TikTok UK & Ireland's head of artist and label partnerships, Darina Connolly, has given Music Week a sneak peek inside the platform's huge plans to celebrate this month's Eurovision Song Contest.
The video app has been selected by the European Broadcasting Union as the official entertainment partner for the 2023 competition, with the #Eurovision2023 hashtag already amassing more than one billion views.
The Eurovision final is being held at Liverpool's M&S Bank Arena on May 13 after the UK stepped in to host the event on behalf of 2022 winners Ukraine.
"It's the second year that we're the official entertainment partner for Eurovision and I genuinely don't think I've ever worked with such a passionate team on any project," said Connolly. "We're all huge Eurovision fans firstly and we've got an amazing campaign coming up.
"The @eurovision handle on TikTok is going to be the home of everything Eurovision over the next few weeks and we've got some great content lined up from Eurovision artists."
We wanted to bring the amazing rich cultural musical heritage and personality of Liverpool to our global audience
Darina Connolly, TikTok
Earlier this week, TikTok launched its 'where stars get started' advertising campaign for Eurovision starring Sam Ryder, who has also been announced as its official Eurovision ambassador. Ryder first rose to prominence on TikTok and has more than 14 million followers and 127m likes on the service.
Appearing on billboards across Liverpool, the campaign shines a light on how stars get started like Ryder who represented the UK last year and came second overall. The 30-second ad will run on video-on-demand services, digital media and out-of-home locations until May 14, as well as in-app on TikTok.
TikTok also unveiled the Liverpool TikTok City of Music partnership with Visit Liverpool, which will see it support key busking sites around the city, in addition to local businesses via TikTok places.
"First and foremost, we wanted to bring the amazing rich cultural musical heritage and personality of Liverpool to our global audience," explained Connolly. "You can check out TikTok places to see where the exciting places to be are in Liverpool.
"Also, Liverpool has a thriving busking culture. We have a TikTok creator called Ami Alex, who's from Liverpool and she posts busking content from a place called Clayton Square. We saw that happening and in our talks with Visit Liverpool we were like, how do we amplify the busking culture in Liverpool and again help bring that to the global audience? So we're going to have TikTok-branded busking sites throughout the city."
TikTok will be hosting an exclusive legends performance in the official Eurovision Village fanzone at 6.30pm on Friday 12 May.
"Last year, we trialled something called the Eurovision legend slot at our fan zone in Turin," added Connolly. "We had [2012 winner] Loreen, [2019 winner] Duncan Laurence and [2014 winner] Conchita Wurst perform. We're almost there on finalising the line-up for this year."
Here, in an extensive Q&A, Connolly goes deeper into the industry relationships TikTok has cultivated with the music industry on Eurovision and beyond...
How would you describe your own role where Eurovision is concerned?
"My role within Eurovision is very much around the music curation, the artist curation, and any label relations that we have to address. When it comes to the fanzone, for instance, that was a pet project of mine as a Eurovision fan. We hosted several best practice sessions around TikTok for Eurovision specifically: all the artists, their teams and heads of delegation were invited to attend so we could really impart the message that TikTok is where stars get started and any artist has the opportunity to be able to build a really engaged audience ahead of the contest. We've been in touch with all artist teams that are performing in the contest and ensuring that we're empowering them and ensuring they have all the information and best practice to be able to maximise their success on the platform, which hopefully will translate into their success in Liverpool."
Can you think of examples of entrants' TikTok interactions that have particularly impressed you?
"I mentioned Loreen, who is the Swedish representative with her track Tattoo. She won Eurovision years ago and performed in our fanzone last year, and she really uses TikTok to excellent advantage. She engaged with a TikTok creator called Austyn Farrell, who's known for his dance content. If you think about how an artist could build their audience in various countries that will have the opportunity to vote for them, interacting with a creator is a great way to do it. Loreen also does a lot of behind the scenes content, so when she was performing at Melodifestivalen, the show where tthe Swedes choose their European representative, she really brought the audience on the journey with her, which is important for TikTok content.
"There's also Noa Kirel, the Israeli representative. Her song is called Unicorn and she's a best practice example of how an artist can use duets. A lot of her fans started doing their own versions of Unicorn and tagging her on TikTok. A really easy mechanism of engagement artists can use is to just use the split screen functionality and just react to it, or actually duetting so she'll sing the chorus. It's a really interactive way to engage an audience.
