Sweden scales down Eurovision, keeps glitz factor high

From Bonnie Tyler via a Ukrainian giant to a barefoot Dane, this year's Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by Sweden, promises to deliver the type of glitzy spectacle that unites Europe like nothing else, short of the love of football.

Sweden will pay less than one 50th the astronomical cost spent by last year's host Azerbaijan, but even so it is expected that 125 million people will sit glued to their TV screens at Saturday's final.

Power ballad queen Tyler will be representing Britain this year in Malmoe, the Scandinavian country's third largest city, but despite the veteran singer's name recognition her entry, "Believe In Me", isn't expected to grab the top spot.

Instead, 18-year-old Emmelie De Forest from Denmark is the bookies' favourite in the singing contest Europeans love to mock, with a dramatic pop tune about the state of the world.

Other countries predicted to do well are Russia, Norway and Ukraine.

In Tuesday's semifinal the Danish singer was backed by drummers and a flute player as she performed the infectious "Only Teardrops" barefoot against a flaming backdrop.

In a similar vein, Russia is fielding a ballad about world peace -- "What If" -- sung by the winner of national reality TV singing competition The Voice, Dina Garipova.

Ukrainian entry "Gravity" provides the annual spectacle with one of its more bizarre numbers as Zlata Ognevich is carried on stage by a 234 centimetre (7 feet 8 inches) tall "giant" meant to symbolise her inner strength.

The trendy electro-pop sound of Norwegian Margaret Berger's "I Feed You My Love" has yet to make it through Thursday's semifinal, but is expected to earn Sweden's neighbour a better place than last year, when the country came dangerously close to suffering the dreaded fate of "nul points."

Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet has accused the tall blonde of wearing skirts "so tight they create problems for the entire production", drawing angry responses from Norwegian journalists that the Swedes were simply being jealous.

Sweden itself is one of the countries that each year takes the contest incredibly seriously, using an intricate system of semifinals over several weeks to allow the public to vote on its entry.

It has also enlisted its own set of European jurors to ensure its entry does well with viewers on the continent.

Meanwhile, organisers are hoping to produce a glittering show that rivals Azerbaijan's record expensive production last year, but for a fraction of the cost.

"There are different cost estimates for last year's competition in Baku," said the executive producer of this year's Eurovision broadcast, Martin Oesterdahl, who also heads up the Swedish competition.

"They regenerated the city for one billion dollars. We've said we're going to do it for 125 million kronor (14.6 million euros, $18.7 million)," he said.

By comparison, the cost was 150 million kronor when Helsinki hosted the event in 2007, producing only one semifinal instead of the two shows mandated by the current rules.

Sweden has so far escaped the worst of Europe's economic crisis, but public broadcaster SVT said it wants to scale down the event to prevent crisis-stricken European countries from having to opt out of organising it, should they win.

"We felt that we have to take this in a new direction," Oesterdahl said.

"Even if we'd had unlimited funds, there was nothing more to do. There was no bigger arena, there was no bigger LED screen to hang behind the scene than they did in Moscow."

Part of the strategy has been to make sure that as much as possible of every krona spent will be seen in front of the camera.

"We've cut down on ancillary events such as different happenings around the city, and so on," he said.

Malmoe is buzzing with rumours that its biggest celebrity, Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will open Saturday's show.

Asked about the former resident of the immigrant-heavy Rosengaard neighbourhood, Oesterdahl would only say: "We'll have to see. Tune in on Saturday."

Eurovision fans are also hoping ABBA's Benny Andersson and Bjoern Ulvaeus will make an appearance, following the announcement that they've written a special Eurovision anthem together with Swedish DJ and producer Avicii.

Despite downsizing, the show will attract just under 1,500 delegation members and staff, and 1,700 journalists.

Viewers and professional juries in all 39 participating countries will pick the winner, with televoting and juries each representing 50 percent of the outcome.

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