The Billboard Music Awards, unlike other awards, determine the winners based on year-end chart performance. Michael Jackson made a fortune because of how well his music was received, but the decision to include a computer generated hologram of the late singer in the music award ceremony seems more like a business move, bordering on exploitation, and less like a genuine homage to the King of Pop.
On May 13, Michael Jackson’s estate posthumously released his latest album titled Xscape. Like many deceased celebrities, his popularity had a resurgence in the wake of his untimely death. Many of his greatest hits from decades ago again found their way to the top of the charts and were being played on radios all over the world. Death, it seems, is a great marketing tool.
The timing of this latest album release, and the holographic depiction to be used of Michael Jackson in the Billboard Music Awards are far too convenient not to be a marketing ploy. In 2012, at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, a similar hologram of 2 Pac was used on stage. Following the festival, Billboard reported the late rapper’s albums immediately saw a 571% increase in sales.
Knowing how financially lucrative a promotion projecting a deceased performer onto a stage and including it in the shows performance can be, as far as business goes, this is an easy decision. With artists such as Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus all in the running for awards, it is clear they did not need more star power. The inclusion of this spectacle among so many talented living performers seems less emotional and more fiscal. Using the King of Pop’s likeness and including it in the Billboard Music Awards, however fun and profitable, borders on exploitation.
Honoring Michael Jackson as a gesture of remembrance and respect for all he contributed to the industry and the world is a movement many people can get behind. However, when the motive of money stands out so clearly, just weeks after his estate has released an album, this spectacle at the Billboard Music Awards may begin to cheapen the sentiment.
A lawsuit against the Billboard Music Awards attempted to block the use of the hologram, asserting that using such technology violates patents held by tech companies. The complaint revealed that a hologram of Jackson would be performing new songs from the recently released album. A federal judge shot down the case Friday and ruled that the Billboard Music Awards would be allowed to use the hologram.
This is not the first time the companies that claim to own the patents on the technology, Hologram USA Inc. and Musion Das Hologram Ltd., have sued. Earlier this year a lawsuit against MGM Resorts International claimed a digital rendition of Michael Jackson in the, Michael Jackson ONE show, also violated the patent.
With the green light given to use the hologram technology, the King of Pop will have another fifteen minutes of fame from beyond the grave. The eerie but fun inclusion of the later singer in the Billboard Music Awards will certainly raise the viewership of the show and sales for the new album. Somehow, without the Michael Jackson alive to actually be part of it all, it feels less like a rousing tribute and more like financial exploitation.
Opinion by John Benjamin Wilson