By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Perhaps the greatest myth perpetuated since the advent of Facebook and Twitter is that all opinions have clout.
You can now find keyboard warriors likening themselves to hipsters and elitists – although I doubt they understand what those terms truly imply – and believing that what they have to say really matters. But they’re not completely at fault. Consider the fact that these very people are encouraged when their tweets and statuses are quoted in hard news stories about the latest controversies gone viral; as if whatever “@jengirl2002,” “Philip the Destroyer of Waffles,” “Tyler, The Creator” or “Sharon Osbourne” says is somehow relevant for all of us.
Enter U2. On Sept. 9, 2014, the legendary band’s long-awaited followup to 2009’s meditative No Line on the Horizon finally arrived, and it was a surprise! In a fitting collaboration with Apple at the tech leviathan’s annual press conference, U2 announced the release of their new album, Songs of Innocence, at no cost to iTunes subscribers.
Now, before I continue, remember that the only press U2 received prior to the hilarity that ensued following Songs’ release was its delay. Citing a source, Billboard.com had previously announced that the new U2 album and tour were pushed back to next year. In short, this was an album people wanted; otherwise, surely an institution as reputable as Billboard.com wouldn’t have gone to such lengths as publishing an article projecting the postponement of the world’s biggest band’s heavily-anticipated new album solely on the merits of a single source... unless, of course, it was a matter of importance and significance to its readers.
But I digress.
So a few people went bananas because they got Songs and didn’t want it, and the album’s release is suddenly labeled a “disaster?” According to whom exactly: The small, albeit loud handful of people who logged onto social media networks where they vomited their disdain for U2, or the pretentious critics whose reviews have been far more critical of the method of release and Bono’s humanitarianism than the actual music.
Neither are very compelling arguments.
While I realize there have been thousands, heck...let’s say tens of thousands of complaints about the new U2 being gifted to people who didn’t ask for it, I refer to this group as “small” because – when compared to the sheer volume represented in the 38 million who’ve reportedly listened to Songs – the haters are indeed dwarfed.
And yet, Apple felt so compelled by the supposed backlash of a small contingency that it actually created a button to remove the album from users’ iTunes accounts. That said, let’s stop and consider what this situation has really taught us: To get what you want, all you have to do is be loud and obnoxious, and even a corporation as big and powerful as Apple will bend to your will.
This, ladies and gents, is far more offensive and alarming than any album that finds its way onto your devices.
Granted, this is just my opinion, and I did after all imply that not all opinions matter. So why should mine? Well, I’m not asking that my word be taken as gospel. What I will ask is that you take the millions of people who made the U2 360 Tour the highest-grossing, highest-attended tour of all time into consideration. Approximately 10 million people alone watched the band’s 2009 Pasadena, California show via YouTube. More than 25 of the band’s records have charted on iTunes since Songs was released, and let’s not forget the aforementioned 38 million listens/downloads (...and counting) the new album is currently enjoying.
This, my friends, is no disaster. This band is still very much in demand, maybe more now than ever.
Songs of Innocence is a tour de force plagued only by one thing – the self-importance of people who hated U2 anyway. They were only given a mouthpiece this time because of two reasons: 1.) The nature of the release opened the door for them to vent; and 2.) Because their hate-filled diatribes supported theories that giving music away to consumers is the death rattle of an already-broken music industry. Well, the alarmists who espouse such theories are right about one thing. The music industry is broken, but it’s not because of free albums. The cancer that’s consuming popular music today is...well, music today. Gifting Songs to iTunes subscribers was only an admirable attempt to treat a symptom. I can only hope that this new music format helmed by Apple that Bono has reportedly said is in the works will indeed be a game-changer.
In the meantime, remember that U2 continues to represent all that rock and roll once stood for: passion, innovation and rebellion. In a day and age when rock doesn’t matter anymore, it’s refreshing to see that U2 still does.
Note: Michael Rodriguez is a journalist who hails from a border community in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where he serves as the managing editor of the semi-weekly newspaper, the San Benito News. Part 2 of his series, “Why U2 Matters,” will focus on the writer’s love for the band and how it inspired him to seek a career in writing and journalism.