Millennials, U2 deserves a listen

Bono (centre) of U2 after a performance at an Apple event in California recently. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Bono (centre) of U2 after a performance at an Apple event in California recently. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Millennials' rejection of free copies of U2's new album points to a cultural shift

Apart from the advertising flyers that flood HDB mail- boxes and inundate front doors, there are not many other freebies people complain about in these inflationary times.

Last week, however, a legendary rock band found their new work treated with the kind of contempt normally reserved for junk mail.

Scores of iTunes customers took umbrage at receiving free copies of U2's new album, Songs Of Innocence, fed to their accounts.

Apple thought it was a great gift to its customers to promote the launch of the iPhone 6; but many protested against the move, saying it gave them grief instead.

"Who is U2? And why do their songs keep popping up in my iPhone?" and "I don't know who put U2 on my iTunes, but that is the worst prank imaginable" were some of the comments.

Is it too much to expect a little respect from millennials for one of the biggest bands in the history of rock, not to mention some gratitude for a rare gesture of corporate generosity?

Who are these trolls and why do their hateful, ignorant comments keep popping up in the social media?

No doubt a seismic change has broken out on the cultural landscape if a band whose last great album was released just five years ago (2009's No Line On The Horizon) are now savaged as worse than irrelevant.

Millennials may well be an over- entitled and over-privileged, ungrateful and ungracious bunch, but their reaction to the free U2 album is not necessarily proof of that.

Music has long been the battleground on which adolescents and young adults claim their identity against their elders: Elvis and Beatles mania broke out among the young despite and even because that kind of music offended their parents.

Ditto electric-era Dylan, ditto punk, ditto New Wave, ditto hip-hop.

For kids the world over, for the longest time, it's been a case of "I listen therefore I am".

In fact, music almost never stops being an arena for identity and generational battles. It's the rare oldie who doesn't dismiss current music as trash.

Music choice can be an emotional statement of identity. It is why top 10 and desert island lists are debated vigorously, even vehemently.

If you are in your 30s and beyond, imagine your reaction if Apple had pushed Justin Bieber's new album to your iTunes account. I know I would certainly be spending the better part of my workday figuring out how to delete it from my account - but only because I have heard his song Baby.

If I have not heard a new act's music, I would not be mouthing off, "Who are One Direction? And why are their songs clogging up my account?" I have given the benefit of doubt to Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran.

It's galling that there are those who prefer the virtual real estate in their social media accounts and their tech gadgets to remain empty, than to give a chance to the work of serious and celebrated musicians. How hard can it be for the supposedly tech-savvy millennials to delete Songs Of Innocence if they don't like it after listening to it?

U2 singer Bono had hoped that they would be given that chance. He posted on the band's website: "People who haven't heard our music or weren't remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we're in their library.

"And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way... the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail."

Bono's learning the hard way that the cultural shift is not that his band's music would eventually be obsolete - he knew it would happen at some point, and maybe soon.

The shocking change is that the blood, sweat and tears of artists are not worth vacant digital space and available bandwidth because people prefer to use the space to consume what, cutesy and gimmicky amateur videos that go viral?

Welcome to the digital age.