PopCon: The Popular Conversation

Entertainment talk with Gazette staffers Andrew Beaumont, Andrew Reuter, Dave von Falkenstein and Shawn Sensiba

PopCon: When it comes to U2, haters gonna hate

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Dave von Falkenstein
September 26, 2014

“There's been a lot of talk about this next song, maybe too much talk…” — U2's Bono, introducing 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' on the 1983 “Under a Blood Red Sky” album

Bono has probably been paraphrasing himself a lot these days. After U2 released their new album, “Songs of Innocence” to every iTunes member in the world on Sept. 9, the inevitable backlash was almost immediate.

Some complained they had been “spammed” with the unsolicited album while some said it was as bad as being hacked. Others said they couldn't understand why U2 would do such a bold, stupid move. Oh, did I mention the album was free?

Let me start by saying that I am, unabashedly, a U2 fan. Some might say fan isn't a strong enough word and they may be right. I've been listening to them since before I was a teenager, which seems like ages ago.

They were the first band I ever saw live (I've seen them eight times since), and the first that really connected with me on multiple levels. They made me feel good, and there was something otherworldly and incredible about them. They are the reason I first picked up a guitar and I have bought every one of their albums on its release date since 1993. I think you get the point.

So, anyways, yes, the album was a free release and you can bet U2 took a big payday from Apple. The exact figure hasn't been made public, but some speculate it was upwards of $100 million. Sellouts? Perhaps.

But I would argue that in this day and age, with record companies holding no real value like they used to, what's the harm in searching out other delivery methods? It certainly can't hurt, especially if it can help artists actually get paid for their work. Apple has been at the forefront of the digital music revolution for over ten years and has shown they have a working model that does what it's designed to do: Get music to the people and get the artists paid for said music.

Realistically, it could have been any band of major importance and stature that inked a deal similar to what U2 did. But how many big bands are around these days? And how many are well established enough to take a risk and hope for a positive payoff?

U2 has been around for over 35 years, has sold over 150 million albums and holds the record for the highest-grossing concert tour in history at over $736 million. I think it's fair to say that whether you love them or hate them, you can't deny their global influence and visibility. What did they have to lose?

As huge as the band may be, you have to realize that it's never really been cool to be a U2 fan. Even Bono has said that U2 was “always the band to divide people, not to unite people” and that “to sing, 'In the name of love/What more in the name of love' [From “Pride (In the Name of Love)” on 1984's “The Unforgettable Fire” album]- it was as uncool in 1984 as it is now.”

Here's the rub: most U2 fans don't care what others think. We generally put it down to the other person's bad musical taste, or not having enough exposure to the band to enjoy them.

However, to try and turn someone onto a band that they are venomously against is not likely to happen. Even some fans have been alienated over the years by the band's ever-changing musical style and high-concept tours. In most cases I do find it extremely difficult not to stick up for U2, as I would for any family member or friend. Sometimes it's best just to realize we're never going to agree, so why even try? You go your way and I'll go mine.

Now, back to the debacle that has exploded all over the Internet and everywhere else in the weeks since the album release. I consider it a first world problem for somebody to complain about getting something for free, especially an album. The fact that Apple had to unveil a new “removal tool” after the album release just goes to show that maybe they didn't completely think this whole thing through.

To complain about something that you're not being forced to buy or even listen to is ridiculous. I doubt it's going to make many people get rid of their Apple products, just as you're probably not going to find very many U2 fans that turn away from the band because of it. It seems about the worst that could happen is U2 gains some fans that weren't very familiar with them. Haters are gonna hate, no matter what.

There's also talk of another U2 album in the works that would coincide with a new digital format that the band is working on with Apple. This new format is said to help get more artists paid, compel people to buy more music and would also prevent piracy, but time will tell.

In any case, U2 will no doubt tour next year, filling venues all over the world as they generally do and make many millions of dollars in the process. I will certainly contribute.

Oh, and by the way, the album is really quite good. From the viewpoint of this U2 fan, it's a total throwback to their first few albums. I'd honestly say it's the best work they've done in quite awhile.

Dave von Falkenstein is a digital content coordinator at the Gazette and a rabid U2 fan. Follow him on Twitter @achtungvon.

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