The Weeknd might have had to postpone his “After Hours” album tour due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t stop him from giving his fans an interactive experience they won’t forget.
In the first week of August, the Canadian rhythm-and-blues singer and songwriter took to a virtual stage on TikTok, but unlike other livestreamed concerts since the pandemic began, he wasn’t there in the flesh. Instead, as TikTok users tuned into their devices, The Weeknd appeared in a form that was as computer-generated as the environment around him—as a customized, animated avatar performing his hit songs and new music.
The Weeknd worked with his record label, XO, Republic Records and virtual concert creator Wave on “The Weeknd Experience”—what TikTok called its “first-ever in-app cross-reality experience”—to promote his new album and raise money for the Equal Justice Initiative with a Weeknd x TikTok online capsule collection.
The 30-minute experience wasn’t prerecorded, however. Through a live voting feature, viewers could decide in real-time what they wanted The Weeknd’s avatar, decked out in glowing sunglasses, to look like and do; he could transform the stage around him into fire or electricity; bring on visual vignettes like skulls, cards or coins; and even lick a little animated frog. Meanwhile, viewers’ names and real-time comments danced around The Weeknd in neon lights.
The experience drew more than 2 million viewers, raised $350,000, and set a new TikTok record of 275,000 concurrent viewers. Just like a regular tour, the pixelized The Weeknd will be platform-hopping. His next stop is YouTube.
“The Weeknd Experience” is a prime example of a burgeoning type of marketing—the use of avatars in digital advertising and entertainment. It’s a trend aligned with the upsurge of virtual experiences, advances in gaming technology and a result of the pandemic making in-person production problematic. With a digital avatar, celebrities or influencers no longer have to be present in the room.