"Andrew Lambrou from Cyprus came from X Factor in 2015 and became a prolific TikTok creator. He again does lots of duets and behind the scenes content, but also he does a lot of covers of popular songs interspersed with his tracks from Eurovision. And of course we have Sam Ryder from last year as well."
Sam was huge of TikTok long before Eurovision came knocking...
"He was. He was very much a TikTok creator, best in class, for sure. But I don't think any of us could have predicted the levels of success, we hoped of course, but the levels of success that he has reached from TikTok into Eurovision has been hugely impressive and unprecedented. It's hugely exciting to see Sam on his journey for sure. We want to land the message that TikTok is where stars get started, and Sam's participation within the marketing campaign is really encouraging artists to take the stage."
And what work are you doing with this year's UK entrant, Mae Muller?
"Mae announced that she was going to be the UK representative on TikTok back in March and we have very much empowered Mae and her team in the same way that we would any other artist in terms of best practice. We empower all teams and artists to be able to make the most out of TikTok and of course we've done the same for Mae and her team."
Ultimately, what are your main hopes for the big night?
"More than anything else, we want to maintain @eurovision on TikTok as the home for everything Eurovision. So we'll be there, we'll be creating content, we'll be capturing content. We're excited to see how the success of various artists on TikTok will translate into their success at Eurovision and how artists are going to be able to use TikTok on the night as well."
Måneskin, of course, have gone onto global success since their 2021 Eurovision victory...
"We did a TikTok Live actually with Måneskin about a year and a half ago. They tend to post a lot of live content, which works really well and they do quite a lot of behind the scenes content. We're trying to get them to do a few more duets and comments and kind of lean in a little bit more to make the most out of their 6.6 million followers, but we have a really impactful local relationship with them. Our Italian team are very close to their management, and very much on hand for any advice as to how we would be able to empower Maneskin even further. Maybe we'll get them to seven million followers by the time that Eurovision comes around."
What more can you tell us about your relationships with artists?
"For Eurovision specifically, we have very broad ranging relationships. We have relationships with the heads of delegation, which are the broadcasters usually, but for Eurovision we also have an excellent artist partnerships team and an excellent label partnerships team in the UK, but also in other territories. When it comes to label partnerships, we have a relationship solution to be able to facilitate contact and queries from any size label and it's the same for artist partnerships. We want to make sure that any artist team at any level can have a route through to us because we want to facilitate as much successful artists as we can. Sometimes that comes down to an artist onboarding and utilising the platform, but sometimes they might need a little bit of help. They might need some creative advice and we're certainly on hand to provide that. We also have great relationships with industry bodies such as the MMF and we have a partnership with AIM UK. Something we work very hard on is to have top tier industry relationships and, for anyone that would need to contact us to be able to further their journey on TikTok, we can provide that."
TikTok's influence on the charts has been immense. When a track takes off, how can you enhance that impact? Or is it purely organic?
"For the most part, yes, it is very organic. If we start to see a track going particularly viral – if a lot of creations start to be attributed to a particular track – we'll either see that within our systems, or an artist, a manager or a label will contact us and say 'How can we take this further?' And our first advice to any artist team who have a track doing well on TikTok is, 'Well what is the artist going to do?' So sometimes that will involve a conversation with the artist themselves or their team as to creative ideas on how they might further the success of that track. A lot of the time, people will post their own versions of it, or they will be doing a creation with the particular track, so we encourage artists to jump in and duet or comment on those videos and go, 'Nice work, I love it, or whatever.'
"The artist is very much in the driving seat to facilitate their success on TikTok as well. Ideally, they'll be onboarded, they'll be using the platform themselves and that's something we would advise to talk about: 'Wow my track is going amazingly viral, I love all the creations that my community is doing with it. I want to see more, or here is my version.' So the artist is very much in control of that and that would be our first port of call.
"Further to that, we have the Sounds page on TikTok, which has over 30 playlists all themed to reactive ways that people would want to use music on TikTok. So it's a 'sound-on' platform where we obviously encourage music to be used in creations and we want to make that super-easy. For instance, if someone is posting a sports-themed creation, there is a sports-themed playlist and we have editorially placed a track in there that we feel would work really well. We also have banner space on the sounds page as well where we can editorially choose some tracks to promote as well."
Read our digital cover with Mae Muller and her teams at Modest! and EMI, plus the BBC's UK Eurovision partner Tap Music.