The King of Pop made an appearance from beyond the grave at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, after almost half a year of organizing the choreography, filming, and developing the necessary technology. The ironic thing is, the 3D digital projection image of Michael Jackson dancing and singing “A Slave to the Rhythm” almost didn’t happen due to Hologram USA Inc., and Musion Das Hologram Ltd., claiming that the holographic of Jackson would violate several of their patents. Lucky for fans, the claims were rejected by federal judge Kent Dawson just two days before the event.
How was this mystical performance pulled off? Billboard Music Awards producers Dick Clark Productions built a unique stage, specifically for the Jackson set only, positioned at the back of the MGM Grand Arena and modeled after the album art for “Dangerous.” The film projected on it included dancers in ancient costumes (ala “Do You Remember the Time”), lasers, flame spouts, shimmering waves of light, and Jackson ascending from a throne of gold. From there, he struts down stairs before doing some very familiar dance moves.
Though directed by Jamie King, the hologram-Jackson’s signature dance moves were choreographed by the Talauega brothers, Rich and Tone, who worked with Jackson at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, as well as the 1997 HIStory tour. It’s from this time period that the choreography team seemed to draw their inspiration from.
“We knew we didn’t need to go so far left field with his dance moves — we just kept it within his world,” Rich Talauega said. “Its just the way you reconfigure his steps so it looks different. You’re still speaking the same language, it’s just a different dialect.” Tone Talauega said the performance is “classic Michael, but we put our spice on it,” by adjusting mere things, like head and hand angles after studying the star’s moves.
Jackson truly looked himself, a radiant beam, sporting a white t-shirt, brick red pants, and a gold jacket as he moonwalked, toe-tipped, hooted and crooned across the stage, moving along with sixteen other live dancers to a live five-piece band. One noticeable difference between the holographic performance and an actual live Jackson performance wasn’t his interaction with his fellow dancers surprisingly, but his reaction to the audience. There wasn’t any really; Jackson looked like he was unaware of the audience’s presence, but at the same time looked like he was enjoying himself immensely onstage. Despite this unavoidable (for now) oddity, the audience themselves were extremely enthusiastic and invigorated by the performance. As BBMA director and producer Larry Klein said, “You were watching the magic of Michael Jackson just like you would have when he was performing.”