Personally Speaking: ‘I want to watch live music – not a digitally resurrected star’ – Richard Ault


Tribute artists are a surprise addition to the list of professions likely to be made obsolete by new technology.

Yet with virtual Whitney Houston currently on tour, eight years after she died in a Californian hotel, it seems the days of Fred Zeppelin, The Bootleg Beatles and Nearvana could be numbered.

Technology has brought the diva back from the grave as a hologram, which is currently playing to sold-out arenas across Britain during her (its?) world tour.

I don’t know whether to be amazed or creeped out. Is it a stunning celebration of Whitney’s music and legacy? Or a cynical cash-in which makes a ghost-slave of the famously troubled star?

An Evening With Whitney sees the diva take to the stage as a hologram, backed by real musicians and dancers

I watch a lot of live music. Seeing a band performing on stage is one of my favourite things to do.

At it’s best, it’s a joyous shared experience between the crowd and the musicians on stage (excluding the annoying, tall people who stand in front of me, or worse, people who talk constantly during gigs).

I haven’t seen Fake Whitney, other than on YouTube, but I don’t think that connection between artist and audience can be recreated by an avatar repeating pre-recorded phrases.

According to some reports, Fake Whitney was heckled at her (its?) Sheffield show, which is a bit weird and pointless. You might as well shout at the toaster for burning your bread.

The Whitney Houston hologram

Reviews of the Manchester show, however, describe fans bursting into tears – in a good way – when the avatar started to sing, (or appear to sing as a recording of one of Real Whitney’s best live performances was played).

There was also rapturous applause at the end of the show, and why not? It would ruin the atmosphere not to clap and cheer, as well as completely shatter the illusion. I imagine the real musicians and backing dancers supporting the avatar appreciated it too.

But it meant nothing to Fake Whitney.

If the tour is a success – and venues are selling out – I wonder which other stars will be brought back from the dead?

Elvis Presley? David Bowie? Prince? Freddie Mercury? I can imagine it becoming a boom industry in the future.

The real Whitney Houston, performing in 2004

But would those stars appreciate being brought back as a hologram? Some would, others might hate the idea. I can’t imagine someone like Kurt Cobain would be happy about it. I’ve no idea what Whitney would think, although her estate is fully behind the virtual tour.

There are many artists I would love to have seen in their heyday – and if I ever get my hands on a time-travelling DeLorean I’ll use it drive back to the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s to watch all the great bands I’ve never seen in their pomp.

But do I want to pay about £70 a ticket (it costs between £63 and £73 to see Fake Whitney in Nottingham) to watch an avatar?

No, I don’t.

I’d rather watch a real performer. Someone who can interact with the audience, change up the set-list without the aid of a digital programmer, or even hit a wrong note or forget a lyric.

Would Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Seattle-based grunge rock group Nirvana, appreciate being brought back as a hologram?

I’ve also watched and enjoyed tribute bands. It can never be as good as the real thing, but I’m happy to buy into the illusion and pretend.

I imagine it’s not that different with Fake Whitney and I can see why many people would be happy to suspend reality and imagine the avatar is the real diva – particularly given her immense talent and the tragic way she died.

But it’s just not for me.

I’m sure Fake Whitney puts on a flawless performance, as would Fake Freddie, Fake Elvis and Fake Kirk.

But I wouldn’t particularly want to watch any band miming their hits – even if that band was a digitally resurrected super group in holographic form.

I expect a flawless performance when I put a record on – if I’m at a gig I want a real one.





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