Today is November 30th 2017. Tomorrow, December 1st, sees the official release of U2‘s 14th studio album Songs of Experience. However, this is not going to be a review about the album – at all. Rather, this story begins almost two years ago. It’s going to be a long one but hang in there.
As a U2 fan with an interest in graphic design, I have created fan art or other content that has been shared in the past. Notably, a 360° tour promo (the soundtrack was used here, but with another video after a request), a 2009 fan video of Moment of Surrender (which I have taken down but keep a copy of offline) and the 2014 infographic of quotes related to the next album release. More recently, a picture from the 2015 Stockholm “security breach” went viral and I have created the theme song for the podcast of fansite atu2.com in 2016.
Nothing of that, however, comes close to the exposure I have had anticipating the new U2 record but let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Prologue: A Tale of Innocence and Experience
On December 11th, 2015 I had first shared an idea on Twitter about what I thought could be an interesting approach for the artwork of U2’s anticipated follow up to Songs of Innocence, released in 2014.
— Simon Peyda Moore (@simonpeyda) 11 december 2015
I based this fan art on pictures of the four band members that had first appeared in the official 2015 iNNOCENCE+eXPERIENCE Tour programme. They can for instance be seen on the website of the Dublin-based Creative Graphic Design Agency AMP Visual. Importantly; AMP Visual (formerly Four5One) have created the vast majority of U2-related products since the late 1970’s.
Also please know that the photographs are not taken by me. I no longer recall the exact instance of where I came across the original pictures, but I suspect it might have been one of the many fan forums. As I did not purchase the tour programme myself though, I am unable to determine exactly who is the original photographer. If you have any information, please get in touch.
Briefly, the pictures represent (clockwise) Adam Clayton, The Edge, Bono, and Larry Mullen Jr, with landmarks from their hometown in Dublin, Ireland. In January 2016, the band’s official website U2.com launched their annual fanclub subscriber gift, where the band headshots appeared once more. It had the following description:
Our 2016 U2.com subscription package celebrates the striking visual iconography of the U2ie Tour.
Subscribers will receive an exclusive collection of four high quality serigraphs, commissioned by the band and developed by their longtime creative collaborators musician Gavin Friday and art-director Shaughn McGrath.
This limited edition collection is made up of four beautiful screen prints, produced on heavy paper stock, measuring 60 x 45cm. A unique visual celebration of the U2 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, the set includes band, live performance and on-screen imagery.
This special collection will not be on sale online or in store.
Source pictures and text: u2.com > U2IE TOUR SERIGRAPH COLLECTION
With this, I wanted to present the creative process in creating my much circulated fan art.
Inspiration number one: After Songs of Innocence, the next album was rumoured to contrast the innocence of U2’s early Dublin years with the experience of adulthood and fame. Thus, I got inspired to create fan art for an album sleeve with the Dublin faces (which merge both ideas) as a foundation.
Inspiration number two: U2’s 1997 album POP. It is well documented how much of an impact that era in their career has had on revising the sound, tour planning and timing of release. So, I thought an aspect of mega stardom could be learning from your “mistakes” and getting caught up in the grandiosity of the rockstar lifestyle. Note the similar arrangements of the four faces, below.
Inspiration number three: The artwork for Songs of Innocence, with Larry embracing his grown up son, in many ways reflected early U2 records with debut album Boy (1980) as the primary influence. If Songs of Innocence in content and style was a throwback to U2 in the 1980’s, perhaps the follow-up could take inspiration from the colourful 1990’s artwork?
With these as my inspiration, I began assembling the fan art. The colouring and order of the band members were adjusted to reflect the appearance of the aforementioned cover for POP. I then added the text to indicate the supposed album title.
Please note: Twitter remain the only platform, where I have shared this fan art. The original tweet has, to date, had a rather modest reception of 1 retweet (circulating the tweet with others) and 5 likes. With that, I didn’t think much about the artwork, until around two weeks ago: on November 12th.
