom he met at the Platinum Jubilee concert, and Sia. “Sia was one of the first people to publicly support my videos day one,” he explains. “Justin Bieber texted her a video of one of my videos singing ‘Elastic Heart.’ And then she posted it. And that set things up in motion, like from the very beginning in lock down. So I’d love to like full circle those moments.”

Otherwise, he says, he plans to leave his bucket list to fate. “All of the things that happened this year, they weren’t on my bucket list because they were too bonkers to consider [they] would be possible,” he says. “So there’s a part of me that’s like, maybe I’ll leave the bucket list in the lap of the gods, and just go and focus my energy on gratitude that I’m even able to experience these things in the first place. Because this year has taught me that life will weave magic in the background.”