Malmo - Almost 40 years after launching supergroup ABBA, the Eurovision Song Contest returned to Sweden on Saturday for the final of an annual kitsch extravaganza Europeans love to mock.
Fans from around Europe have been descending on Sweden's third-largest city Malmoe to watch 26 countries compete in a glitzy evening spectacle that will be broadcast live to an estimated 125 million viewers.
This year's more bizarre entries include a Ukrainian giant and the falsetto disco of Romania's Cezar, who wears a vampire-like outfit.
Denmark is the bookies' favourite to win the singing contest though Russia, Norway and Ukraine are also tipped to do well.
Former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjoern Ulvaeus have penned a special Eurovision anthem with Swedish DJ and producer Avicii that will open the three-hour show, whose wide viewing audience makes it a bigger television event than US football's Super Bowl.
Iconic disco band ABBA are widely viewed as the ultimate Eurovision group, having turned their 1974 Waterloo win into one of the most successful pop careers of all time.
To help arriving fans get into the Eurovision spirit, Malmoe's main train station was on Saturday decked out with disco balls and a small dancefloor.
Wearing a sequined Union Jack dress, 27-year-old Ellie Scull from Gloucester in Britain said Eurovision was "comedy, and it's very international."
"It's nice to see different countries' style of music," added her friend Georgina Hamblin, 26, from London.
Neither believed Britain would win this year, with Scull describing the British entry as "rubbish" while Hamblin said she believed politics played a part in the scoring system.
"It's a bit political. People just vote for the countries next to them," she said.
If the bookmakers' predictions are anything to go by, next year's contest will move just eight kilometres across the Oeresund bridge to Denmark, the home country of Emmelie De Forest.
"I'm flattered people think I will win. I try not to think about it too much," the 20-year-old singer of Only Teardrops said at a joint press conference with Sweden's Loreen on Friday.
Welsh balladeer Bonnie Tyler is the biggest name to participate this year, but despite being backed by star songwriter Desmond Child, the 61-year-old isn't expected to nab the top spot.
Several countries in austerity-hit Europe, including Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina, have opted out of this year's event.
Greece initially said it wouldn't be able to take part, but reversed its decision after a private broadcaster stepped in to finance the production of the country's national final.
With their song Alcohol Is Free, Koza Mostra and Agathon Iakovidis will use metaphors to describe Greece's suffering during the economic crisis that has threatened to sink its economy.
The stage is also set for not one but two gay kisses, which could ruffle feathers in Europe's more socially conservative nations.
During rehearsals on Friday, two male Swedish folk dancers were seen kissing each other as part of an intermission act.
Finland's Krista Siegfrids is expected to do the same with one of her female dancers when she sings her gay marriage anthem Marry Me.
The rehearsals also showed Paris Saint-Germain striker and Sweden star Zlatan Ibrahimovic appear in a video to welcome viewers to the immigrant-heavy city where he grew up.
Sweden has pledged to scale back the annual music competition after costs soared in recent years, vowing to stage a sparkling show for a fraction of what last year's host Azerbaijan spent.
Some estimates put the price tag for regenerating last year's host city Baku at €780m. By comparison, Swedish organisers have a budget of €14.5m.
Sweden is one of several countries that take the Eurovision contest very seriously, using an intricate system of semi-finals over several weeks to allow the public to vote on its entry.
Viewers and professional juries in 39 countries will pick the winner together, with televoting and juries each representing 50% of the outcome.
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