If you’ve ever wanted a sci-fi TV episode loosely based on Britney Spears’ iconic single “Lucky,” well, you are in luck. The new Black Mirror episode, starring Miley Cyrus and titled "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" is about a pop star’s fall from grace as she tries to grapple with her fame and an overbearing manager. Ashley O is very much thinking if there’s nothing missing in her life, then why is she wide awake in the middle of the night writing songs that don’t mesh with her current image?
However, Ashley O — and the episode — isn't based on or really centred around Britney Spears’ song, though it certainly feels that way. Rather, the episode is just about the price of fame and what it means to be a celebrity in this day and age. Also — terrifyingly — it’s about how advancements in technology can keep artists performing forever, whether the actual person is still alive or not. When someone else (especially someone in it for the cash) can use and recreate your consciousness and image via technology, what does that mean for artistic identity?
So, honestly, it’s perfectly fitting that Miley Cyrus plays (and also sings!) Ashley O in the episode. Cyrus herself has had an up and down relationship with fame and certainly went through periods of her own self-discovery, considering she started out with an incredibly squeaky-clean image playing Hannah Montana on Disney Channel. Cyrus even drew on some of her own experiences in the music industry, telling The Guardian, “There is a part of Ashley O that is not a character. I worked closely with Anne [Sewitsky], the director and the show creators to share some of my personal experiences and help craft the episode.”
“I think it’s an important story that needs to be told, such a realistic take on what it’s like working in the music industry,” she continued. “It really portrays the overt exploitation of artists and that numbers usually eclipse the creative most of the time.”
The fact that Cyrus’ Ashley O is upset with herself and her career is actually not the most troubling part of the episode. After her aunt, Catherine purposely overdoses her on her medication, Ashley O slips into a coma. Her aunt then keeps her alive and straps a computer to her head so she can see (and hear) Ashley O’s dreams because that’s where she composed much of her music — in her dreams. Though in a coma, Ashley O knows this is going on and tries to fight it but she’s lost all control of her body.
Catherine uses what she’s mined from Ashley O to create brand new music for the pop star, using pre-recorded words and songs. And then, Catherine creates a giant hologram of Ashley O so the pop star can keep performing even though she’s in a coma. While holograms have been around for decades, they came into the arena tour sphere back in 2012 when a Tupac hologram appeared at Coachella, even though Tupac was killed in 1996. Following its popularity at Coachella, there was talk that this hologram (which was actually just a 2-D rendering), would be going on tour. The idea was eventually nixed - because it was weird.
However, since then holograms in musical acts have been popping up more and more. During her Las Vegas residency in the early 2010’s, Celine Dion actually duetted with herself on “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” which is cool and also a little bit creepy. There’s been a rumour that The Beatles would go on a hologram tour for forever, and there’s a Whitney Houston 3D tour in the works.
But using a hologram to create someone who’s died (or, in a coma) without their consent is a completely different story. Yes, even holograms need consent.
While Ashley O’s story and her giant hologram isn’t based on one specific musical act, the episode definitely showcases what could happen in the future. And, some of it is even happening now. Think about the fact that even though our beloved Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016, footage/dialogue from her will still be used in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in 2019.
Black Mirror is once again showing us that these crazy technological advances aren’t that far fetched anymore.
Black Mirror series five is available on Netflix now