Hologram Tupac Has Opened the Gates of Hologram Hell
I’m sure Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg knew what they were doing when they commissioned the still-somewhat-creepy Tupac hologram that appeared at Coachella to salute the legions of stoned, white college kids who were expecting maybe a few deep cuts from The Chronic or Doggystyle, but not the full-on head tripping weirdness that was Snoop Dogg having a rehearsed conversation with a friend whose rap game was so strong that, years after his tragic killing, he’d managed to transcend corporeality. If you look at the narrative structure of these things, before Tupac emerged from the ether to perform “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” Snoop was ripping hits from the world’s largest blunt and, if you consider the Smoke Monster-like clouds of THC that emerge from the crowds gathered to see Snoop Dogg perform, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that Tupac’s brief resurrection was something of a shared hallucination. To paraphrase Jesus, “Where two or three are gathered for a gangsta party, I am there in their midst.”
But none of that is likely what was meant by Hologram Tupac. Dr. Dre hasn’t exactly exploited Tupac Shakur in the 15 years since his death, and doing so on the eve of his highly anticipated retirement album would cast aspersions on the final product. Hologram Tupac had a lot of people talking about Hologram Tupac, but I suspect his four minute appearance was a final, substantive tribute to the slain rapper, a chance for a worldwide audience to once again remember the artist he was and mourn what could have been.
I say that they knew what they were doing because there’s no way either one of them could have anticipated the response Hologram Tupac would get. Images like the one above started cropping up on the internet, showing Hologram Tupac delivering messages to Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi, an “all-hologram” Coachella line-up poster advertised the return of The Beatles, Mozart, and Jesus, and @HologramTupac almost instantaneously became one of the worst parody Twitter accounts ever. Worse, it was only a matter of time before Hologram Tupac influenced bands who couldn’t make money on reunion or anniversary tours due to the death of a bandmate, and so it was that T.L.C. announced that they were going on tour, bringing a hologram Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes with them.
But rather than complain about that or worry about a future where pop starlets are digitally manufactured ala S1m0ne, I’d like to point out my frontrunner for the worst manifestation of hologram fever:
Any misgivings you have about my claim here is understandable—afterall, Minaj could be getting beamed down like a character on Star Trek—but hear me out. Two reasons why the above is a hologram:
- With the exception of Star Trek, almost every instance of organic matter exiting or entering a starship has been one of two variants, a) the subject entering or exiting the vessel through the front door (see E.T., Paul, or The Day the Earth Stood Still), or the subject being pushed or pulled by a tractor beam (see everything else). Even if you want to claim Star Trek, you can’t deny that Minaj’s appearance and subsequent ability to walk on water is a gift that could only be given by a projector. You beam Capt. Kirk onto a body of water, you’d better hope he was wearing a lifejacket.
- “Starships,” to put it bluntly, is an absolutely miserable song.
It is, and faster than you can say “Let’s go to the beach-each,” any hope I previously held for Nicki Minaj bringing some change or gender parity to hip hop evaporated. Before releasing her first album, Minaj made a name for herself by dominating male rappers in featured verses across an absolutely insane number of tracks, her crowning achievement coming when she stole “Monster”—and thus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—from the constellation of massive stars Kanye West managed to cohesively gather under one roof. She was the Lady of Rage (where’s her hologram) but with endless talent and charisma, ‘Lil Kim without the pornographic rhymes that eventually diminished her in the eyes of many critics. Left to her own devices, though, Minaj emerged with Pink Friday, which, while perfectly acceptable pop music, disappointed on the basis that it didn’t for one second play to her strengths as a rapper.
This is an understandable business decision, if nothing else. Beyond anomalies like West’s Fantasy and ‘Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, the only rapper capable of million-selling success and consistent radio airplay is Eminem, who, sad to say, has an obvious advantage with the executives who program the computers that play popular music. Rihanna and Beyonce—who, as R&B artists, are much less threatening than rappers—have no problem finding airtime, so theirs was a smart template to emulate, and it has brought Minaj much success. Had she continued to churn out listenable pop music there’d be no problem, but “Starships,” the first single from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, is exactly the sort of song I never expected from Minaj, one so generic anybody could have performed it.
Given the sheer number of fists pumped in the video, you can guess the crowd at which “Starships” is aimed. I know it’s a fools errand hoping for more from modern pop music, but, like I said, I already had a not insignificant investment in Minaj. While it’s nice for her to have a club jam that’ll live on until next summer (and, from there, lame iTunes playlists by amateur sorority D.J.s until the unraveling of time), I get the feeling that the self-proclaimed queen is no longer interested in conquering. Matter of fact, it makes me wish that “Starships” is were product of a hologram, a facsimile called upon when Minaj can’t be bothered even to sleepwalk through songs meant to get by more on the strength of speaker-rattling volume than the strength of any given Bud Light namedrop. If we could separate the gloriously odd-brained Minaj from milquetoast pop starlet Minaj via hologram, then we’d have the start of something worthwhile.
The next step, however, would be to delete that file and burn the computer it originated on. It’s an odd comparison born of late-night YouTube surfing, but the problem with Hologram Tupac and the Nicki Minaj of “Starships” is one and the same: Inauthenticity. Despite the shockingly good render work done on Hologram Tupac and the fact that Minaj is a flesh and blood human being, neither entity feels quite real, both, at times, are noticeably transparent. It’s already possible to see through a shocking number of musicians. I don’t want to be able to see through the ones I respect.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.