Last night, a holographic Michael Jackson "came back from the dead" to perform at the Billboard Music Awards in Nevada. He sang "Slave to the Rhythm", a song from his album Xscape, released by Epic from beyond the grave. Xscape is a record of old, unfinished Jackson material and his appearance at the Billboard ceremony was that of a dead man moonwalking, as the saying doesn't quite go. The fact that Xscape has shot to No.1 in the album charts in over 50 countries proves that he still generates massive interest irrespective of his death, and it is indeed this factor that contributes to the sensationalist hype that will inevitably come attached to any posthumous MJ release.
Of course, we understand the appeal of holograms. When Tupac was resurrected at Coachella, everyone heralded it (rightly) as a masterful feat of technology and a perfect execution of timing. Janelle Monáe and M.I.A., who are both artists in the middle of successful careers, ensured that they could share a stage from different cities when they both performed holographically last month.
But is this obsession with "resurrecting" dead artists getting a little creepy? Firstly, let's bear in mind that this album was a collection of Jackson's vocal ideas reimagined, rehashed and recontextualised by hitmaker producers such as Timbaland, and featuring special guests like Justin Timberlake. It's unclear whether Jackson would have ever wanted anybody to hear this material, and guys, maybe you should have just left out the track "Do You Know Where Your Children Are?"
MJ's hologram performance in Las Vegas went ahead despite a ridiculous lawsuit attempt from the companies Hologram USA and Musion, which claimed that they owned the patents to the technology being used. Already, conspiracy theories are hitting the internet – that wasn't the real fake Michael Jackson, that was an impersonator, or that the hologram was just another example of the Illuminati peppering mainstream culture with their eerie symbolism.
But perhaps eeriest is the fact that this performance was a contribution to the marketing campaign for a record that Jackson didn't approve, put together to line the pockets of corporations. This is not the material that Jackson was working on before his death, which may have more currency as a worthwhile cultural artefact. It's an album of pre-millennium scraps of material and demos cobbled together, lent weight by producers who bring in the $$$ and promoted via a resurrection – Michael moonwalking, Michael singing, Michael happy again.
This holographic performance was a marketing exercise that simply, sold Jackson short. It's a song he'd not performed before; it's not a song anybody even knew that he wanted finished.
Jackson wrote in his autobiography Moonwalk, "a perfectionist has to take his time; he shapes and he moulds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t. If it’s not right, you throw it away and do it over. You work that thing ’til it’s right. When it’s as perfect as you can make it, you put it out there.”
He was an auteur and a master delegator. Given that he's not here to oversee the public release of his art, should we be creating holograms of a dead artist to promote the release of an album nobody even knows that he'd like?
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot
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