Ever since Beyoncé surprised the world with a complete, previously unannounced full-length album last December, different artists have been trying to top the feat. Whether they were trying or not, it looks like U2 finally did it.
Yesterday, at Apple’s much-touted big-reveal press conference announcing iPhone 6 and the new Apple iWatch, U2 was announced as a surprise musical guest. After they played a new song “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” the band officially unveiled their new album Songs of Innocence, then announced to the audience it was available exclusively to iTunes, iTunes Radio and Beats Music users. Now. For free.
With iTunes users around the world now totaling half a billion people—and since the album is already added to the libraries of those half a billion people—the sheer numbers make this officially the biggest album release of all time.
After U2’s media blitz in the early months of 2014, including the release of their single “Invisible” during the Superbowl Halftime Show, all in anticipation of a late spring/early summer release of their long awaited album, fans were left disappointed when the news came out that the album release was being delayed, possibly as late as 2015. A few weeks ago, unconfirmed rumors began spreading that an album might still be coming in 2014, but no specifics were ever given. Surprise! It was yesterday.
The rollout of the new record was not without its snafus. Most likely due to heavy loads on Apple’s servers, many customers went to download the promised album but for awhile found it impossible to do so. (In this writer’s case, the iTunes page for the U2 album showed “purchased,” but with no way to actually download the album. Eventually the problem was resolved.)
Also, as remarkable as this feat was, the giveaway is not nearly as generous as it seems; the gift is really more from Apple, as a promotional tool, than the band itself. The New York Times reports that Apple paid the band and Universal a blanket royalty and pledged up to $100 million in marketing for the “giveaway”—not that that’s any kind of sin, just that it’s business, not charity. Furthermore, while releasing an album to half a billion people is truly remarkable, it doesn’t mean the band gets credit for half a billion units “sold.” (Let’s see, that would make it…500x Platinum?) In fact, the giveaway could actually hurt the sales numbers. Don’t expect Songs of Innocence to show up on the Billboard charts anytime soon: giveaways don’t count toward unit sales, and the album doesn’t actually release for sale until October 13, by which time billions of people will already potentially own it and won’t need to buy it. (Makes the blanket royalty payoff seem a little more justified, doesn’t it?) Also, according to Billboard, since the album’s officially release isn’t until October, Songs of Innocence will not be eligible for next year’s Grammy Awards. (The cutoff is September 30, and again, only the commercial release date counts.)
Be that as it may—U2 doesn’t really need the sales, but both U2 and Apple could use the positive publicity, so it appears that both won out with yesterday’s surprise album release. Not to mention the millions of fans who now can own the latest U2 album as a free gift. It’s a win-win-win.
For iTunes users, Songs of Innocence is reportedly already in your library in iCloud, and can be downloaded by pulling up the “Purchases” page in iTunes. The album is available for streaming on iTunes Radio and Beats Music as of today.