In context: Apple might be the most valuable company on earth, but it's made some unpopular decisions over the years. One of them was to forcefully insert an entire U2 album into the library of every iTunes user on earth back in 2014. But lead singer Bono says neither Tim Cook nor the Cupertino company are to blame for this infamous incident—it was all his fault.
At the iPhone 6 unveil event that took place in September 2014, U2 made a surprise appearance on stage. The Irish rockers proceeded to announce that their new 11-track album was being made available to anyone with iTunes—for free. When asked at the time about the band's reasoning, Bono said it was a "drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn't be heard."
But much to the surprise of those involved, not everyone loved the turgid, middle-of-the-road 'Songs of Innocence,' which received tepid reviews. There was a lot of outcry over the album appearing in people's libraries. As Bono himself notes in his memoir "Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story," an extract of which is published in The Guardian, one commentator summed up the move with, "Woke up this morning to find Bono in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my dressing gown, reading my paper." Another one succinctly described it as: "The free U2 album is overpriced." Apple even had to release a special tool to stop the album from being tied to an account.
Bono said that in 2014 he explained to Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, and Phil Schiller that U2 wanted to give away Songs of Innocence. "You want to give this music away free? But the whole point of what we're trying to do at Apple is to not give away music free. The point is to make sure musicians get paid," Cook said. "No," replied Bono. "I don't think we give it away free. I think you pay us for it, and then you give it away free, as a gift to people. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
Tim Cook raised an eyebrow. "You mean we pay for the album and then just distribute it?" Bono replied with, "Yeah, like when Netflix buys the movie and gives it away to subscribers."
Cook explained that Apple wasn't a subscription organization. "Not yet," said Bono. "Let ours be the first." Cook wasn't convinced, asking if the album should be just be given to people who like U2. "Well," Bono replied, "I think we should give it away to everybody. I mean, it's their choice whether they want to listen to it."
Ultimately, Bono said the whole thing was his fault, "Not Guy O, not Edge, not Adam, not Larry, not Tim Cook, not Eddy Cue." It seems the Apple CEO was philosophical about the giveaway. "You talked us into an experiment," he told Bono. "We ran with it. It may not have worked, but we have to experiment, because the music business in its present form is not working for everyone."
Bono also recalled the collaboration with Apple ten years earlier on the iPod. U2 convinced then-CEO Steve Jobs to let them be in the famous silhouette ads for the music player. The band didn't want any cash for their participation, but there was a request for some Apple stock, even a symbolic amount, as a courtesy. Jobs refused, calling it a dealbreaker, so Bono suggested a customized U2 iPod, which led to the special 'black with red click wheel' edition of the previously white-only device.