The 2021 UEFA Champions League final saw a true underdog story coming to fruition. But for those watching live, it might have been more surprising to see that the game even took place. Moments prior to kick-off, the stadium was flooded with water. Before that, a giant—tall enough to tower the city of Porto—was dancing on the field. At some point, pink clouds descended down too, and there was an Earth-Saturn hybrid floating around with trumpet players lined up on the rings. Well, either all of that, or Marshmello's opening ceremony wasn't, in fact, performed live.
With touring all but a distant memory, the pandemic jumpstarted innovation in music performance. Marshmello's latest spectacle is an example of just how far virtual concerts have evolved over the last year and a half. It starts off simple. The helmeted producer plays the guitar in the middle of the field, surrounded by pyrotechnics and an electric crowd. It feels grounded in reality. Yet, just as you fall under the impression that this is being shot live, a gigantic planet replica comes into view with Marshmello and his band standing atop it.
However, let alone scream, the shot never even whispers, "I'm fake". You can see flashing phones, stadium lights, a dancing crowd—it doesn't feel like CGI; it feels like the highest-production live concert there ever was. Eventually, the scene gives into its digital liberties and Marshmello turns a hundred-feet tall, but it's executed with so much finesse that you wonder if they've actually pulled it off.
Selena Gomez makes an appearance and the play on dimensions continues. She sings her way through a miniature city with a still-giant Marshmello watching over like some sort of EDM-deity. Two blinks of an eye later, he's human again—in a boat…in the middle of the field…with Khalid. It makes sense in the same way Godzilla vs. Kong makes sense—let's be honest, you aren't there for a cohesive story.
Virtual concerts could never replicate the energy associated with a live crowd, but here we see a prime example that they have their own strengths to play on instead. The UEFA Champions League opening ceremony delivered an experience which doesn't make a football fan think, "Can we get to the game already?"
That's saying a lot.