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THE MILLENNIAL/GEN Z’S GUIDE TO U2

Why this legendary Irish rock band matters in 2019

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By Ade Magnaye

Legendary Irish rock band U2 is coming to the Philippines for the first time as part of the “Joshua Tree World Tour,” celebrating the seminal album that brought Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, and Adam Clayton to the forefront of pop culture. If you’re someone who was born after their heyday, you might be wondering what the big deal is. Why are all these 30- and 40-somethings going crazy over an old band?

U2 may be popular with us titos and titas, but you don’t have to feel left out. U2 has been making amazing, relevant, music for over three decades. There’s always something in their discography for you.

The Only Band That Mattered

For an entire generation, U2 was “The Only Band That Mattered.” They made big, bombastic music that spoke about the Irish “Bloody Sunday” of 1972, of war, of their dissatisfaction with European and American politics, and made them all so earnestly and unironically the voice of the times. Well, pre-‘90s U2, at the very least.

The Music

If you know U2 from their more recent hits, do me a favor and load up The Joshua Tree right now. And then, after that, go and play War. I’ll wait. Their more recent output is anemic compared to their old hits. They weren’t afraid of overt political messages in both their music and tours, and even went as far as to call out the terrifying rise of extreme nationalism that swept Europe in the 1990s during their “ZooTV” tour.

The Edge may be the butt of many jokes nowadays, but his willingness to experiment with layer upon layer of effects with his guitar playing built a strong backbone for their music. Bono’s earnest, often raw, vocals provides the perfect blend of emotion and roughness that anchors on the rest of the band’s meticulously-layered sonic atmosphere.

Evolution

The U2 of 2019 is totally different from the band that kids from the ’70s and ’80s knew. Throughout the decades, Bono and company have learned to reinvent themselves, and to essentially take up various personas with every new album and tour.

Their first big reinvention came with the “ZooTV” tour of the ‘90s, where Bono took up three personas—The Fly, MacPhisto, and The Mirror Ball Man—and he embraced rock stardom, something he and the band tried to resist in the ‘80s. This was the start of Bono’s infamous sunglasses, a fashion choice that has been both praised and mocked.

Innovation

The early 2000s were a tumultuous time for music, at least in the digital space. Napster and other peer-to-peer file sharing services made it easier for anyone to pirate music, something that bands like Metallica famously dedicated vast legal resources to fight.

U2, on the other hand, went all in on digitally available music with the dawn of iTunes. In fact, they were so intertwined that you cannot separate U2 from Apple, especially during the iPod’s heyday. You may have heard of the infamous launch of 2014’s Songs of Innocence, which was released as a free download for all iTunes music account holders. Loads of iPhone and Mac users woke up to a new U2 album in their library. And it did not go over so well for some people, obviously. While such gaffes with their flirtation with technology cannot be avoided, you cannot deny the fact that they chase innovation continuously, finding the next venue—digital or otherwise—to ensure their music stays in rotation.

Advocacy

U2 has never shied away from using their time in the spotlight to point the world’s attention to various issues. From the politically charged “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to “Bullet the Blue Sky” to “Walk On,” they’ve never stopped talking about issues that matter to them. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve been through some of Ireland’s most violent periods.

Bono himself is co-founder of ONE, an organization dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease. He is also co-founder of Product Red, an organization that seeks to raise funds to help eliminate HIV and AIDS in African communities. If you’ve ever bought a red iPod or iPhone, you’ve contributed to their cause.

Performance and Spectacle

These may all be nice to hear, but at the end of the day, you go to a U2 concert for one thing—the spectacle. U2 concerts are huge, complicated affairs, with a massive convergence of light, sound, images, props, and more to deliver an explosive barrage of sensory input for the audience. Imagine lights flashing, pyroworks blowing up at every opportunity, while Bono struts on stage and entrances the crowd with his electrifying stage presence.

U2 concerts promise to be overwhelming experiences, and it’s all worth it just to be one with the crowd, singing along to any of the hits they’ve amassed in their 40-year career. There’s a reason why U2 set the standard for the live rock concert that all bands are still trying to match to this day.

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