Bono is really sorry for that time he forced U2’s album onto everyone’s iTunes library.
In an excerpt from his memoir published in The Guardian, Bono, the lead singer of U2, looks back on the band’s ill-fated 2014 collaboration with Apple that he thought would be the ultimate rock n’ roll move. Instead, it became a PR nightmare for the tech company and made U2 look like aging has-beens desperate for an audience.
The idea, of course, was to permanently add U2’s then-new album Songs of Innocence to the iTunes libraries of 500 million users worldwide… with no ability to remove it. The backlash, as you might imagine, was swift and unambiguous. “Woke up this morning to find Bono in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my dressing gown, reading my paper,” recounts Bono of one social media reaction at the time. “The free U2 album is overpriced.”
Ever the altruist, Bono has accepted the blame for this infamously terrible idea. He thought delivering U2’s album to iTunes users — an album which was free of charge because Apple bought it ahead of time per the agreement — would be something people could enjoy or ignore, “like junk mail.” Instead, iTunes users felt violated.
The outrage got so bad at one point that Apple even had to build a specific tool for removing the free U2 album.
“We realized we’d bumped into a serious discussion about the access of big tech to our lives,” said Bono in his memoir. “The part of me that will always be punk rock thought this was exactly what the Clash would do. Subversive. But subversive is hard to claim when you’re working with a company that’s about to be the biggest on Earth.”
Part of the reason for the outrage was because Songs of Innocence was taking up precious storage space in iTunes users’ carefully cultivated music libraries. Nowadays, the ubiquity of streaming platforms means we don’t have to painstakingly manage and budget what media we download to consume. But back in 2014, people were only just starting to pony up for paid Spotify subscriptions.
To his credit, Bono says in the memoir that Cook could’ve said “told you so,” but instead took the debacle as a learned lesson and went into problem-solving mode.
“It was not just a banana skin. It was a landmine,” said Bono.
We’d add ‘pie to the face’ to that list, too.