A hologram of Michael Jackson appeared tonight at the Billboard Music Awards, almost five years after the singer's death. Jackson's hologram was materialized sprawled on a shimmering golden throne amid a host of backing dancers both real and ethereal. Stepping away from the incorporeal backdrop, Jackson's hologram threw out a host of his signature shapes, moonwalking its way through pyrotechnics as it performed the singer's recently released Slave to the Rhythm. The song comes from Jackson's posthumous Xscape album, released this month, which is made up of unreleased material remixed by artists such as Timbaland.
Jackson joins a growing list of musicians — both living and dead — who have had their images projected onto stages for "live" performances. Janelle Monáe and M.I.A were able to share a stage in April, even though the artists were 3,000 miles apart, while deceased rappers Ol' Dirty Bastard and Eazy-E made hologramatic appearances at concerts in 2013. The practice of resurrecting dead artists for posthumous performances was popularized by the appearance of Tupac Shakur's hologram at 2012's Coachella festival. The likeness was created by visual-effects studio Digital Domain, which reportedly took four months to create the projection of the rapper at a cost of up to $400,000.
The technology to create apparent holograms on stage has existed since the 16th century
Digital Domain filed for bankruptcy in 2012. The companies that purchased the studio's assets had attempted to halt the performance of Jackson's hologram at tonight's awards. Hologram USA and Musion Das Hologram argued that the show violated their patents, but the show went ahead after a Las Vegas judge agreed that the technology was in the public domain.
The technology to project apparent holograms on stage has existed since the 16th century, and was given a name by British chemist John Pepper in Victorian Britain. But while the "Pepper's Ghost" illusion is not a new invention, the advent of lifelike CGI has only recently allowed us to resurrect celebrities and musicians, and to make them sing and dance for us on stage once more.