Yesterday, whether you liked it or not, you became the owner of U2’s new album Songs of Innocence. Apple effectively auto-purchased the album for you (though it was free), beaming it directly into your iTunes library, available immediately for download and play off the cloud. As Apple tells it, the company paid U2 for the music, then gave it away for free to you, the users, as a gift and display of their ultimate beneficence.
That seems pretty harmless, right? Even generous?
But we can only imagine the ramifications if this trend goes unchecked:
2014: “Kanye West Teams With Google to Play ‘Perfect Booty,’ an Ode to His Wife, Following Every Kardashian Search”
2015: “New Justin Timberlake Album Force-Plays Itself From Every Jawbone JAMBOX™ Speaker in America”
2016: “Every Beats by Dre Headphone Requires Users to Stream New Kendrick Lamar Track Between Every Song of Their Own Playlists”
2018: “Billboard Begins Declaring Official ‘Song of the Summer’ on May 15; Terrestrial Radio Stations Must Now Only Play Willow Smith’s Newest Single 24 Hours a Day Until Sept. 1”
2021: “Samsung Galaxy S IX Heroic 7G HoloTouch Edition Holographically Projects Miley Cyrus Grinding a Giant Banana Into the Home of Every 14-Year-Old to Promote Her New Collaboration With Sir Paul McCartney, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Samsung SongSmith Pro Songwriting Algorithm”
2024: “Citizens Arrested for Not Singing Along With Mandatory New Arcade Fire Song, Presented by Acura for Some Reason”
2028: “Apple’s iNeuron Broadcasts One Direction’s 14th Studio Album Directly Into Consumers’ Brains. There Is No Opt Out.”
2030: “Kanye West Vows to Break Into the Home of Every American, Refuse to Leave Until They Listen to His New Album ‘My Struggle’ and Tell Him How Great It Is”
OK, we jest, but it is an unsettling reminder that to use iTunes, we basically have to agree that our music collection is not really our own and that “purchased” (or even forcibly given) music belongs to Apple as much as us. To be fair, with industrywide album sales continuing to decline (but live shows never more profitable), using technology and corporate synergy to actually force music ownership on listeners for free as effectively a promotion for the band and its shows may actually seem like a reasonable strategy. Music critic Michael Azerrad reminded us that legendary punk band the Minutemen always considered the records “a flyer for shows”, and U2’s strategy here seems weirdly like the anti-punk version of their lo-fi and DIY strategy. Apparently, consent and interest are no longer a requisite for owning an album, only corporate prerogative. Which is, you know, extremely unsettling, possibly indicating a terrifying new future where taste and culture are even more explicitly chosen directly for us by our corporate overlords.