U2 can

U2 can't even give it away

17 September 2014 | Lloyd Hughes

U2, the Irish rock band, have had a PR disaster recently. Last week, Apple promoted their new album in an unusual way. They effectively gave it away for free by automatically putting it into people’s iTunes accounts regardless as to whether they wanted it or not.

Now, whilst being a fan of music, I’m no aficionado. I’m in sway to no particular genre and simply go by the ‘if it sounds ok to me, it’s ok by me’ approach. This makes me pretty useless in the music round of a pub quiz, as I rarely know the artist or the name of the song.

But I do know U2. They’re one of the best selling bands of all time so it’s not all that surprising. Based on their album sales you’d think it was fairly safe to assume that they’d be pretty popular. This supposed popularity makes it all the more strange that they’ve decided to give away an album for free*. In their position, surely they’ve got a big enough fan base to actually sell it and generate money via traditional means?

It would appear not, if the backlash were anything to go by. Social media erupted in indignation. Many expressed outrage that their ‘entertainment space’ had been invaded. Sharon Osborne vented her spleen, labelling the band a ‘bunch of political groupies’ and ‘business moguls not musicians’, whilst also saying, ‘No wonder you have to give your mediocre music away for free cause no one wants to buy it’. She wasn’t alone in this sentiment. Twitter produced the usual mix of cynicism, anger, hysteria and humour.

I’m sure many of the roughly half a billion iTunes account holders didn’t mind the gesture, with some surely welcoming it. But as ever it was the vociferously vocal minority who made the noisiest clamour, ensuring that it was negativity that reached the news pages. The loud rejection of the offering makes the whole escapade look like bad PR for U2 with some commentators suggesting their reputation has been irreparably damaged.

Of course, the whole thing hasn’t really put Apple in a good light either. Perhaps they should have made it an optional choice. In the event, they had to designate a special page instructing people on how to go about deleting the Songs of Innocence album.

I’m sure much of the bile was caused more by disillusion with Saint Bono and the rest’s political posturing and holier than thou attitude rather than actual disgust at the quality of the music. And I’m sure the $100milion the band received from Apple will go some way to continuing their much publicised philanthropy. As for how good the album is though, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t listened to it. Fingers crossed a track from Songs of Innocence doesn’t come up in a pub quiz any time soon.

*Free to the general public – Apple paid a fortune.