Apple, U2 and the Death of Rock and Roll

My iphone buzzed last Sunday and I saw a smiling Irish face with blue tinted sunglasses on the Caller ID screen.

“Hey Bono, what’s up?”

“Mate, I’ve got something big cooking for the Apple event this Tuesday. Forget phones and watches, we are about to blow people’s minds!”apple14_PH_bono

I’ve learned to take Bono’s hype with a grain of salt, but I was a little intrigued.

“Really, what are you up to?”

“Sorry my wealthy friend, I can’t say anything more. Did F. W. de Clerk share details about when he was releasing Nelson Mandela from prison?”

(20 seconds to the first Mandela reference, his streak was still intact)

“And Don, he continued. “You’re still $2 million short on the last capital call for Elevation Partners, I need to see that check soon or we’re going to have a problem.”

I quickly hung up.

Now it’s a few days later and we know the story. At the end of the Apple event, Tim Cook brought out Bono for a surprise announcement that U2’s long awaited new album was being released as a free gift. In fact, Apple was placing the album in every iTunes account, so it would just appear on the phones of users with auto-download switched on.

Now Tim and Bono are both good friends of mine, but this smelled like a BAD idea to me, and the reaction over the last few days has been brutal.


U2 looked sad showing up as an afterthought at the end of this event and Apple looked out of touch trumpeting a less than relevant band.

Music used to rule the culture and define its edge, be it rock’n’roll or hip hop. Companies would beg and bribe their products into a music video or other placement alongside a band in an attempt to seem hip.

Here we have the cruel reversal.AppleMusicchart

U2, the once multi-platinum, stadium-playing, Africa-saving megaband meekly tacked onto the last few minutes of a tech product announcement.

Today, people eagerly count down the days to an Apple event like they used to anticipate an album release. Everyone I talked to knew that Apple had released new iphones and a watch yesterday. But few had caught that U2 had released a new album alongside them.

To add insult to injury, what little attention U2 received had nothing to do with the music on a supposedly deeply personal album, five years in the making. No, the tech blogs and twittersphere overwhelmed the story with snark about the aging rockers and annoyance with getting unrequested songs pushed to your phone, along with tech tips along with screenshots instructing on how to delete them! (see Pando and GigaOm)

Today, people passionately debate cloud services, UX, and digital distribution models like they used to care about lyrics and guitar solos. That’s just the way it is. That’s why a great singer struggles to scratch out a lower middle class life gigging in a van, and a tech VC like me spends a Saturday shopping for surround sound systems for my boat.

Bono talks about “reapplying for the job of the best band in the world,” he might be better off learning Python or Swift.


Update (9/15/2014):

Apple just gave in and provided a site where you can go to remove the U2 Album from your iTunes.


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