Saturday sees the Eurovision Song Contest final take place in Kiev, Ukraine. The event promises to be a spectacular showcase for the newly democratic country. However, the talk over here has been of "panic" in the Swedish camp. Nothing's gone right for our boy, Martin Stenmarck, as everyone from SVT bosses to Norwegian glam rockers queues up to have a go at him.
Stenmarck, who earned the right to compete in Kiev following his victory at the Melodifestivalen in March, will be performing the up-beat show-style number, 'Las Vegas'. But his week in Ukraine has so far featured sloppy rehearsals, disastrous press conferences and remarkably unhelpful comments from Sweden's Eurovision cognoscenti.
The problems started as soon as the Swedes turned up. That's when they realised what Eurovision has become with the introduction of new energy and ideas from the Eastern European countries. SVT producer Anders G Carlsson said:
"We're impressed with how the Eastern Europeans have approached the competition. Down here we almost feel like country bumpkins. We should try to adopt their methods."
It's rumoured that Belorus have spent US$4m on their entry and the Greeks US$3m. Ukraine's new president following the controversial elections last year has been attending parties and will present the prizes on the night. Organisers even blew up a troublesome cloud which threatened to spoil a photo shoot.
The most important innovation has been the way the Eastern and Balkan countries have set about promoting their songs in other countries. The winner will be decided solely by telephone voting throughout Europe. Last year's winner, Ruslana, visited every single Eurovision country prior to the competition.
SVT's Melodifestivalen impressario, Christer Björkman, said:
"It's possible we'd be in the shake up this year if we'd done more promotion. Those who have done the miles will fill the top positions. A top ten finish would be a good achievement."
Aftonbladet's Fredrik Virtanen was stinging in his criticism of the Swedish effort:
"It's not about voting for your neighbours or your allies. It's bloody hard work that makes the difference. And Stenmarck thinks he's here on holiday... In the new Europe, there's nothing bigger. How much money have the Swedes put up? Or Martin Stenmarck's record company? The petty cash, that's how much."
But it's not just the overall strategy which has gone wrong, the hapless Swedes have been getting just about everything wrong. Monday's rehearsal was sloppy, off-key and Stenmarck was criticised for not wearing his stage clothes. By Wednesday his confidence was so low that he didn't dare toss up and catch his mike stand in trademark fashion. There then followed a disastrous press conference in which he stumbled over his English.
"It's panic stations, no doubt about it," said an insider as SVT held a crisis meeting behind Stenmarck's back.
The disastrous week reached an embarrassing, cringe-inducing nadir at a party for the Scandinavian competitors at a Kiev nightclub. Stenmarck started off by making loud, unfunny jokes about Norwegian rockers Wig Wam, which were completely ignored. He then attempted to sing one of his own compositions, but the backing tape got stuck. He was greeted by howls of derision from the audience.
Stenmarck attempted to rescue the situation by performing the Elvis classic, 'Suspicious Minds', only to be interrupted by Finland's competitor, Geir Rönning, who promptly stole the show.
"Martin'll be lucky to come 14th. I'm afraid it's just not a good song," said Rönning.
"It's not much of a song. We'll win. He won't," said Glam of Norwegian group Wig Wam.
Even Björkman's support for his own man was remarkably lukewarm. He seemed to prefer the song that had come second in the Melodifestivalen by veteran Nanne Grönvall:
"Nanne's competed in the final before and is a name in Eurovision. Now that we know the rest of the field, I think other songs might have stuck out more."
"It's embarrassing to stand by and watch Martin getting bullied," wrote Expressen.
So does Martin have any friends down there in Kiev? Well, there's his manager, Björn Gordon Solfors, who had a similar interpretation to Expressen:
"Martin feels like people are walking all over him. The criticism feels like bullying. Morale is low, but Martin's doing his best. Everyone's finding it tough."
The man himself is not surprisingly in fighting mood, although he admitted to feeling the pressure to keep Sweden in the top ten - thus avoiding the ignomy of Sweden having to qualify for the final next year.
"Of course I don't want to be the guy to get Sweden relegated. At the same time I've come up trumps before as an underdog and I hope I can do so again. I don't care what people say, I just have to work hard and do my thing."
He also hit back at SVT and refused to take all the responsibility for this week's disaster on himself:
"SVT haven't done any promotion, it's all up to me. I've put my hand up and dealt with the situation. I speak to the media and work from 7 in the morning to 2 at night. I don't intend to sit here feeling sorry for myself. I'll give it everything on Saturday."
The favourite for the competition is Greek entrant Elena Paparizou from... Gothenburg. So Sweden might be celebrating a winner on Saturday night after all.
Sources: Expressen, Aftonbladet, Göteborgs Posten