I found myself getting swept up this week in the Apple live launch hype, and the subsequent U2 album back lash.
For those who don’t follow and get swept up in these things. The basic premise was that to help add some bang to their new product launch buck, Apple put on a live performance by U2, and then announced their new album would be given free to everyone who had itunes on their phone, tablet or computer. So far uncontroversial.
What caused the greatest upset was the fact that the album was automatically installed on all half a billion itunes users devices whether they wanted it or not. Cue much vociferous backlash, made all the worse by the fact that you then couldn’t delete it.
A few days later Apple rather humbly offered a delete tool in response to the backlash.
PR disaster for Apple? Well following the assumption that all news is good news, and it got millions of people talking about Apple and it’s new products, amongst great product reviews, and seemingly with record order numbers ahead, I think they’ll sleep OK.
What about U2? Well on the face of it, it’s probably worked out a little less well for them. No-one can deny Apple make great products, so a little bashing against a backdrop of a great product and accompanying publicity is OK. Good even. Facebook have been using this trick for years. Announce, or launch a controversial new variation of its product. Gratefully accept the accompanying hype, listen to volume and and sincereness of the criticism and stick, change, or twist accordingly.
U2 bashing against a backdrop of a declining quality of output, is just reinforcing previously held perceptions.
They would of course have known this reaction would come from some. But offset that risk against the ego stretching headline of your album being in half a billion peoples hands, a hefty pay check from Apple, and the chance to win some hearts and minds. Looking at it like that, it does not seem an unreasonable risk. Let’s face it, this move isn’t going to offend their existing fans, there is no short term financial loss or risk, and although there will be the haters they might also gain a few converts.
What’s interesting about this is the volume of criticism and ‘hate’ even directed toward U2 and in particular Bono. You might not like their music, you might not even like Apple’s marketing tactic. But is this grounds for such viscousness?
It does seem to come back to the man. A very large number of people dislike Bono. The gleeful repurposing of his campaign ‘Make poverty history’, to ‘Make Bono history’ a small encapsulation of the haters attitude.
Why? What has he done wrong? Here are a selection of some of his accolades and achievements. In music – millions of records sold; millions of people entertained at gigs around the world; 22 Grammy’s. In philanthropy – this is a man who persuaded George Bush jr. to commit to a $5bn aid package; focussed world leaders attention of reducing 3rd world debt; helped galvanise resources and around millennium goals of eradicating the AIDS, TB and malaria. As a business man – he is managing director and partner at his venture capital firm, turning amongst other things a £230m investment in Facebook to something now worth over $1bn. As well as being Time magazine’s Person of the year 2005, and voted as one of one of the 100 Greatest Britons in a poll, despite being Irish.
For most of us, anyone of those achievements would be seen as a lifetimes work and success. Celebrated and admired.
So, again, why the hate? Jealousy maybe? Sometimes its easiest emotionally to just knock those at the top, because they amplify our own inadequacies. OK, we think, they’ve achieved more than me, let’s find a chink to beat them with so we feel better about the gap. Let’s be honest is it possible to find anyone without fault, and would anyone of us not like just one of his achievements on our life CV?
Congruence? There is an argument that his actions aren’t entirely consistent with his stated beliefs. Whilst raising money for the poor, he is also accused of active if entirely legal tax avoidance, putting much of his money through outlets outside of the Irish tax regime for favourable results.
Actions? It has been argued that far from helping his intended causes, his charities have increased corruption and dependency in Africa, as they have imposed solutions, sometimes temporary, form outside and as such have decreased self sufficiency.
However, the main point seem to be what writer Paul Theroux termed “mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth.” Or as someone else wrote ‘a grand orgy of narcissisticphilanthropy’
And this seems at the root of it. An overblown sense of ego, self worth, aggrandisement whatever you want to call it. The riff being his good work feeds his own ambition and profile, which in turn helps the band and vice versa. The specific example used was when he was had a U2 tour that promoted his ONE Campaign at the same time he was racking up nearly $400m of ticket sales with revenue filtered through companies that minimised the tax burden.
On a personal level all this is perhaps not surprising. Bono’s mother died when he was 10. His father whom he allegedly has a strained relationship with once reportedly told him “to dream is to be disappointed’.
Nearly every successful person I know has defining attitudes or events which gives them the drive and spark to be different. ‘Normal’ people with happy childhoods, tend to lead ‘normal’ lives as they have nothing to prove. The doers are often fighting against something, an insecurity, a need to prove their worth to others and themselves. You’ll rarely hear a really successful person say ‘ I’m happy with what I’ve got’ or ‘I’m happy with what I’ve achieved’ or ‘I’m happy with the way things are’.
And if they do go there, stop what they were doing, and for example sell their business, or quit the band, without that drug of self worth and importance, and respect of others, they can often plunge back into the doubt that drove them in the first place. Achievement and success become a drug. So often they will find new ventures and things to find that drug again. And the bigger the success, the bigger the drug, and the bigger the potential fall.
That’s why so so many people in bands suffer later on in life. You have a world of adulation. Then it stops. How can you go back to being Kevin in accounts?
I suspect with Bono, this is in part the cause of his relentless pursuit of global success in all its forms.
But also I would suggest that whether his all his motivations are pure, whether all his actions are good, even his harshest critic would struggle to say there is no part of him that believes that he doesn’t have a genuine belief in trying to make the world a better place.
And yes he has used his fame to support his good work, and his good work to support his fame. But isn’t that just smart? Would Paul Hewson, bar worker or middle manager from Dublin, be able to focus world leaders on problems and solutions of 3rd world debt, hunger and so on?
Making the biggest album release in history with the biggest computer company in the world, for all it ego stretching faults, exudes power and influence that releasing the record in the normal way wouldn’t have. That perceived power and influence opens doors and minds, and if some of that is used for good, then so what? Companies choose content every day to feed into our homes. Advertising, TV, radio all put things on our screens that we have not chosen to be there. And just as we have the power to turn them off so we have the power to not play the album!
So after reflection of this weeks free album furore, and after a period of wavering and questioning my own attitudes, I’ve got off the fence. And found myself…. Pro Bono.