Those who dream of dancing alongside popular musicians may finally get the chance — sort of — thanks to the latest byproduct of the music industry’s ongoing love affair with holograms.
Jadu, a Los Angeles startup that launched on Wednesday morning, is just the most recent in a music industry craze that began with the Tupac hologram at Coachella in 2012 and still isn’t stopping. While holographic personas have been most prominently (and controversially) used for concert tours of dead performers, such as in the ongoing Whitney Houston hologram show in the U.K., Jadu is trying to take the concept in another direction to market artists’ new content instead.
Jadu got five initial artists, including Poppy, Pussy Riot and Vic Mensa, to put their digital likenesses on the app, and filmed them dancing and posing, surrounded by 106 cameras to make three-dimensional images. Footage will show up in the app’s camera, and the artists’ songs will play in the background while users film their own videos alongside the holograms.
Asad J. Malik, CEO of 1RIC, the augmented reality studio that developed the app, said he’d been trying to find a way for three-dimensional holograms to be more accessible to average consumers. He’d previously done AR work for features at the Sundance and Tribeca movie festivals, but wanted to expand. Malik and the studio developed the app specifically with highly interactive short-form video platforms like TikTok and Instagram in mind. “People are used to being in the content, if they’re posting things, they’ll likely be in it, especially with the rise of TikTok,” he says. “There’s a whole new generation of people who are very confident in expressing themselves through another artist’s art.”
The tech behind making these holograms a reality is expensive and can cost upwards of $100,000 per day for access, Malik said. To actually make a profit, Malik is hoping the app gets more popular from user-created videos gaining traction on social media. Malik also hinted that Jadu would be announcing a premium tier of artists in the coming weeks for users to pay to unlock, but he declined to specify those artists.
Augmented reality for music promotion has grown more widespread in recent years; In February, Pearl Jam previewed “Superblood Wolfmoon,” a new single off its upcoming album Gigaton, by teaming up with AR studio Powster to release a song that could only be accessed by pointing a cellphone at the moon, and in 2018, Eminem launched an augmented reality companion app for his headlining show at Coachella.
For Pussy Riot, founder Nadya Tolokonnikova said she saw the technology as a more effective means letting their followers be involved in their activism and feel closer to the group. Pussy Riot’s hologram video features Tolokonnikova rocking out to “Hangerz,” a recent Pussy Riot single about abortion and women’s rights. “One of our rules is that anyone can be Pussy Riot, and if anyone can download the app and have us near them just using their phones, it helps further that idea that anyone can be a part of Pussy Riot and can join the movement,” Tolokonnikova said. “Anyone can do it.”
Philip Lelyveld, immersive media initiative lead at the Entertainment Technology Center, a think tank based at the University of Southern California, says holograms and augmented reality are a rising presence in the entertainment industry as a whole, adding that the music industry is moving quick but cautiously with the new tech. But the tech needs to evolve quickly to keep users’ attention, he says.
“Artists have been trying to do that in concert for years, and now they’re trying to make it a consumer connection,” Lelyveld tells Rolling Stone. “The technology is coming along rapidly, now we have to come up with the language or evolving experience that people want. If this is an extension of the artist communication, it can work beautifully. If it plays off their videos, concert tours, social media engagement, that could be really interesting. But It will evolve rapidly, people with a short attention span are going to tire of seeing the same thing more than a few times.”
Malik sees more augmented reality as the next generation of multimedia content for musicians, but he says the industry has a ways to go before it fully embraces that form of promotion. “I don’t think they’re taking that into account enough,” he says. “People want to engage and be part of the story, be part of the musical or artistic narrative that’s out there. Fans are making these videos learning these dances. They’re going out of their way to learn a skill almost to produce content. If fans are putting in the effort to be a part of this content, artists can be giving them more of a push to engage with their media as well.”