‘Who Is U2?’ Ask ITunes Users Miffed at Apple’s Freebie - Bloomberg

By Crayton Harrison and Tim HigginsSeptember 11, 2014 6:59 PM EDT

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., left, and the band U2 during a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Sept. 9, 2014.

U2, one of the most popular rock bands in the world, gave a new album for free to half a billion users of Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iTunes software.

Not cool, some recipients said.

“Who is U2? And why do their songs keep popping up in my iPhone?” a Twitter user named Natalie said yesterday in one of a number of tweets compiled on Storify. “I’ve never bought their music.”

“Idk who put U2 on my iTunes but that is the worst prank imaginable,” tweeted another, Jessica Williams, using the abbreviation for “I don’t know.”

The album giveaway was announced two days ago following Apple’s unveiling of new iPhones and a wearable device called Apple Watch. U2’s “Songs of Innocence” album, featuring 11 songs, is free to active iTunes account holders and those who sign up within five weeks, the company said then. The album began appearing in users’ libraries within a day or so after it was announced.

Depending on a user’s settings, “Songs of Innocence” could automatically download to some Apple devices, taking up valuable space. For others, the album just appeared as available for download among a list of other records users had bought through iTunes.

The mass distribution particularly irked youngsters who were unfamiliar with U2, a band formed in 1976 whose last album, “No Line on the Horizon,” came out five years ago.

“Nothing pisses off the audience more than pushing something they don’t want and didn’t ask for to their devices,” Bob Lefsetz, author of a music industry blog, wrote yesterday. “Even if you don’t download the album, it’s sitting there in your purchases, pissing you off.”

Critics’ Opinions

Is the music that bad? Depends on your perspective. Critic David Fricke of Rolling Stone gave it five stars, calling it “11 tracks of straightforward rapture about the life-saving joys of music.” Stereogum’s Tom Breihan was less enthralled, calling it “a muddled, inert, tired mess of an album.”

A spokeswoman for U2 didn’t immediately respond for comment outside of normal business hours in London. Tom Neumayr, an Apple spokesman, declined to comment.

Dennis Dennehy, a spokesman for Interscope Geffen A&M, also declined to comment. On U2’s website, lead singer Bono posted a message earlier this week about the distribution of the new album, saying it was part of the band’s DNA “to get our music to as many people as possible.”

‘Junk Mail’

“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,” Bono wrote. “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.”

While some complained online about the free album, others praised it.

“Thanks for the #gift what an awesome album, it’s on repeat in my car!!” said a Twitter user named Jason Steenkamp.

Users who had auto-download turned on can delete the unwanted album if they want. It will remain among a list of purchased items, meaning it can be re-downloaded later.

Apple and U2 have a long history together, going back to the opening of the iTunes store in 2003.

“U2 has been an important part of Apple’s history in music and we’re thrilled to make ‘Songs of Innocence’ the largest album release ever,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, said in a statement this week. “We get to share our love of music today by gifting this great new album to over half a billion iTunes customers around the world.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Crayton Harrison in New York at tharrison5@bloomberg.net; Tim Higgins in San Francisco at thiggins21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Rabil at srabil@bloomberg.net Crayton Harrison, Stephen West