Elton John held a press event with YouTube yesterday (24 January) to announce his farewell tour – a 300-date, multi-continent extravaganza that will start in September and run into 2021.
While that news dominated the headlines, he also used the event to unveil a potted history of his career in music in VR as well as outline his views on streaming and explain why he won’t find a new audience by touring in hologram form.
The VR video (hosted on his official YouTube channel to announce the tour runs through his career, opens on his breakthrough show at the Troubadour in LA in 1970, circling his performance at the piano and letting the viewer look around the room. It then moves into his show at Dodger Stadium five years later when he was one of the biggest artists in the world (playing to over 100,000 fans across two shows), placing you on stage with him.
The attention to detail in recreating these two pivotal US shows is genuinely arresting. That said, Elton himself was in no way trying to position himself as a key creative part of any of this.
“That wasn’t my idea!” he said when asked how he came up with the video concept. “I’m a Luddite. It was someone in the office who thought it would be a great idea. Having seen it, I thought it was amazingly successful. If you are going to do something like this, you have got to pull out all the stops and make it special. I thought it was pretty special – the VR.”
John is well-known for his vast record collection (buying multiple copies of albums so each of his homes has a copy), but admitted he is far from literate in digital music. He did, however, say that digital is key in extending his appeal to new generations of fans and, as such, he wants his music to be everywhere.
“Things have changed in the music business – a lot,” he said. “God, have they! We have definitely gone after streaming, YouTube and [services] like that. If you write a song, you want people to hear it, to remember it and for it to become a part of their lives. Luckily enough, I have always had a younger audience because things like the Lion King came along and it’s like a regurgitating thing. Times change. I’ve been doing a radio programme for Apple for over two years on which I play a lot of new music. It keeps me current.”
He added, “I am definitely involved with streaming. I want my music to be heard. I am a Luddite. I have never downloaded anything in my life. Not even porn! […] I want to attract new listeners and my streaming is pretty damn good.”
Despite the fact he repeatedly called himself a Luddite, Elton John has been present and experimenting on a variety of digital platforms over the years, including partnering with YouTube last year for The Cut to find new video director talent.
Asked if he’d be OK with a hologram going on tour when he’s retired or dead, he was adamant that he would not be wheeled out like Tupac at Coachella in 2012.
“We were laughing about that,” he revealed. “I said to my eldest son, ‘When Daddy dies, promise me there won’t be a hologram of me going around the world doing concerts.’ That’s the last thing I want. It’s like doing a duet album with someone who’s dead. I think Barry Manilow did one! It’s so spooky. […] Who knows. They may go broke and they’ll put me back on the fucking stage! I think that’s a bit freaky.”