Through the looking glass, Abba and the AdContrarian.
This Pica has a split personality but a common theme: things aren’t what they seem.
For the first time since I began this series in 2016, the English and Italian versions of a Pica have different subjects. Italian Pica #108 is a translation of Bob Hoffman’s The AdContrarian Newsletter #285 ‘Adtech’s Monster Fail’.
If you haven’t read it I urge you to head over to LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/alarming-result-accidental-research-bob-hoffman/
Now, if you’ve read Mr Hoffman’s piece (seriously, if you haven’t do it now, here’s a little taste: “If these adtech clowns can't discover billions of honest mistakes from someone who is not trying to deceive them, what chance do they have against the fraudsters who are trying to deceive them?”) let’s get this show on the road.
This week, the four members of Abba reunited in public for the premiere of their Abba Voyage show in London. With a combined age of 300 years, Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Bjorn opted not to be on the stage instead they sat comfortably and watched themselves perform.
This was made possible by what they call ABBAtars, avatars of the band developed by Industrial Light & Magic, that depict them as they were in 1977.
The use of avatars isn’t entirely novel, 2Pac appeared on stage at Coachella 2012, fifteen years after his assassination, as a hologram and performed two songs with Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre. Travis Scott and Ariana Grande have performed virtually on the Fortnite online video game platform and competitors Roblox, Minecraft and Adventure Quest 3D have also hosted concerts by other famous artists. It seems there is an audience for virtual shows, Travis Scott, reportedly, attracted 12.3 million viewers and Ariana Grande 27.7 million.
To me, the question now is, what does ‘live performance’ mean? In essence, the Abba Voyage show is a cinematic experience: pre-recorded sound and vision with a live backing band that can be reproduced by technicians in any suitable theatre, cinema or stadium. Decoupled from the physicality of an artist, the spectacle can be performed many times a day and in multiple different locations simultaneously.
For decades, when every Rolling Stones tour was announced thousands said to themselves, ‘It could be the last chance to see them live’. If the Rolling Stones were to tour infinitely, their avatars prancing long after their mortal limbs are lain to rest, will their concerts still be live events? Once the novelty of avatars wears off, will virtual concerts maintain their allure? Will machine perfection and the predictability of endless repetition destroy their value?
On May 12, Pearl Jam found themselves without a drummer for their gig in Oakland after Matt Cameron tested positive for Covid-19. Various professional musicians took turns playing the drums but for the encore, the band picked a 20-year-old fan named Josh Arroyo out of the crowd. It seems he did a good job of it but that is beside the point. What matters is that the people in the crowd witnessed the magic of one of them momentarily joining the band. They shared a unique moment.
Since 1981, the Mexico cinema in Milan has repeatedly shown The Rocky Horror Picture Show with live actors complimenting the projected film and the audience invited to sing along and interact. Some of the audience dress like the characters in the movie. Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and the rest of the film cast are virtually present in Milan anytime the cinema management decides to put on the show but it is the audience participation and the live actors that make the experience unique and human.
The opening night of Abba Voyage was a novel event much like the first bible off the Gutenberg press was unique. The ABBAtars are scheduled to perform, like clockwork, in London until December of this year and then might tour the world. Tellingly, an Abba fan who travelled from Berlin to see the opening night of Abba Voyage commented, "And the absolute highlight was that they [the four septuagenarians known as Abba, Ed.] came on stage at the end."