A hologram that looked like Michael Jackson performed the previously unreleased “Slave to the Rhythm” at the Billboard Music Awards Sunday night. The performance began with a synchronized SWAT Team dancing until a curtain dropped and Jackson was seen sitting in a Dangerous-like throne. Then holo-Jackson (or someone impersonating MJ — it was difficult to tell if the projection was indeed an image of the real thing) sang and stuttered the upbeat dance number, which appears on the late pop star’s recently released Xscape, in the same urgent, frenzied, breathy tenors he gave Dangerous tracks like “Jam” and “In the Closet.” During the brief performance, the hologram twirled, crouched and moonwalked around the stage.
The appearance of the hologram wasn’t a sure thing. The awards show’s producers had attempted to keep it a secret, but it was leaked when two companies, including one that acquired the company that made the Tupac Shakur hologram at Coachella 2012, filed a lawsuit against the show. A judge rejected their claim, saying there was not enough evidence to show that the Billboard Music Awards was violating their patents — or even used their patents.
Jackson began work on “Slave to the Rhythm” when he was recording his 1991 album Dangerous. The version that the hologram performed was “contemporized,” to use Xscape executive producer L.A. Reid’s word, by four producers, including Timbaland, Babyface and Reid, for the record.
Xscape contains tracks that Reid culled from the Jackson family vaults, comprising material recorded between Thriller and his final album, Invincible. He then charged a number of producers, including the ones listed above, to give the tracks a modern edge, perhaps most notable on “Love Never Felt So Good,” a track Jackson wrote in 1983 with crooner Paul Anka and now features verses sung by Justin Timberlake. To show the difference in the versions, the album was released in two different configurations – one with just the “contemporized” songs and another with an extra disc of the original versions.