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U2’s fall from grace

April 10, 2015

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Photo via Ezequiel Español

U2 is just a month away from embarking on its latest world tour, an event that its fans once might have eagerly anticipated. Unfortunately for the band, times have changed.

Sherry Lawrence at @U2 writes ticket sales for the upcoming Innocence + Experience tour are down in the United States, a market the band usually can count on for support. Even worse, Americans aren’t listening to the band on the radio like they used to.

It’s clear that the band has lost a lot of regular listeners over the years. Only three U.S. dates in the upcoming tour are sold out on Ticketmaster, Lawrence reports, and radio stations that do air their songs are playing their vintage hits, not their new material.

Unlike their previous tour, performed in stadiums, this tour is taking place in much smaller arenas, fueling an expectation that tickets would be hard to get.

“Based on U2’s solid track record for arenas, along with the popularity of the U2 360 tour, the odds makers would not have predicted that the U.S. market couldn’t sell out,” she writes.

Altogether, this tour and the album with which it’s associated show just how far the Irish band’s popularity has fallen in a little over a decade.

Back in 2004, the band appeared in the now iconic “silhouette” ad campaign for the Apple iPod, the device that helped lead the digital music revolution. Featuring “Vertigo” from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the band showed it could still produce a hit.

But in 2014, U2 had to apologize for giving Songs of Innocence away for free on iTunes. The promotion, again with Apple, automatically downloaded the album into hundreds of thousands of devices. Many users who weren’t happy about the space it took up. Fans also didn’t like what they were hearing.

Carter Alan, a DJ who was the first to play U2’s music in the United States, sensed the band did not pick a clear enough direction with the album to get radio airplay. He told Lawrence,

The problem may be that the age group that listens to pop on the radio is young, and they have their heroes. To them, U2 may be their parents’ or older sibling’s band. Then, U2’s album may not resonate with older fans that resist the very commercial music on hit radio.  So, the album may have driven between two audiences, reaching relatively few as a result.

Right now, the band has a lot riding on its newest single release, “Song for Someone.” As Lawrence writes:

If the song doesn’t perform well, or if, as Alan stated, “people perceive that [U2’s] strongest material is behind them and take little interest in the new music, but they flood the shows and dig the hits,” we may see a shift in the tour’s scope mid-stream.

If that shift happens, U2 would become another historic group dropped from relevance, wearing out their greatest hits on annual tours — something they looked like they might avoid a decade ago.

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Innocence + Experience Tour Dates




  • Rian Bosse

    Rian Bosse is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012 and worked for a small daily newspaper, the Daily Journal, in his hometown o...

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