Megan Thee Stallion is kicking off her tour in March, but fans who head to an AMC Theatre location in one of 10 select cities beginning in April will get an experience unlike any that can be attained in an arena.
“Enter Thee Hottieverse,” the first virtual artist activation from AmazeVR, showcases the rap star performing four career-spanning songs complete with custom environments and wardrobes created explicitly for the show. Filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, the experience puts fans up very close to the action once they don a VR headset provided at the theaters, where they’ll be greeted by trained staffers who can help them get comfortable with the tech.
The price tag for the show is $30-$50 depending on the market. VR tour stops include the opener in LA, April 5-10, followed by cities including Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, DC and New York.
“We really wanted to think about it from a superfan perspective,” says Ernest Lee, co-CEO of AmazeVR, which just closed a $15 million funding round and whose investors include Partners Investment, Smilegate Investment, ABC Partners and LG Technology.
“They want to be as close as possible to the artists, they want to feel like the artist is their friend. For that reason, we have a very specific way of filming, usually we are within 5-8 feet with the camera, so it’s as close as possible, the best seat in the house, and every single person will have that best seat.”
The featured songs, Lee says, were selected “to allow fans to really feel like they’re traveling through her career with her.” The length of the show, which clocks in at 30 minutes, was selected to optimize the performance before fans could potentially start to feel disoriented, he notes.
VR experiences are not new in the music world. But they are picking up steam, both commercially and artistically, as artists stretch their vision beyond the two-dimenstional streaming model that's been fast-tracked these past two years.
The Foo Fighters staged their first VR performance after the conclusion of Super Bowl LVI on February 13. Fans accessed the hour-long show via Facebook’s Horizons Venues event platform, and will air in the Always-On room until March 31.
Produced by Supersphere and directed by music video director Mark Romanek, the Foos show—which was filmed specifically for multiformat play— gave every fan a front row seat, featured a custom stage design, effects and an array of XR elements.
The show was free—as are the majority of Supersphere-produced VR events—for fans to watch at home, and it broke VR viewership records with more than 13,000 fans concurrently tuning in, according to Lucas Wilson, Supersphere CEO.
“When we started doing shows four, five years ago we felt pretty successful if we got 20 or 30 people into a headset. And now we’re getting tens of thousands of people into headsets,” Wilson says, noting that a VR show the company produced with Billie Eilish two years ago hit a high note at the time with more than 5,000 viewers.
“It’s a testament to the power of the medium. I would probably be looking for another line of work if we were still doing shows for 250 people, but we’ve seen nothing but upward trajectory.”
Consumer Adoption, Artist Strategy
That trajectory is being fueled by both the broader consumer adoption of VR devices and artists’ desire to spark greater emotional connections with their fans.
Data from Omdia reveals 12.5 million consumer VR headsets were sold in 2021. Rampant reports point to Apple launching its VR headset, expected to feature micro OLED technology, later this year. Meta has sold 10 million Oculus Quest 2 headsets, according to Qualcomm, and as device prices dip into the $250-$399 range, the march to the mainstream is on.
“It’s less than the cost of most gaming consoles. It’s less than the cost of most current mobile devices, so it is in the sweet spot for the amount of money people will pay for an entertainment or education device. If it was still $1,000, or a device that was tethered to a computer, that’s a different story,” Wilson says.
“We get constant requests from bands and managers and labels to do interesting new work, and we’re just riding that wave,” he notes. “What artists are really thinking about is breaking outside the rectangle. I’ve always been of the opinion that immersive media is a way of bringing fans closer to the things they love. When you put on a headset and are immersed in the content, you’re going to have a bigger emotional response. You can’t help it, you’re surrounded by it.”
AmazeVR, too, wants musicians to view VR shows as key extensions of their traditional business and artistic ventures.
“We’re working to make sure that when an artist is creating their strategy, on top of streaming, touring and partnerships, that VR concerts will also become a core component of their strategy as well,” Lee says.
The company already is in postproduction on a VR show for another A-list artist, and it will be ramping up distribution with an eye to expanding to emerging artists by 2023.
“We’ve started building out different modules and that we can use without compromising the quality of the content, and we’ll be able to use these at a faster and cheaper rate than we could before,” Lee says.
The team is also layering in artist-friendly features, including an artist review app. Megan was able to see new iterations of the show in real time as it was being produced, and offer direct feedback. “This is the artist’s show. We want to honor them and to do so the artist needs to be involved,” he says.
Evolving VR Models
As the market evolves, so too do the types of VR experiences in the mix.
While the Megan show won’t feature in-theater merch tables, Lee says “for the next artists we’re exploring both physical and digital merch, where fans will have a way to commemorate the experience. At some point our physical and digital identities will become merged and there will be a seamless transition between the two. So as much as you’re investing in things like sneakers and artists merch… the same is already happening in the digital space.”
On the back end, AmazeVR engineers are using deep learning technology to solve for elements like eye strain and the ability to retouch in 3D. And after an initial launch in theaters, it has its eye on bringing its VR shows home.
This inaugural show, Lee says, “will be both. After the tour is complete, we will have a window and then it will trickle down to homes.” By 2024, he anticipates the majority of shows will be accessed at home.
Supersphere thus far has designed all of its experiences for in-home viewing via platforms including Facebook Live, Venues and Twitch, though Wilson hints at the possibility of the occasional domed event space iteration. “We’ve been working with a company that does a lot of planetariums, and working to potentially bring a concert to a full dome world,” he says.
In a narrative-flip, the company is recreating—down to the detail—existing venues for the VR environment via its virtual production platform Arc Runner. “We create virtual environments from scratch and allow musicians to perform in these environments, and bring people into those spaces,” Wilson says.
Kid Cudi, Young Thug, Offset and Steve Aoki are among artists who’ve created shows with the Supersphere using this technology.