This Is Certainly Not the Future I Would Have Predicted

Occasionally, a piece of media crosses your path and reminds you just how flimsily we are tethered to the material plane. For me, it was the video of the virtual audience on Kelly Clarkson’s daytime talk show dancing to Vin Diesel’s new dance single, “Feel Like I Do,” that he produced with the help of Norwegian DJ Kygo. For you, perhaps it was that confounding sentence I just typed.

If you would like to see the disconcerting clip yourself, here it is, courtesy of Uproxx writer Josh Kurp.

His description alone left me feeling faint, dizzy with the knowledge that the phrase “virtual Kelly Clarkson Show audience members dancing to Vin Diesel’s new song” would surely clang around in my head for weeks, like a collection of pots and pans dropping down an endless flight of stairs. But it was when I watched the video that I felt my grip on reality fully dissolve.

On 25 giant screens propped up in the studio, audience members clapped, bobbed their heads, and shimmied their shoulders as Vin Diesel sang about partying. Some people fully committed to their roles, smiling and pumping their fists in delight, while others just sort of swayed back and forth, the light behind their eyes dimming. The whole effect was haunting, Orwellian. I wondered if they’d gotten to listen to the song beforehand, or whether they were hearing it for the first time. What sort of dance guidance had they gotten from producers?

As I watched, I imagined going back in time and trying to explain this clip to myself. “This is going to sound crazy, but in 2020, the ‘Since U Been Gone’ singer is now a talk-show host, and the Fast & Furious guy is now a singer,” I’d say to the younger version of myself who was wearing low-rise jeans and carrying a Motorola Razr. “He shares his first single on her talk show, but also, there’s a global pandemic, so instead of regular audience members, there are just these huge screens that show people watching from their homes. You can apply to be one of these audience members, but it’s basically like a Skype call, and also you might be asked to dance on-camera. This isn’t technically part of the clip, but you should know that the guy from The Apprentice is president, and it’s really bad. ”

I’d watch as younger me’s eyes widened in disbelief, shock, and then, finally, anger. “You have access to time travel technology and this is what you decided to do with it? Come tell me about some weird clip you saw on Twitter??” she’d ask. And then I’d be like, “Yeah, I know, but just watch it.” And she’d watch it and be like: “Okay. Wait. That is pretty wild. Play it again, and explain it to me from the top.”

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