Count me among those who have no desire to see Whitney Houston resurrected on stage — or Amy Winehouse, Roy Orbison or any of the other dead celebrities modern technology now enables the world to enjoy well after they have left us.
On Monday it was announced that a tour has been planned around the music and a hologram of the late Houston, who died in 2012. Pat Houston, the pop star’s sister-in-law, former manager and now president and chief executive officer of her estate, has endorsed the project, titled “An Evening with Whitney: The Whitney Houston Hologram Tour.”
“Whitney prided herself on her family and that included her fans,” Pat Houston said in a statement. “She adored her audiences and that’s why we know she would have loved this holographic theatrical concept.”
As much as I loved Houston and her music, it’s a hard pass for me.
Houston was a powerhouse performer, albeit a troubled one.
Part of the reason her music resonated with me, and likely so strongly with the public is because we bore witness to her struggles, including substance abuse.
We felt pain when she sang of love and loss because we knew that she had felt it.
It wasn’t just her angelic voice that made Houston an irreplaceable talent, it was her spirit, her brokenness and humanity.
And that was taken from us when she accidentally drowned at the age of 48 in a Los Angeles hotel bathroom.
We miss Whitney Houston because we are supposed to.
Why trot out a Hollywood version of that legacy?
Yes, the hologram technology makes it possible to hear that incomparable voice again and experience the way this true diva commanded a stage, but you can never replace the organic and soulful connection that happened with an audience when a living, breathing artist like Houston performed in a live show.
When she sang, it was chill-inducing as her voice seemed to soar to the heavens.
Having experienced the real thing, the hologram concept to me feels ghoulish and exploitative by comparison.
Amy Winehouse’s estate also planned a hologram concert tour to celebrate the singer.
Winehouse died of an accidental alcohol poisoning in 2011. She was 27.
Months after the show was announced last year, the company heading the project postponed it.
“Sometimes in developing this type of highly ambitious, state of the art hologram/augmented reality theatrical event we encounter some unique challenges and sensitivities that cause us to take a step back,” Base Hologram chairman and chief executive officer Brian Becker said at the time in a statement to Billboard. “Developing our productions is a cross between a Broadway show and a concert spectacle which requires creative engineering and that type of creativity does not necessarily follow a schedule.”
That was music to the ears of some Winehouse fans.
“She hated touring. Was intensely private,” one person tweeted. “She left us her music. That’s more than enough. Leave her in peace. No hologram tour.”
Other devotees like the idea. News about the Houston hologram tour was met with hope by some on social media that other late artists, including Michael Jackson, would receive a similar treatment.
“Whitney Houston is performing as a hologram so i think we need michael show like that especially for people who missed out because of their younger age or his death,” one person tweeted.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Becker said he is hopeful audiences will keep an open mind.
His company has already produced experiences with holograms of Orbison and Maria Callas.
The technology has grown over the years. What some called a “hologram” in the past really wasn’t.
For example, when Tupac showed up to perform at Coachella in 2012, 16 years after he died, it wasn’t a hologram, but rather an adaptation of a special effect used at theme parks and stage shows called “Pepper’s Ghost.”
Base reportedly uses “cutting-edge proprietary techniques” to combine audio of the deceased artist with “digital and laser imaging, CGI techniques, and spectacular showmanship.”
A model is often hired to replicate the movements of the artist and computer animation is used to create a digital representation that is then projected onto a stage, complemented by an orchestra, backup singers or whatever the production calls for.
Orbison’s son was moved to tears by the production built around his father, Becker said.
The resistance to holograms, as Becker sees it, is no different from those who objected to going from black and white film to color. He said his company wishes only to honor greats artists like Houston.
“We are doing this in cooperation with people who love her,” he said. “I think this is just another opportunity to be able to bring to the stage what her shows were like, so fans can enjoy it again or enjoy it for the first time.”
From merchandising to packages of unreleased music, major artists continue to make money long after they’ve passed. The hologram shows can be a boon for estates looking to create revenue and keep an artist’s body of work alive.
According to the Los Angeles Times, last year’s European tour of the Orbison show sold 35,000 tickets over 15 locations. Becker said he expected his firm’s revenue this year to be in the range of $25 million to $35 million.
The work, Becker said, is all guided by those closest to an artist.
“The family and the estate, the people who are responsible for guarding the artist’s legacy, they have to make the final call,” he explained.
He added that the family’s wishes are respected when they aren’t comfortable with the concept and referenced the case of Prince at the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show.
There was an immediate backlash when it was suggested that there would be a Prince hologram performing with Justin Timberlake in the singer’s hometown of Minneapolis.
Prince, who died who died in 2016 at age 57 of a drug overdose, said during a 1998 interview with Guitar World that he would never perform with a digital image of an artist that had died.
“That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be,” Prince said. “If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… it really is demonic. And I am not a demon.”
For the stars who have not and cannot make their wishes regarding holograms known, it’s up to the audience to decide if it’s a worthy ticket or not.
I’m not yet convinced.