An amazing development in the future of entertainment dropped this past week. Iconic Seventies band ABBA announced that they will launch an “avatar tour” in 2019 or 2020, performing as computer-generated digital versions of themselves.
Mama mia ... ABBA-tars!
And, as a consequence, the real (really real -- or "Base Reality 0"??) members of the band have recorded real (really real!) new songs to accompany the tour, with presumably ridiculously lucrative specials planned for the BBC and NBC coming in December.
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying the anthemic belting of ABBA in their heyday. They were the 1970s.
(My dad had “ABBA: Arrival” on vinyl and it played in heavy rotation on his Danish Tandberg stereo kit in our living room. My Grandma Brown, born in 1900 in Staten Island, NY, was particularly fond of “Dancing Queen”. Perhaps she herself had been one, meeting my Grandpa Brown at a Navy dance in NYC back in the day.)
For their part, "ABBA, the people" went away, but their music didn’t. The irrepressible spirit of ABBA carried on in backpacker/hostel taverns across the English speaking world. In the quintessential Aussie-ness of the wonderful mid-90s film “Muriel’s Wedding”. The West End/Broadway smash success of “Mamma Mia!” Its better-than-expected film adaptation. The national treasure that is the ABBA Museum in Stockholm.
And of course their presaging of “the Swedish sound”, paving the way for the likes of Max Martin and others who made Cheiron Studios (and Stockholm in general) literally and figuratively “the Song Machine” for the last 20 years.
It is safe to say that, through the decades, they were and still are loved.
But aside from a few photos here and there, we never really saw Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Anni-Frid out in public too much. B&B collected their Tony Awards for Mamma Mia... a few group photos now and again. The closest I ever personally got was sailing around Stockholm harbor on a tour-boat circa 2000, and coming near to an island supposedly owned by one of them.
For the most part, they remained elusive and mysterious. Content to stay out of the limelight with their fortunes made and divorces settled (amicably, it seemed?) long ago. According to the BBC, they “resisted pressure to reform since they stopped recording together in 1982, despite a reported $1 billion offer to tour in 2000.”
ABBA’s been like a four-person, Nordic version of the unseen Willy Wonka, staying out of sight – but not churning out any new musical confections for us to savor until now. In that, they remained the antithesis of the likes of Sir Paul or a Sir Elton, Plant & Page, or Clapton or the suddenly, tragically-deaf Huey Lewis who we’ve all seen grow older, wiser, more Vegassy, more wealthy, but always reminding us of the years passing by. They're even further "out" than the reclusive genius of Joni Mitchell or the likes of Dylan (Grammy Award for Album of the Year at nearly 60!) or a Sir Keith who've mellowed into old age like a fine wine.
According to Bjorn, in a nutshell the new ABBA-tar “idea (was) that we could make identical digital copies of ourselves of a certain age and that those copies could then go on tour and they could sing our songs, you know, and lip sync. I've seen this project halfway through and it's already mind-boggling... And they say once it's finished you'll never see that it's not a human being.”
It was only a couple of months ago that Sir Elton John announced his “real reality” Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour via a masterpiece of virtual reality. The magic was using the nascent skills of new jobs of the future like mixed-reality Journey Builders to match his iconic music and flamboyance from years’ past, overlaid onto the new canvas of immersive experience. If you haven’t seen it, it’s marvelous (from the slickest Oculus to the lowest-brown Google cardboard, it’s worth donning any 360 HMD you can get your hands on to watch it, and crank the volume to 11...).
And, of course, we can’t forget the mind-blowing trailblazers that resurrected the late Tupac Shakur – from beyond the grave – to stand onstage, in ghostly avatar form, at Coachella in 2012.
New developments in the paint box of augmented reality tools will make the profession of AR Journey Builder a powerhouse in the coming future of the incipient “Experience Economy”. Thinking about the future possibilities from a B2C perspective might look something like this: “Want to know what it’s like to be on-stage with the E Street Band? Facebook/Rift will put you next to the Boss at the venue of your choice.”
One look at NVIDIA’s recent beauty parlor makeover of the avuncular Ernest Borgnine with its so-called “in-painting” tools is enough to make a believer out of anyone.
The choice of the ABBA-tars, then, is a calculated, technology driven move to give us the best of ABBA NOW, but to serve the presentation up in an augmented reality package that thumbs its nose at the passage of time. It’ll also serve as an “I’m late! I’m late” clarion call to others to follow the possibilities of augmented reality down a new rabbit hole of creativity.
To be continued, one pop-star at a time...