Michael Jackson hologram performance: Why it almost didn't happen

The hologram of Michael Jackson at the Billboard Music Awards.

Nearly five years after his death, Michael Jackson appeared onstage at Sunday night's Billboard Music Awards. A virtual version of the King of Pop performed a song from his newly released album "Xscape."

But, as Ben Tracy reports, the computer-generated show almost didn't go on.

It looked like Jackson, sounded like Jackson, and certainly moved like Jackson. But it was a hologram performing the late pop star's song called "Slave to the Rhythm."

Jackson recorded the song in 1991, but never released it. So the image that wowed the crowd Sunday night was created entirely on a computer and not from a past performance.

Tyler Hubbard, of the performing act Florida Georgia Line, said the hologram was "as real as it gets. And I mean, I was sitting there trying to figure out, is he, is he here?"

The song is one of eight tracks on a new album of unreleased and updated Jackson music, which has the pop star back on the pop charts with those he inspired.

M. Tye Comer, a Billboard.com editor, said, "You can look at people like Pharrell and Justin Timberlake who are continuing the sound he pioneered with his music. There's not a performer in pop music that doesn't owe something to Michael Jackson."

But the Jackson show fans saw Sunday night was nearly blocked by the company that says it owns the rights to the hologram technology.

It owns the patents behind the hologram performance of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, which both shocked and delighted fans at the Coachella music festival two years ago. On Friday, a judge denied the company's claim trying to stop the Jackson performance.

In fact, a Jackson hologram has been performing in Las Vegas for nearly a year. It's the emotional climax of Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the late artist, but Cirque du Soleil purposely does not allow it to be seen outside of the show.

"He left such a legacy behind, so I think that he's always going to be with us whether there's new music released or not," Comer said.

With new music and new technology, the King of Pop apparently doesn't intend to relinquish his throne.

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