In Sweden's Malmö, the first semi finals of this year's Eurovision Song Contest are over. DW reporter Andreas Brenner went to find out how the Grand Prix is shaping up, and what lies in store for its devoted fans.
There is something symbolically European about landing in the Danish capital in order to attend the Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish town of Malmö. Thanks to the Öresund Bridge that connects Denmark with Sweden, getting from the former to the latter is much easier now than it was in 1992, when the competition was held in Malmö for the first time. These days it only takes half an hour to get from Copenhagen to the host town, which given its modest population of just 300,000, might seem like an unusual choice of location for such a major event.
But Jan Ola Sand, who is responsible for the ESC at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) says size isn't important: "What matters is the high quality of the television production"
And the residents of Malmö are delighted to have the contest back in their midst, not least for aesthetic reasons. "Our town is so small that we can decorate the whole place," 18-year-old student Phillip told DW.
The place is awash with flags bearing the 2013 Eurovision "We Are One" logo, and posters with its butterfly insignia. Even the statue of the former king, Charles X, has had a butterfly facelift.
Malmö has pulled out all the stops for both residents and visitors. Contest participants sometimes surprise fans by showing up at the tented stage in the city center for a live performance. With Eurovision ticket prices ranging from a hefty 100 to 200 euros ($129 to $257), the spontaneous public shows will be many local fans' only chance to hear the music in person.
Passed the test
The first semi-final was not sold out, so shortly before the show got underway, young people armed with left-over tickets were sent to the press center to give them away by the dozen. Empty seats stand out in Malmö's arena - home to the city's ice hockey team - which can accommodate 11,000 people.
Germany was allowed to breeze through the semi-final round, and its representative this year, Cascada, will go directly into the finals on May 18. This queue-jumping is a privilege reserved for the biggest donors to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which hosts the event. Those donors also include France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain. And as the winner of last year's contest, Sweden also gets swept on to the final round in 2013.
They will go head to head with four young women from Eastern Europe - singers from the Republic of Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. During the semi-finals, Ukraine's Zlata Ognevich was carried onto the stage by the 2.35-meter-tall Igor Vovkovinskiy. Her fantasy song "Gravity" opens with a reference to the story "Beauty and the Beast."
Hot air from Moldova
During the last third of her performance, Moldovan singer Aliona Moon was elevated and her dress became a vast projection area for fire and flames. It was an impressive show, but the ballad she's singing at the contest offers fewer fireworks.
The performance by Denmark's Emmelie de Forest also went off with a bang. Her pop song, which incorporates elements of folk, flute and beat, is tipped as this year's favorite among bookies. And judging by the enthusiastic roars of appreciation from the audiences, many of her compatriots crossed the border to support her.
Winners and losers
The Netherlands' Anouk received a similar amount of support for her song "Birds," which is probably the most unusual song in this contest. During the press conference, the singer received rousing applause from both press and fans. Maybe it's not a bad sign after all that the Netherlands is the last country to be named a finalist. The others are Belgium, Ireland, Lithuania and Estonia.
The wildest performance of the first semi-finals was from the Montenegrin trio known as Who See. But hip-hoppers in astronaut costumes might be a touch shrill for the Eurovision Song Contest. And the over-the-top Barbie clothes worn by Serbia's girl band Moje 3 could have something to do with their failure to win the hearts of the judges.
Surprises in store
The first semi-finals prove that the concept for the show, as conceived by EBU and the Swedish broadcaster, SVT, is itself a winner. The order of appearance was set by the organizers, in order to ensure variety and a gripping show. And as the majority of the songs in this year's contest resemble one another, there were efforts to break them up with video inserts from ESC fans in Australia or with a potted history of the contest.
One of these videos contained an unexpected appearance by the moderator of the evening, Swedish actress Petra Mede. She could be seen interviewing Udo Jürgens during his performance of the song "Merci Cherie" in 1996, or two years later as a backing singer for Cliff Richard.
And for those who didn't like the show, Petra Mede had a few words of comfort: "Don't complain. In Norway it would have cost more."