05/17/2013 05:56 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Eurovision Song Contest celebrates pop excess

Techno beats, over-the-top stage antics and pop stars of the past return to the spotlight in Malmo, Sweden this weekend as the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest ramps up to its showy finale.

The unabashed celebration of European pop music excess heads into its climax this weekend, with 20 countries joining the six automatic qualifiers: Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and this year's host country Sweden.

Established in the 1950s as an upbeat way to unite Europe following the Second World War, Eurovision continues to draw an audience of more than 125 million viewers each year — an impressive feat in an era packed with myriad TV singing contests.

It's also served as a launch pad for performers — including Swedish phenom Abba, Canadian Céline Dion (who sang for Switzerland in 1988) and British pop band Katrina and the Waves — as well as the songwriters who pen winning or otherwise memorable tracks.

Heading into this year's finals, bookmakers have tapped 20-year-old Danish singer Emmelie de Forest and her catchy, Euro-pop tune Only Teardrops as the clear favourite.

Other notable competitors include:

- Romanian opera countertenor Cezar, vying for the Eurovision crown with the opera-pop crossover track It's My Life.

- Finland's Krista Siegfrid, who sparked a controversy when she kissed a female dancer during her semi-final performance of Marry Me.

- Hitmakers of the past, including Dutch singer Anouk, known for her 1997 rock anthem Nobody's Wife, and British performer Bonnie Tyler, best known for belting out 80s-era chart-toppers like Total Eclipse of the Heart and Holding Out for a Hero.

This year's contest also benefits from a retro element in the host country: the recent opening of the massive, permanent ABBA museum exhibit at Stockholm's Swedish Music Hall of Fame. The group is arguably Eurovision's best known winner, after the quartet triumphed in 1974 with their tune Waterloo.

"I was five years old. I remember the star-shaped guitar that Bjorn played," Hall of Fame head Mattias Hansson told Reuters, referring to Abba member Bjorn Ulvaeus.

"That was the coolest thing I'd ever seen."

Last year’s edition, won by Swedish pop singer Loreen and her dance track Euphoria, was controversial because of its host country: oil-rich, strategically located Azerbaijan. Rallies and protests raised international concerns about the government’s persecution of journalists and opposition voices as well as allegations of citizens being forcibly ejected to build a glittering new hall in Baku to host the Eurovision festivities.

The 2013 Eurovision final takes place Saturday.