No matter what they take from me, sings Whitney Houston in one of her most famous songs, they can’t take away my dig-ni-ty. Can I be frank, girlfriend? Right now they are having a damn good try.
Whitney Houston has been dead for eight years but via the mawkish wonders of technology, this singing treasure has been dug up, digitalised, poured into a golden frock and is back on the road again – only this time as a singing hologram performing her greatest hits accompanied by a live band, backing singers and dancers.
This Hologram tour had its world premiere in Sheffield last night, where around 1,800 fans seemed happy to pay £30 to £65 each to watch the ghoulish spectacle of this spectre; a shimmering apparition of a deceased diva miming to newly remastered vocal tracks while wearing a pair of orange feathered knickerbockers. Honestly, I thought Yorkshire people had more sense.
From my seat in the balcony, the Whitney hologram looks too much like a plasticised dolly for comfort, waving her arms as if communicating in sign language with some invisible ducks, writes JAN MOIR
During her opening number, Higher Love, Holo-Whitney pads around the stage with little geisha steps, occasionally tapping the mic with elegant fingers, just like real-life Whitney once did. She even has an imaginary handkerchief to mop her imaginary sweat, ditto.
Yet from my seat in the balcony she looks too much like a plasticised dolly for comfort, waving her arms as if communicating in sign language with some invisible ducks. Like Tinkerbell, she vanishes only to appear moments later in a different costume as if regenerated in the Star Trek transporter.
Help! Is she/it actually going to speak to us? Yes – but only in vaguest showbizspeak – how ya doin’?
Matters turn creepy when the audience start applauding one of those pitch perfect Whitney notes, held until every bit of juice is squeezed, like always. But what are we fools applauding, if not an utter mirage?
There’s a big dude in the front row who films nearly the whole show on his phone; capturing an image of an image, a palimpsest of fakery, a hollow trophy of something that never was. Whitney doesn’t care. She sings I Have Nothing and some fans start dancing in the aisles, lost in the moment, as if they have caught Whitney-fever. Has everyone gone mad?
Matters turn creepy when the audience start applauding one of those pitch perfect Whitney notes, writes JAN MOIR
Of course, there have been pop star holograms before, but never on such an ambitious scale. Whitney’s hologram tour plays a dozen more dates in the UK and thence to Europe, America, infinity and beyond. At least the hotel costs will be minimal and there will be no backstage strops or drug problems, like before.
The couple behind the tour are Whitney’s brother Gary – who also plays in the band – and his wife Pat Houston, who was the star’s manager for 12 years. Pat claims that Whitney stated in 2011 that she wanted to do an ‘unplugged’ tour with smaller audiences. Today she believes this hologram tour is ‘honouring’ her sister-in-law’s legacy, which is one way of putting it.
‘You see through right to the heart of me,’ Holo-Whitney sings, but we can’t get to the heart of her art any more, not even close. She keeps to the back of the stage at all times and sometimes shuffles along with her dancers. It’s an impressive bit of techno-syncopation, but their flesh and blood corporeality only points up her essential alien weirdness.
Still the band are good, the sound is excellent and there is something to be said for the communality of the experience. It is still magical to hear this three octave mezzo soprano belting out those effortless, velvety notes in a concert hall – and to note once more the control, the stamina, the perfect technique. Even if it is pre-recorded.
Yet at her peak, Whitney Houston sang songs of incredible emotional power that clearly still resonate today; songs that are still played at funerals and weddings and parties. There is still a tiny trace of that magic here, even in this Tin Pan Alley gloaming of clammy artifice. Yet much of Whitney’s magic was in the way she would improvise, in the gospel tradition; something this pre-programmed will o’ the wisp cannot ever dream of doing.
Didn’t we almost have it all? Yes, darling but not tonight. Not ever again. Whitney Houston’s hologram has been skilfully created by using a body double, face mapping and digital lasers and one can appreciate the artistry involved but still wonder if it is entirely respectful, after someone has died, to force their ghost into slavery and profit from the imagery?
Dead is dead, after all. Don’t you think that there has been enough ignominy in Whitney Houston’s life? She doesn’t need this farrago of a show because her legacy is already there; burnished and beautiful in the recordings, the films, the concert footage, the music – and in our memories, too. So beam her back up, Scotty – and let her rest in peace.
Don’t you think that there has been enough ignominy in Whitney Houston’s life? She doesn’t need this farrago of a show, writes JAN MOIR