Millions of smartphone users were surprised to learn this month that the rock band U2 had not only made a new album available to them for free, but that it was already loaded into their iPhones. U2 gave away the album as part of a blockbuster business deal with Apple, which is rolling out its newest devices this fall. But the band and the company are both being criticized over how the promotion affects the value of music in the digital age. Join Kojo for a Tech Tuesday conversation about the intersection of technology and music.
In some ways, I’m the perfect target for U2’s big new release partnership with Apple. U2 was my favorite band all through junior high and high school. I dutifully collected all their singles, and I still have my ticket stub and sweatshirt from the 1998 Popmart tour. Yet my interests drifted elsewhere as I got older; I’m part of the reason their last record sold relatively poorly, as I still haven’t heard it. Theoretically, a free copy of Songs of Innocence might rekindle my fandom.
But: it’s complicated. U2’s avowed commitments to social justice were a big part of what got me interested in activism and policy at a young age. It feels a bit jarring now to see the band whose liner notes got thirteen-year old me to join Amnesty International so closely associated with a company that’s facing protests both for inhumane factory conditions abroad and low contractor wages domestically.
The ambivalence doesn’t stop there. The Apple/U2/Universal Music Group partnership has also prompted some unexpected backlash. Still, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been successful on the most basic levels; the band was reportedly well paid (over $100 million in marketing, plus a flat royalty fee), at least 36 million people have accessed the music, the new iPhone has set new sales records and everyone’s still talking about U2 and Apple two weeks later. Including our own Casey Rae, who joined Chris Richards of the Washington Post and Catherine Mayer of TIME Magazine—both of whom have recently written about U2—on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Sept. 23. (Listen to the archived broadcast).
You may be feeling some U2 fatigue, but we think there’s still a need to ask deeper questions about what this deal means, and what it doesn’t.
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