The Downfall of U2


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The famous band U2 playing a show. Do you still listen?

Tucker Price, Staff Writer

In my earlier years, U2 was the number one rock band to listen to. It seemed as though they were present almost everywhere: theming on Apple products, supporting movements to end HIV and AIDS in Africa, as well as other social justice involvements. Every album they released back then was a hit, and their live shows were impossible to get tickets to. In recent years, they have fallen into a huge popularity decline. A new album released just a couple of months ago, and there was almost no buzz around it. I didn’t even hear about it until around a month after it released. Every time that I mention that I like U2, people visibly cringe. All of this begs the question: What happened to U2?

The start of their decline happened in late 2014, when their first album in years, Songs of Innocence, was released to the public. When it first came out, it was immediately apparent that something was wrong, as it only sold around 28,000 copies in its first week in the US. For U2, these album sales were not great, as their sales had reached up to 2 million in the UK alone, when they released their earlier albums. In order to increase the album’s sales, as well as the profile of U2 itself, the band decided to release the album for free alongside the iphone 6 on September 9th, 2014. This is where the controversy began. Instead of Apple giving people the option of downloading the album, they automatically placed it in the itunes library of all Apple owners. This caused a negative reaction from most Apple owners, as people, who were not even fans of U2 or rock in general, would stumble upon their songs in their library when playing music on shuffle. This would cause almost unanimous social media backlash, people calling it rude, as well as people saying that it was taking the concept of consent away from the music industry. This would begin the change of people’s opinions about the band, as people began to realize the bleak commercialism behind the band’s efforts to remain popular.

Their decline could also be attributed to what they, themselves, created. After massive popularity in the early 2000’s, bands were formed that seemed to copy U2’s style. Though it might not seem like it now, bands like Coldplay and Muse had similar styles to U2 back in the day: their use of mesmerizing guitar effects, as well as vocals and harmonies, are unmistakably similar to those used by U2. However, these bands evolved over time. While their vocal styles began like U2, they created their own unique style with each subsequent album. In later years, these bands gained more popularity than U2. Coldplay’s latest album, A Head Full of Dreams, sold 1.4 million copies worldwide, as opposed to U2’s latest album, Songs of Experience, which sold 1.3 million copies worldwide.

So, what is it that made bands like Coldplay and Muse, bands that have only gained popularity within the last 15 years, become more popular than U2, a band that gained popularity 36 years ago and maintained that popularity for over 17 years? Well, a simple explanation for this would be a distinct lack of change. As mentioned before, Coldplay and Muse both changed their styles significantly, adapting to both the times and their interests. U2 evolved quite a bit during the late 80s and 90s, where they reached the peak of their popularity (their highest grossing album being Achtung Baby), but they never really evolved past that point. I believe that this is the most glaring culprit behind their downfall. Though it sounds cliche and, yes, a little rude, U2 is stuck in the past. If you were to listen to the sound of U2’s music now and some of their music from the early 2000’s, you would find almost no difference. The guitar filter is the same, Bono’s vocal style is the same, the same types of chords are used, the same feel is used, and so on. Looking at Muse and Coldplay, on the other hand, their sounds have undergone dramatic changes: different guitars are used, new sound— risks have been taken. This is what has increased their profile and upheld their popularity. U2’s style, however, has remained stagnant.

So there you have it. A once top-of-the-charts band is now at the bottom of the charts, all starting with one fiasco, and ending with their inability to remain relevant. A band that was once my, and many others’, favorite is now not even close to making that title. This is the tragedy of U2.