ABBA’s digital live performance, the metaverse and the way forward for leisure
Even pop legends are not immune to the advancing digitization of all areas of life and society. It was recently announced that Abba fans will see the Swedish supergroup in its heyday when their “Abba-tars” take the stage in London next year.
ABBA’s virtual concert, the metaverse and the future of entertainment
The quartet spent five weeks with A / V wizards at Industrial Light and Magic, using advanced motion capture techniques to create virtual copies of the band that are accurate in every way, from dance to eye movements. Artificial intelligence (AI) was then used to “de-age” the actors, much like it was done in films like Star Wars and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.
We’ve heard a lot lately about the Metaverse – the concept of a persistent, digital reality in which we can share experiences or work collaboratively in virtual environments. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has talked about combining its Oculus virtual reality platform with the social networking features the company is best known for. This will lead to the creation of shared environments where we can socialize and play. At the same time, Microsoft was talking about creating the “Enterprise Metaverse” that could change the way we work online. Many of us have become increasingly familiar with using platforms to remotely work in teams during the pandemic. The aim is to enable more effective collaborative work by creating more interactive online work environments. It’s easy to see the potential role virtual pop stars could play in encouraging us to get more of our lives online.
The Abba digital performance, called Abba Voyage, takes place in a physical location in London, with the audience buying tickets to the show and taking their seat in the audience as if they were witnessing the group in their heyday of the 1970s. But other artists have experimented with making their shows completely digital. Boy band BTS drew a world record 1.33 million paying viewers to a live streaming concert earlier this year. Then Ariana Grande took the next logical step, closing the loop between a digital show in front of a live audience and a live show in front of a digital audience. During a performance in which she used the video game Fortnite as a venue, both the star herself and the audience were present as digital avatars.
While we know AI is being used to recreate a young looking Abba, we can speculate that the next step could possibly go even further by recreating some of his personality and behavior. It’s not a big leap to imagine that they could use speech processing and speech recognition to respond to song requests from the audience and maybe one day even have a conversation.
In fact, as I write this, I am in the process of having a digital avatar created by myself. I look forward to hosting some of my video content and maybe one day even giving lectures or maybe even coaching. With the technology I use, I can even write a speech as text, upload it and have my avatar speak in my own voice.
At the center of all this amalgamation of real and digital domains is the attempt to create environments that are as (if not more) interactive and experience-oriented as the real world, in which all of our senses are addressed and stimulated and at the same time as accessible and unimpeded like the digital online world. Online we can access all the information we want in seconds, but we cannot always live, feel and share it with friends as we can with real experiences. Instead of being restricted by the laws of physics – for example, not being able to fly – we are restricted by the fact that we can only do what the program behind the simulation allows. AI could potentially put an end to this limitation and allow us to create virtual environments and actors who can do anything we can imagine and react and interact with us in real time.
Abba’s virtual concert will bring thousands of fans to life along with eight shows a week – an accomplishment that actual band members their age may find a little tiring! This, in turn, makes it more accessible to the fans who may find it more difficult to attend a live arena concert that only has one appointment. Likewise, fans with Ariana Grande’s Fortnite appearance could theoretically access the spectacle from anywhere in the world. In addition, fans could enjoy it in the avatar-controlled environment along with digital representations of their friends, which increased the feeling of the experience.
This, of course, begs the question of whether we are headed for a matrix-like future where our bodies are permanently connected to machines while our minds experience a fully immersive digital reality. Aside from the initially philosophical but increasingly scientific arguments that we are already making, it is true that society has moved rapidly in this regard over the past 20 years. As the quality of the experiences available online becomes richer and more comprehensive, we can see that we have less and less reason to expose our bodies to the rigors and discomforts of queuing for a bus to go to a concert in the pouring rain, for example like in the case of Abba, who danced around on stage in a glittery jumpsuit in our seventies!
There are also many moral and ethical challenges. Society has become aware of some of the dangers of digital environments, such as the potential for anonymous troublemakers, trolls, and the speed at which fake news can become real beliefs. In a metaverse, or fully immersive, online environment, there is the potential to exacerbate the impact of these issues. But there are other factors to consider. Could a hacker take my virtual avatar and use it to impersonate either the real or the virtual world? And since Abba fans may well feel that the most valuable use of this technology is reliving the past, it is no big leap to imagine that we will soon be able to see virtual concerts of this kind by Elvis Presley or the Beatles . After all, we’ve seen movie stars brought back from the dead to appear in new Star Wars films. Will this limit the chance for new cast members to break through and find their audience? If society changes so that old age and even death are no longer an obstacle to continued success for artists, what impact could this have on art and culture in a broader sense?
Whatever the answer, with the amount of money and resources devoted to developing these virtual and metaverse experiences, we are likely to find out soon. In the meantime, make sure that Virtual Bernard pops up on a screen near you soon – and I promise not to expose you to my signing or disco dancing!