Despite the well of affection for the late Michael Jackson, his “return” in the form of a hologram at Sunday night’s Billboard Music Awards didn’t meet with unanimous approval.
The spectral Jackson performed “Slave to the Rhythm,” one of the singles from “Xscape,” a new album of posthumously released Jackson music. He was accompanied by actual, physically present dancers.
It was either the most amazing thing ever — or super creepy, depending on which side of the fence you were viewing it from.
Recording artist Trevor Morgan tweeted “MICHAEL JACKSON HOLOGRAM IS RAD.” New York magazine’s Vulture assistant editor Lindsey Weber tweeted “turns out this michael jackson hologram is just as confusing and uncomfortable as we imagined.”
Twitter user Assata H. seemed to fall in the middle, tweeting “That Michael Jackson hologram kind of scared me…it was cool. But it was weird.”
Buzzfeed deemed it “scarier than the ‘Thriller’ video” while Mashable called it “stunning.”
Though the Jackson hologram was new, the debate over whether or not deceased celebs should be brought back is not. The Billboard “performance” also resurrected the discussion on whether fans even want to see their favorite artists as holograms.
In 2012 a hologram of the late rapper Tupac Shakur stunned audiences at the Coachella music festival. Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley have also been reanimated, after a fashion.
At the time, National Post writer Matt Gurney argued that dead stars should be allowed to rest in peace.
“The technology is undeniably impressive,” Gurney wrote in 2012. “But Shakur is not a fictional character, owned by a studio, but a real-life human being. His work may be owned and licensed, but not his entire being. It is impossible to know how he’d have felt about being on that stage.”
Soraya Nadia McDonald with The Washington Post wondered if this latest venture into digitally bringing artists back is the mark of more to come.
“The Jackson hologram raises some questions: Is this where we’re headed?” she wrote. “Long after Madonna is gone (or perhaps, as with Jackson’s hologram, not that long), can we expect to see the Material Girl performing ‘Holiday’ in a Grammys tribute, suspended in digital formaldehyde, just the way she was in 1983? And if so, what good are music videos?”
The technology seems to have gotten even better. As one person tweeted (we hope jokingly), “I am very scared why is Michael Jackson alive.”
The performance had the full support of the Jackson family estate. According to Billboard, brother “Jackie Jackson started to tear up as he recalled watching ‘Slave to Rhythm’ in the audience at the MGM Grand Arena.”
“When he started walking and dancing, I was teary-eyed,” Billboard reported him as saying. “It’s hard to please Michael’s fans and Michael… I’m telling you it’s amazing.”
The performance was supposed to be a tightly held secret for the annual awards show, but that fell apart thanks to a lawsuit meant to stop it. According to the Los Angeles Times, companies Hologram USA Inc. and Musion Das Hologram Ltd. had filed suit against the show to stop the bit, claiming the show was using their technology without permission. Hologram USA had acquired the rights to the patents for the technology after Digital Domain, the company which created the Shakur hologram, filed for bankruptcy.
Oscar-winning Digital Domain had produced special effects for several films, including “X-Men: First Class” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
A judge ruled that Billboard could use the Jackson hologram.
The Washington Post’s McDonald didn’t find the technology to be all that precise.
“The effect was quite realistic, though at times just jerky enough that Jackson’s hologram more closely resembled his representation in the Nintendo Wii game ‘Michael Jackson: The Experience’ than the man himself. In fact, it was actually slightly less realistic than the Tupac hologram that appeared at Coachella in 2012 (which was actually a projection, not a hologram), but the response was a little different.”
Complaints in social media ranged from points about the hologram’s youthful appearance (Jackson was 50 at the time of his death in 2009) to the thought that the digital representation’s mouth appeared to be “lip-syncing.”
One fan was forgiving, however.
“It’s okay,” sloth queen tweeted. “I forgive everyone for not making a perfect hologram i understand and accept Michael Jackson was too perfect to recreate.”