Lead issues video apology for marketing stunt at September Apple launch in which new album was given to 500 million users
by Robert Booth, The Guardian
For a global rock band that has sold more than 150m records worldwide, won 22 Grammy awards and has a frontman whose ego is as big as the stadiums they sell out, U2's explanation for why gave away their latest album to half a billion iTunes users seems unlikely: they were worried that otherwise no one would listen.
The Irish band's lead singer, Bono, has issued a contrite video apology for last month's marketing stunt which angered thousands of users of the music software who found that regardless of their tastes they woke up one day to find U2's album Songs of Innocence had appeared on their phones or iPods. U2 worked with Apple to ensure the album, which received a lukewarm critical reception in some quarters, was given away to an estimated 500 million iTunes account holders as part of the promotional exercise that went along with the launch of the California tech giant's latest phone.
Bono apologised in response to a question from a Facebook user named Harriet Madeline Jobson in a question-and-answer session on the social network site which had been billed as a celebration of the launch of the band's 13th studio album of a 34-year career. She asked: "Can you please never release an album on iTunes that automatically downloads to peoples' playlists ever again? It's really rude."
"Oops, I'm sorry about that," said Bono, from behind blue-tinted spectacles, while the other band members giggled at the question. "I had this beautiful idea and we kind of got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing. Drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn't be heard. There's a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it."
The free download of the band's album was announced - and happened virtually simultaneously - when U2 performed at the Apple iPhone launch event in Cupertino, California on 9 September.
At the time, Apple chief executive Officer Tim Cook called it the largest album release in history, but the supposedly mutually beneficial meeting of mega brands immediately turned into a public relations debacle for Apple and U2 as angry iTunes users took to social media to complain. Thousands said it took up precious storage space on their devices. Many were just miffed that a band they didn't like had foisted their work onto them. U2's manager Guy Oseary was forced to defend the move saying: "It's a gift from Apple. If someone doesn't like the gift, they should delete it. We just want to share it with as many people as possible. If you don't want it and you don't need it, delete it."
But that was easier said than done and Apple had to issue specific instructions to its customers about how to delete the offending songs.
The New Yorker's pop music critic, Sasha Frere-Jones, compared the stunt to junk mail.
"Don't shove your music into people's homes," he wrote. "A U2 album that some would have taken seriously was instead turned into an album that seems as pointless as it probably is. Lack of consent is not the future."
Iggy Pop, the so-called "godfather of punk", criticised the stunt this week.
"The people who don't want the free U2 download are trying to say, 'Don't try to force me,' and they've got a point," he said. "Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it's kind of an anointing, you are giving that person love."
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