The Miracle of CGI Selena

Fear not dead pop stars' holograms—they're more natural than they seem.

The US Postal Service released a stamp commemorating Selena in 2011. (Paul Iverson/AP)

People shouldn't use the word “hologram” to describe the effort to create a walking, talking, singing, and touring CGI version of the dead pop star Selena Quintanilla. The animation process, according to the press release sent out by her family, is more advanced than that. "Using detailed individual personalized functions spanning the mind, brain and body, the individual's Digitized Human Essence will autonomously learn and react on behalf of its human counterpart's," explains Acrovirt LLC, the Nevada company that’s partnering with the Quintanilla family. The Digitized Human Essence has a name, Selena the One, and fans can soon make IndieGogo donations to help bring it—her? no, let's not say "her"—into existence.

“By no means is this something that’s creepy or weird,” Suzette Quintanilla, Selena’s sister, told Billboard. Very well then. Call it current and canny, inevitable and ingenious. Anyone who’s watched one of the zillion posthumous Kurt Cobain documentaries, who’s gone to see an Elvis impersonator, who reconsumes their favorite entertainments over and over—in other words, everyone—has endorsed proto-Selena-the-Ones. Don’t blame “reboot culture” or “retromania” or any other label that posits present-day society as unconscionably backwards-looking. Familiarity is one of the most seductive feelings there is. People have been imagining the dead’s return for basically all of human existence. There’s nothing unnatural here.

Except, well, for Selena the One itself. At one point, deceased performers like Tupac and Michael Jackson would have shown up in concert tributes via archival videos projected on a backdrop but instead, in recent years, they've popped up onstage in 3D. That's what happens when technology improves. A completely fabricated, holographic pop star named Hatsune Miku is quite popular in Japan. Selena the One will purportedly be more lifelike than any previous such creations, but of course that's the case: She’s newer.

The plan is for Selena the One to tour in 2018, and also release new songs. It’s not yet clear whether they’ll be tunes that Quintanilla recorded before her death, or whether they’ll arise from some combination of living songwriters and a murdered woman’s vocal likeness. The latter option might strike some as scandalous, a blatant perversion of Selena's legacy. But again, there's nothing new here: Michael Jackson had a posthumously constructed hit last year, and producers' sampling libraries aren't limited to the living. As for Selena's legacy, remember, Selena the One is not Selena, however much fans of the project talk in a way (“Viva Selena!”) that suggests otherwise. The actual human's catalogue remains intact, forever.


What will a Selena the One concert be like? Probably celebratory, as is also the case when one of her songs comes on at a club, or when someone sings along to her albums, or watches one of her videos. Probably sad, as it is for all aforementioned activities as well: The singer was only 23 years old when she was murdered. Her family is already profiting off of her long-gone talent and tragic image. They're also helping keep her memory and music popular. What's the harm in another memorial?