Will ABBA’s ‘virtual tour’ pave the way for the future of live music?

Despite my mum singing the hits of ABBA to me from an early age I am still not a fan (actually the singing might have something to do with this, sorry mum). Yet I couldn’t help be excited at Abba’s latest announcement. This wasn’t because they are reuniting, or even because they are releasing two new tracks this December. It’s because, after 35 years of being apart, ABBA have announced that they will commence their world tour after they have performed their new songs on TV. Well ABBA won’t be touring, their ‘digital selves’ will.


When, in 2016, ABBA first announced their holograms would tour the world it sounded ridiculous. Even now, talking out it 2 years later, it sounds just as ridiculous. But should it? Or is this just the beginning of the next step in ‘live’ music? It does seem alien for four virtual “ABBAtars” to be dancing on stage. The full live band standing behind them will probably be playing for their biggest ever audiences, yet they are performing for an act who isn’t even there. What makes it even stranger is how Björn Ulvaeus has said “It’s us as we were in 1979 when I think we looked our best. No one has done this before. There is an existential dimension to explore here as well: what would it be like to be young again”


This is possibly the vainest statement I have ever heard. Instead of going on stage themselves they want people to view them as they were in their youth. They are younger than The Rolling Stones, who are still touring, so infirmity through age isn’t the reason for avoiding tours. There is no reason the holograms can’t be of them as they are now and it has taken extra work to ‘de-age’ the holograms just so fans see them with fewer wrinkles. This is about appearances.


If I had the choice of band or hologram I would undoubtably choose band. But sometimes this isn’t possible


In Asia, hologram singers, such as Hatsune Miku, have been incredibly popular for years. Therefore, I have no doubt the tour will be hugely popular. In the west, Gorillaz have achieved the same live success as these Asian acts, however most of their performances have been a live band with supplementary projections.


Nothing compares to seeing a band live, the energy and interaction are unbeatable. If I had the choice of band or hologram I would undoubtably choose band. But sometimes this isn’t possible. The introduction of holograms could make the live music experience cheaper and more accessible. The community feeling from the crowd will still be the same and there is no way this could stop the whole audience singing along in unison. This is one of the best parts of seeing a live performance.


Although it would be great to finally be able to see a famous performance recreated, there is the possibility of this going overboard. This depends on what you consider going too far, and whether it already has. Roy Orbison died 30 years ago but this year he went on tour. Orbison’s hologram performed a series of concerts with a full orchestra across the UK. It is hard to know what he would have thought about touring via a piece of technology he would never have dreamed would exist. I am unsure whether I could enjoy the show, or whether the dead should stay dead. From reviews it seems to be the latter. Crowds were uncertain about singing along and were unconvinced by the imitation of Orbison. It’s hard to tell if this is because of the technology or the experience. Nothing would stop people from singing along to ABBA, but at that point would it not be better to just see a cover band?


The fact that fans struggled to join in with Orbison’s great Oh Pretty Woman has me doubting whether the novelty of seeing an idol will ever outweigh the unnerving feeling of seeing a doppelganger that is not quite human. Hologram technology has advanced greatly allowing the prospect of convincing live performances to be just around the corner. But fans will need to change their expectations more until they are convinced by the lie they are being sold.