Part 1: Even Better Than The Real Thing?
As part of the promotional campaign leading up to the release of Songs of Experience, U2 appeared on Music Television’s European Music Awards (MTV EMA) show in London. In addition to a live debut performance of the latest single Get Out Of Your Own Way, the band was to be presented with the annual “MTV Global Icon” award by fellow artist Jared Leto.
Just before their entrance to accept the award on stage, a video montage was televised – and presumably also shown on location in London. One section of the video is dedicated to displaying U2’s album covers in chronological order. The original video can be viewed in its entirety via the official website, mtvema.com or the MTV International YouTube channel.
Around the three minute mark, the album slideshow displays artwork for Songs of Experience. There’s only one issue: my 2015 fan art is presented here, along with otherwise official album sleeves created by Four5One/AMP Visual in collaboration with U2.
To reiterate: I have never, ever shared this image outside the original tweet on December 11th, 2015. I had not, and I have not, been approached by anyone at MTV or the EMA staff before, during, or after the event in London. Thus, it was a mixed bag of emotion to see my fan art being so prominently displayed without prior consent or even credit.
Even more puzzling is that the actual album cover had been announced on November 1st, roughly a week and a half before the MTV EMAs. Moreover, the cover is available in high resolution via the section RMP Photo on U2.com with the following information:
“Limited license solely for reproduction for print and online news and editorial purposes only. No commercial use without prior approval. No single subject use. All other rights expressly reserved. ©2017 U2 Limited.”
Part 2: They Don’t Know What You’re Doing – Babe It Must Be Art!
At this point, I’m feeling sorry for the poor person that made the mix-up. I briefly enjoy my uncredited seconds of fame thinking “these things happen”, but it would not end there.
Curious, I started to track down the potential source of this mess so I googled. I was surprised to see my fan art up among the top results when perfoming a Google Image Search for “U2 Songs of Experience”. It does not however, link to my Twitter post but a message board thread. (Note also the replicated idea, with other faces of the band, on the bottom left).
I cannot verify that this is the source of the mix-up, but in September 2017 a fellow U2 fan (i.e. not me!) posted a thread to the U2 Interference message boards entitled: “Songs of Experience Album Cover?“. For context, Interference is one of the largest international (but unofficial) forums for U2 fans online. The artwork was quickly, and correctly, identified as “a fan’s creation” so it should’ve stopped there. It did not.
Incredibly, a Google Search for the same query returns a summary post with my fan art presented as the official album cover in the upper right corner! Note how the other information is entirely correct. In defense of Google, it is understandable that the thread title would cause the search algorithm to return my image as the top result.
More perplexing though, is that Google’s own music store, Play Music displays the correct, official album cover. One would have thought their services were better synchronised for something as simple as this, surely?
Since the MTV EMAs on the 12th of November where I made this discovery, it appears my fan art has appeared in other places, presented as the official album cover with no credit or reference to the original. Radio Station 99.9 WWCT FM have used it and last night I saw it in the major news outlet The New York Times as well, together with their review of the album.
Simultaneously, I have been engaged on Twitter with other fans still asking if it is the official album art.
ok hold up pic.twitter.com/2kGxTe1P0m
— Reilly Hannigan (@Thylacine_Queen) 25 november 2017
Epilogue: In the Darkness Where You Learn To See
Before anything else, let’s now set the record straight. The official, correct, artwork – for the new album Songs of Experience that comes out tomorrow – was announced on November 1st 2017. The official information from U2.com states:
“Today the band also revealed the artwork for Songs of Experience, shot by Dutch photographer, film director and longtime collaborator Anton Corbijn, of band-members’ teenage children Eli Hewson and Sian Evans.”
