We suspend our disbelief all the time, of course. We happily believe that Robert De Niro is young in The Irishman, that New Zealand is Middle-earth, and that our cats love us. But how much artifice is too much? When Whitney Houston, who died in 2012, materialises centre-stage at the Apollo in hologram form, I’m partly glad she’s here again and also feeling uneasy about grave robbing.
“Welcome to Whitney Houston, very much live,” says the smiling apparition, constructed using a body double, CGI imagery and concert recordings of the singer by Base Hologram. The company has also reanimated Maria Callas, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly, but seems to have put Amy Winehouse on ice. Holo-Houston changes from a gown to jeans in one magical twirl, shimmies in an orange catsuit during I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) and appears to be soaked by a thunderstorm at the dramatic climax of Run to You.
With a live band in the shadows and a set of energetic dancers, in other respects it’s like every other high-end pop show, which is generally lacking improvisation anyway. It’s questionable how much of an arena pop gig is really sung live, and most banter is scripted too.
Yet the creepiness of it all keeps edging back in. I realise the reason she looks weird is she isn’t under a spotlight – she’s emanating her own light. I think about the fact that she has no back – her band, behind the clear screen, are also seeing her front.
But the crowd are remarkably up for it. Any reverence they might have for real Whitney is replaced by an infectious silliness. “Go on Whitney!” someone yells during a pause for a high note. It’s a fun night, ideal for a residency in Vegas, which already has a fake Eiffel Tower. There is a place for this kind of thing, provided no one takes it too seriously as the future of music.