U2 used to be great at creating big moments. From the band’s fiery, satellite-fed coming-out party at LiveAid 1985 to the universally-beloved Joshua Tree to the seizure-inducing multimedia orgy of the Zoo TV tour, Bono, Edge, Larr and Adam lasted a long time as A Band That Meant Something, musically and politically. But just like past-their-prime politicians, U2′s public image since the late ’90s has been a mix of global diplomatic efforts and lucrative corporate gigs.
U2 is as much a brand as band at this point, moving assets to avoid taxes and lending their accumulated goodwill to any number of capitalistic schemes. Through his ownership stake in Elevation Partners, Bono’s known to use buzzwords like “disrupt” and “massive scale” as much as he sings about dismantling and horizons. U2 developed a synergistic relationship with Apple starting in 2004, when Steve Jobs concluded that year’s Music Event by unveiling the U2 iPod. Like a regular white iPod but much uglier, the $349 20GB gadget featured simulacra of the band’s signatures on the back, a poster and a coupon for $50 off the digital U2 box set — the equivalent of Wal-Mart rewarding you for buying something from Wal-Mart with a Wal-Mart gift certificate.
Apple has grown into one of the most valuable properties in the world thanks in large part to these annual events, which turn any new tweak to an existing product into a highly-anticipated unveiling, ginning up demand for months with strategic leaks and some of the most draconian PR policies imaginable. In other words: From a promotional perspective, Apple Events aren’t much different than a modern major album release. The difference lies in the product being released, of course: It’s one thing for a team of designers to collaborate on expanding the iPhone’s dimensions by a centimeter on each side, and quite another task for a group of four musicians to remain relevant well into their fifth decade.