Moreover, Anton Corbijn himself provided the following information from his official Instagram account:
New U2 record cover revealed today featuring Edge’s daughter Sian and Bon’s son Eli. I shot this last year in France so not sure whether to present this as my old work or my new work?! And who cares anyway. . !?! Design by Shaughn @ ampvisual. Creative team Gavin Friday and styling by Sharon Blankson @u2 #SongsOfExperience #greatcover #youth #experience
What can we learn from all this mess?
- Watermark your content.
If you want to dissuade unathourised use of your content, watermark it. Nevermind the people who moan about it ruining the impression of your video, illustration, or photograph. One needn’t make it intrusive. If people want to use it, make them jump through a few hoops to reach out to you for a clean copy.
I am not the first U2 fan who have had their content used or right up stolen. I know fansites such as u2gigs.com and atu2.com have seen usage of their live videoclips. The eminent fan site u2songs.com, which has reported many of the rumours surrounding the new album, too. Watermarking does not always prevent “theft” but it retains the presence of the original source in case it ends up elsewhere.
- Stay informed: Give credit where it is due.
The media appear reluctant to either use the correct official sources, or finding out the original creator of the content they are about to use. This is incredibly dangerous. Once more: this is incredibly dan-ger-ous!
We live in a time and climate where claims of “fake news” gain attention to help denounce major news outlets, like the New York Times. People of the free press: please, do your work! The pen is mightier than the sword. Keep us informed, not misinformed. We must be able to trust you.
- A Marketing mess
U2’s marketing team are likely pissed off that fan art is presented as the official artwork. It breaks my heart thinking AMP Visual may not get recognition for their stunning work.
Songs of Experience has got the most mesmerising collection of U2 art that I have ever seen for an album. This way also, the master photographer and long-time U2-collaborator Anton Corbijn does not get proper credit and exposure for the amazing album sleeve. So in a worst-case scenario, this is going to hurt U2’s promotional campaign and sales for Songs of Experience. It might even endanger their professional relationships.
- Mass confusion?
Related to point number 3, I imagine there will be casual fans intrigued to pick up the new album tomorrow. How on earth are they supposed to know what to look for when even The New York Times advertises my fan art as the official artwork! I never intended this to happen. It makes me angry, more than anything else.
- Give credit where credit is due
Perhaps, most importantly, learn to be critical of your sources. Think. Find and give references to the original creator. Passing it off as something it is not, is not cool. Here’s an example of why this is so vital.
As for where I stand now, I am not sure how to proceed. I deny any responsibility for that this mess could be with me. I created the fan art two years ago, never even once trying to pass it off as the real thing. I could never have forseen these events to be taking place now in 2017, just before its release.
In any event, my biggest wish is that this album, Songs of Experience, is a stellar success. I wish the most possible people will experience and enjoy the electric blue beauty created by U2 together with AMP Visual and Anton Corbijn.
I hope the media will stop using fan creations and pass them off uncredited or even as if they are the real thing. I thought knowing your sources was an integral but basic lesson in journalism but apparently it is a forgotten one. Same goes for you Google: get your search algorithms in order!
All I know is that what happened is not cool in my book, and it should not have to happen again. I ultimately wish that with this entry, I have contributed to shedding some light on how this mess unfolded, and thereby right was has been horribly wrong. In any interaction, I try my best to point people in the right direction.
Lastly, I have not heard from MTV, Google, the New York Times, U2, Maverick Management, their marketing team, AMP Visual, Anton Corbijn or any journalist or other people associated with the band regarding this mix up of the Songs of Experience artwork. I welcome a dialogue with any of you regarding this and how we can put things right together.
Simon Peyda Moore
November 30th 2017 in Stockholm, Sweden
Edit December 4th 2017: It appears that The New York Times revised their online version of the review on November 30th – presumably only after I published this entry.
It is now correctly displaying the official album cover. I appreciate this effort. Note however, that there is still no information about where the original artwork came from. I also do not know if the fan art appeared in the printed paper, or if a correction has also been issued in print. The correction reads as follows: