Resurrecting rockstars with holograms is ethically dubious

By Gabrielle Rosas

Tupac Shakur, one of the most influential rappers on the West Coast, was quickly and brutally murdered in a hailstorm of bullets on the Las Vegas strip on Sept. 13, 1996. Shakur, known for such hits as “California Love” and “How Do U Want It,” was no stranger to controversy, facing arrest and prison sentences multiple times during his career. He found himself once again at the center of a hot debate when he showed up to perform at Coachella for the first time April 13.

“HoloPac,” as he has been affectionately coined, was not, in fact, the rapper but simply his image. He made his grand entrance on stage with old pals Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, who interacted with the hologram as though it were actually Shakur. The deceased rapper swaggered across the stage, his trademark ripply abs and necklace clearly visible to all, even to the kids watching on YouTube.

And now it begins: a trend that promises so much easy profit it’s a wonder no one has tried it at a major music event before. Holograms have been a futuristic technological advancement reserved for sci-fi and “Star Wars’” R2-D2 for years. Then, at the 2004 MTV Music Awards, the alt-pop/rock outfit Gorillaz appeared in holographic form next to Madonna, an experience band founder Damon Albarn said he still regrets because the holograms’ quality was not up to par. Not to mention Madonna stole the show, drowning Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” with an over-the-top, divalicious dance performance.

Clearly, the music business is in desperate need of a way to boost revenue, and holograms are cheap and easy by industry standards. Digital Domain Media Group, the special effects company that created HoloPac, gained a 48 percent revenue increase since April 15, when the technology was first showcased. The company has even come out and said they would like to create an Elvis Presley hologram that would perform alongside Justin Bieber.

That is where I decided to draw the line and look at this whole shebang more closely. It is one thing when two friends of a deceased artist want to bring him or her back to life in a tribute, as Dr. Dre indicated in an interview with Rolling Stone. And I will be brutally honest: If Elvis were to really come back from the dead, either in holographic form or flesh and blood, no way in hell does teeny-bopper Bieber deserve to perform alongside him. Talk about a travesty.

Trust me, I enjoy the music of old dead guys more than I do the popular music of today. I would love nothing more than to see Bon Scott of AC/DC or Jimi Hendrix perform for just one minute, even if it is just a transient illusion. Something about it is inherently creepy, but I’ve done creepier things, like stalked lead singers and called radio stations at 4 a.m. to score concert tickets. I wouldn’t mind watching a hologram “perform,” and I would probably enjoy it.

But at what cost? We live in a culture where fame, gossip and profit often cloud the humanity of artists, so it is easy to forget that they are human beings like the rest of us. They have wives, husbands, mothers and fathers. Many of them have children whom they support. From a personal standpoint, I would be freaked out to see my grandpa Richard walking around in his underwear as a hologram—one of his favorite pastimes.

Ethically speaking, resurrecting rock stars and putting them on stage is not completely sound. There is a fine line the music industry must be careful not to cross, and the only way to do that to ask permission from the deceased artists’ surviving loved ones. Dr. Dre tread carefully when he first came up with the idea to bring his old friend back to life. He went straight to Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and asked her permission to use her son’s image on stage.  She approved Dre’s idea and even applauded it once she saw the performance online. As a thank you, Dre donated an undisclosed amount of money to Shakur’s charity, the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation.

Rappers usually get a bad rap—pun totally intended. But Dre got it right, and the rest of the industry should follow suit in the future.