Sixteen years after death, rapper set for world tour

The digital 3D image of Tupac Shakur performs on stage at the Coachella Music Festival © Getty Images

Tupac Shakur was shot dead in 1996 – but last week he was digitally resurrected for a performance at a US music festival, and a world tour is planned. What ever happened to ‘rest in peace’?

For thousands of music fans, this year’s Coachella festival was one to remember. On Sunday night, they had already witnessed performances from Dr. Dre, Eminem and 50 Cent. But there was an even bigger surprise in store.

In the dark of the California desert, 100,000 people watched in awe as an iconic rapper, complete with low-slung jeans, perfectly sculpted abs and signature tattoos, appeared on the stage. He was Tupac Shakur – and he has been dead for 16 years.

How could this be possible? The swaggering star was not a miraculous resurrection, but an incredibly lifelike digital illusion. Thanks to the latest technology, the long-dead legend was able to dominate the stage with his classic single Hail Mary, and was even joined by a very much alive Snoop Dogg for an unforgettable performance.

Fans all over the world went wild. Within hours, the ‘hologram’ had its own Twitter account. Dr. Dre – the brains behind the Tupac re-creation – announced plans to take the virtual superstar on a global tour. Suddenly, it seems possible that scores of deceased artists – from the Beatles to Amy Winehouse – could be given a new life on stage.

Though the technology to make the dead dance is new, business empires from beyond the grave are not. Since Tupac was gunned down at the age of 25, eight albums have been released in his name. 50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe continues to make eight million dollars every year, putting her name to t-shirts, perfumes, and even a classy Marilyn Merlot wine.

For the relatives of dead stars, this is lucrative business. But sometimes, it can lead to upsetting results. When one advertisement portrayed an angelic Kurt Cobain wearing a pair of Doc Martens boots, his widow Courtney Love took swift legal action, spelling the end of a multimillion-dollar deal for one advertising company.

Other examples are just as unsettling. In a recent TV spot, long-dead Queen frontman Freddie Mercury appeared to sing the praises of a brand of Japanese instant noodles. And many fans were bemused when Fred Astaire – a 1930s symbol of grace and style – was seen waltzing with a Dirt Devil Broom Vac in a 1996 advertisement. His daughter was saddened: his wonderful career, she said, ‘had been sold to the devil’.

Beyond the Grave

Many music lovers found Tupac’s appearance equally creepy. Once someone has died, some say, the living have no right to alter their memory by resurrecting them. We should honour the lives of those who are gone, and let them rest in peace.

Others don’t see the problem in using images of the dead to benefit the living. Dead people, after all, aren’t affected by what goes on in this world. It is sentimental and foolish to worry about them being offended.

You Decide

  1. Is Tupac’s hologram cool or creepy?
  2. Should advertisers be allowed to use images of dead people to promote their products?

Activities

  1. If you could resurrect any dead celebrity, who would you bring back to life? Write a short paragraph explaining your choice.
  2. Design an advertisement that uses the image of a dead celebrity in a witty yet sensitive way. Draw up your thoughts in a storyboard.

Some People Say...

“Let the dead rest in peace.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So will I really be seeing holographic performances from dead musicians?
It’s definitely possible. Digital Domain – the company that created the ‘hologram’ – has already produced similar optical illusions in performances by virtual band Gorillaz. And in Japan, an animated popstar called Hatsune Miku regularly performs live shows to millions of screaming fans. The technology is there, and is already being used.
Where else might dead celebrities appear?
One possibility is that entire films could star dead actors.Star Wars director George Lucas has already floated the idea of feature-length films that combine living actors with dead legends of the screen: in the future, we could enjoy movies in which Johnny Depp and Audrey Hepburn star side by side.

Word Watch

Coachella
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a three-day music festival held in Indio, in the Californian desert, every year. Started in 1999, it features a wide range of musical genres – from indie to hip-hop – as well as showcases of visual and sculptural art. This year, acts included Radiohead, David Guetta, The Black Keys and Swedish House Mafia.
Tupac Shakur
Tupac Amaru Shakur was an American rapper and actor with a cult following and legendary status. During his life he released three albums, spawning the hits Dear Mama and California Love, but was heavily involved in crime and served periods in prison. In 1996, at the age of 25, he was killed in a drive-by shooting. Since, records have continued to be released in his name – an observation that has led many to speculate that he faked his own death, and is now living on a remote island.
Digital illusion
Although it has been widely referred to as a hologram, the image of Tupac is actually a computer-generated optical illusion. It was made to look three-dimensional using a 19th Century magic trick, called Pepper’s Ghost, that uses glass and mirrors to create the appearance of a floating image.
Fred Astaire
A much-loved star of stage and screen, Fred Astaire appeared in 31 films, reaching the peak of his fame in the twenties, thirties and forties. He made his name with lively, elegant dancing – a style that paid off particularly well in the era of silent movies.

Subjects

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