Michael Jackson may have invented the moonwalk, and he certainly inaugurated his signature strut as a hologram — and the MJ hologram was certainly the talk of the 2014 Billboard Music Awards. But the King of Pop was not the first artist to perform 2D on a 3D stage. From Tupac’s 2012 Coachella resurrection to M.I.A. and Janelle Monae’s bicoastal duet last month, here’s five other awesome holograms that preceded Jackson’s return to (virtual) form.
5. M.I.A. and Janelle Monae
Where most holograms of artists have looked and behaved if they were actually there in physical form, to that M.I.A. and Janelle Monae said, “Or nah.” The two artists — whose joint performance from separate stages in New York and Los Angeles, respectively, was set up by Audi to promote their A3 launch — appeared as multiplied images of themselves (not unlike the dozens of Beyonces at another Billboard Music Awards show) bouncing and shimmering across the stage like a mirage, proving these “Bad Girls” really are the “Q.U.E.E.N.”
4. Elvis Presley and Celine Dion
Before there was Michael Jackson, there was Elvis, and that goes for holograms, too. In 2007, the King of Rock & Roll “joined” Celine Dion on American Idol (owned by Core Media, the company responsible for the equally time-warping, mind-bending Tupac hologram five years later) to perform his 1968 hit “If I Can Dream.” Standing side by side in black and white, the two make somewhat awkward stage mates, but it’s hard to go wrong with two of the most popular singers in history together in any form; especially when Presley looks so real you can practically see him sweat.
3. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Wu-Tang is for the children, but magic tricks are for everyone. “If you say it loud enough, he might appear,” RZA told the crowd at last year’s Rock the Bells, and after enough chants of “Ol’ Dirty Bastard!” and a blinding flash of white light, Dirty appeared. On the 10th anniversary of the festival and the almost-same milestone of his death, ODB’s profile — created from audio and visual composites of his son — rapped “Shame On a Nigga” exactly as he would if he were alive; except he’s definitely not, as he reminds the audience. “I’m usually looking down on you, but now I’m looking at you,” he points out before launching into “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”
Effectively Ground Zero for hologram mania, Tupac’s appearance at 2012’s Coachella with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre blew minds as much as it puzzled people, raising questions about the appropriateness of posthumous performances. “The crowd had no idea what to do with the hologram,” Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz wrote. “There were a lot more uneasy looks than blissfully excited super-fans.” Still, enough people loved his true-to-life rendition of “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” (not to mention his immaculate CGI abs) that Pac’s virtual touchdown set the stage for holographic projections to come.
1. Michael Jackson
Of course Michael Jackson’s likeness sings “Man in the Mirror” in Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas resident acrobatic production “Michael Jackson: One:” holograms appear when an image is projected from above onto, and then reflected off of, an onstage mirror. Puns aside, it’s unfortunately difficult to fully experience “One” from the available YouTube videos, which are shot from far away in the audience. Nevertheless, even that vantage point sends chills to anyone who thought the closest they’d come to seeing Jackson sing is Justin Timberlake. Especially following the prolonged legal battles over his death, Jackson’s performance here reminds us that his legacy will last forever.