What do you get when you combine unimaginative songwriting, poor musicianship and the largest ego in rock ‘n’ roll history? You get U2, one of the most famous bands of the past three decades.

Despite never really writing an original song in the 34 years they’ve been a band, the members of U2 are still somehow regarded as rock superstars. Over the course of their puzzling career, they’ve garnered 22 Grammy awards and sold over 150 million albums worldwide.

The only thing U2 ever got right was its timing — the band emerged onto the scene after the glory days of radio rock had all but faded away but before the alternative era of ’90s rock actually required a band to be exciting or innovative.

That’s it — the band’s early songs sounded good on the radio to a public who would’ve accepted almost anything that was even the slightest bit catchy. I’m not faulting the band for that, but U2 capitalized on this by releasing essentially the same set of songs for over two decades. This really pisses me off. Combine this with its attitude — U2 seems to think it deserves more than international fame for its extremely derivative form of pop-rock — and you have the recipe for the most overrated band in history.

To be fair, just because Bono is a smug, overrated asshole doesn’t necessarily mean his music is shit. However, his lyrics are completely unoriginal and his singing consists of yelling half melodies, which just makes me hate him even more.

Bono’s creative process can be summarized as using political buzzwords in different combinations and emphasizing some of them by yelling even louder. This is only slightly better than the passages during which he just sings notes at different pitches to add emotion to his pieces. Instead of sounding raw and uplifting, it sounds forced. He’s also fond of using bland and unoriginal words, such as peace, love and freedom, to cement his image as a world-changing, saintly figure.

I’m usually willing to give bands some slack on lyrical substance if they can dazzle me with their musicianship. But for someone who nicknamed himself “The Edge,” David Evans is one boring guitar player. In fact, his extensive use of delay tones and repetitive chiming is the exact opposite of edgy guitar work. He uses almost the same tone on every song, and while this helps some guitarists create a signature sound, The Edge lacks the creativity to expand past the same chord structures or repetitive plucking patterns.

Sure, there are other, worse bands that have arguably received more recognition than the Irish rockers — but no other band in recent history has been so smug about it. Yes, the group has founded quite a few charities and raised millions of dollars, a fact any fan will bring up when defending the band. But Bono alone has a net worth of over 600 million dollars, which leads me to believe that the band’s philanthropy angle is more of a marketing ploy than anything of substance.

—TYLER BAILEY

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I’ll admit this up front: Most of my attachment to U2 can be attributed to sentimental reasons. U2 is, bizarrely, the first music I can ever remember listening to — outside of lullabies and my grandparents’ Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald vinyls (one of my first words was a blend of their names: “Louinella”). But my dad is a hardcore fan of two things in this world: “Star Trek” and U2, so I was exposed to the latter at a very early age. And no matter how much I try to hide it from some of my more musically elitist friends, I can’t help it — I have never stopped liking the tunes of U2.

U2 has certainly been showered with endless awards and has maintained a steady base of devoted fans throughout many years, but as with any mainstream success story, it also has its haters. And I admit that many of the U2 dissidents are right to make some of their complaints: The band often takes themselves far too seriously and the stadium-rock sound that has given the band worldwide recognition seldom presents originality or flair. But what the critics sometimes fail to comment on is the brief period in the ’90s when U2 sought to redefine themselves, leading to some of the band’s more under-discussed successes.

In 1991, U2 was just coming off of the success of its 1987 album The Joshua Tree — an album that delved into the complicated relationship between the band members and the United States — and the messier, folkier Rattle and Hum. While the bluesy tracks of Rattle and Hum often lose their footing, The Joshua Tree was a home run, critically and commercially. The music was passionate yet restrained, giving it a tight, polished feel. Thematically, it was the most honest, compelling work U2 has ever done — unfortunately, the political messages the band has tackled since then have often felt trite and oversimplified.

But the ’90s ushered in a new phase for the members of U2 as they responded to claims that they were often too earnest. They realized they took themselves too seriously, and they decided to play with it, leading to the meta, self-deprecating Achtung Baby, which played with some more electronic sounds and was significantly more humorous and introspective than some of the band’s other endeavors. Bono embraced accusations that he was self-absorbed and made fun of himself, creating an egocentric alter-ego “The Fly” for live performances of the album’s material on the Zoo TV Tour.

In 1993, U2 continued with its alternative-rock-meets-electronic-music trend with the release of Zooropa. Though none of the tracks were commercial breakaway hits, the upbeat dance tunes of Zooropa remain evidence that U2 could break away from the spiritual lyrics and stadium rock sounds of its earlier albums. Along with Achtung Baby and the even more ironic and technologically embellished Pop, Zooropa kept U2 relevant.

But I’d also be lying if I said I don’t also love the more traditional U2 albums — 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind remains a guilty pleasure of mine. With song titles such as “Beautiful Day” and “Peace on Earth,” there’s nothing necessarily revolutionary about it, and most of the guitar melodies are simple enough that I can play them myself, but sometimes I’m just looking for some laid-back, non-gimmicky music I can sing along to. As for this album, I’ve been jamming along since I was eight. They may not have radically changed the music industry or the world, but U2 has had a lasting — albeit often embarrassing — impact on me, and I’m sure the same can be said for
countless others.

—KAYLA UPADHYAYA

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