Music

What Happened with U2, @U2, and Me

July 11, 2020

I was afraid this question was coming.

“Can you put in words why U2 lost their glow?”

Jesse Jackson asked me that while we were recording an episode of his Bruce Springsteen podcast, Set Lusting Bruce. Mind you, I’d never met or spoken with Jesse before and we were literally 20-30 minutes into our first conversation. In hindsight, I think it’s good that a stranger asked me. Not sure I would’ve answered so candidly if it was a friend or someone I knew.

For whatever reason, when he asked, I kinda started processing things in my head as quickly as I could and then decided to just start letting the words come out. In the month or so since we recorded that conversation, I couldn’t even remember what all I said. If you want to listen, the podcast conversation is here and he asks the question at about the 15:50 mark; my reply and the subsequent discussion go on for probably 20 minutes.

To be clear, why anyone — me, you, our co-workers, rich people, poor people, etc. — stops liking a musical artist really doesn’t matter. Why should anyone give a shit why I stopped liking U2? I don’t know. And if you don’t give a shit about that, you shouldn’t be reading this — feel free to bail right now. Wouldn’t blame you at all. But it’s something U2 fans have asked me on many occasions and their interest sort of fed my interest.

What happened? It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out since … it happened. I’ve settled on 3 main factors.

1) I Changed

This is first here because it’s the most important piece of the puzzle. It’s not what I talked about first when chatting with Jesse, but I should’ve. Later in this essay, I’m gonna say things that might sound like I’m blaming the band, other people, events, etc., for me losing interest in U2, but ultimately it boils down to the fact that I changed dramatically over the past few years.

The death of my parents (Dad in 2015 and Mom in 2017) impacted me more than I ever expected they would. I was a ship without a rudder. I didn’t know it at the time, but I went into situational depression — it’s when you struggle to adjust to a traumatic event(s) in your life. It generally lasts shorter than clinical depression.

Adding to that was an extreme form of anxiety I was dealing with on the subject of death. The thought of dying someday was mentally paralyzing me. It began probably 10-15 years ago and was getting worse every year. Around the time all this was going on, there were days when I couldn’t work, couldn’t do anything, and couldn’t think about anything else. I was just stuck inside my head, fearing death.

In short, my mental health was in bad shape for a period of a couple of years. If you want the longer version of this aspect of the story, see my post Standing in the darkness, laughing with my heel on its throat.

2) U2 Fan Problems & @U2 Problems

Starting, running, and being part of @U2 is one of the great joys and accomplishments of my life. But my last few years doing it were pretty miserable, and those were the same years that I was dealing with the personal/mental health issues I mentioned above.

Confession: I did an awful job of running the site the last 5-6 years I was running things. We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 dozen people working on the site, depending on various comings and goings. As leader, I failed to take the necessary steps to keep the team active, moving ahead toward common goals, and working together in harmony.

We had people on staff who weren’t contributing. And that made the ones who were contributing angry and frustrated. We tried to implement minimum contribution levels, but I didn’t have the will to follow through on making those stick.

Cliques had formed over the years and there was a lot of snark and sniping towards one another. We tried to bring on new staffers a couple times, but they usually only lasted a couple months with us because the environment wasn’t welcoming to newcomers. Not everyone on the team was involved in this, but as I learned in the month or so after I told them I was leaving — when they suddenly had to figure out who would be in charge — it was a lot more prevalent than I knew. We were much more divided than I thought, and that’s a failure on my part as leader.

In fact, I wasn’t leading. I had buried myself in the massive redesign project that ran for ~2 years. I was letting the group run itself, and that’s usually a recipe for problems. I’d hear complaints every now and then about someone’s behavior, but I usually brushed those aside either because it was about someone I personally liked or it was something I just didn’t want to deal with.

All of that’s on me. I accept responsibility for it. And it all contributed to the bigger picture — what was supposed to be a fun and joyful distraction had become something I dreaded. Like so many other things going on around me, it had become mentally and emotionally draining.

We did have some enjoyable conversations and discussions as a team, but even those often turned negative, at least for me. During the Joshua Tree Tour in 2017, when I talked about not liking how heavy the show was on politics, some on the staff started mansplaining and womansplaining to me about how U2’s always been political. They questioned my U2 fandom for having an opinion like that. (I have a half-finished draft of a blog post here on my personal site offering proof that U2 shows were never as political as they were on that tour and the one that followed; maybe I’ll finish it someday and publish.)

And topping all of the struggles I was having with being part of @U2 was that, in 2018 when I told the group that I was having some personal struggles, that I wasn’t myself, and that I had found a new favorite band, a frequent response that I heard was along the lines of, “It’s a phase. You’ll get over it.” (Not from everyone, mind you — there was some genuine support and care, and that meant a lot to me.) But I’m not gonna lie: It hurt to see some friends react that way when I was acting differently and said I wasn’t in a good place. Especially since these were friends who often championed mental health issues on Facebook and Twitter.

Making matters worse was what was going on in U2 fandom itself.

Fan forums and Facebook groups were filled with fans hating on one another over politics, over U2 stuff, over anything and everything. I had to turn off my own account in the @U2 Forum because moderating it — hell, just reading it — had become unbearable.

Fan site relations became a train wreck. To be fair, we had good relations with a couple other sites, but as social media grew over the past 10 years or so, the sense of cooperation that used to exist between all fan sites got replaced by a sense of competition. Frankly, I think with a couple other sites, it seemed like the relationships we had got much worse after half the band showed up at @U2’s 20th anniversary party. We’d get angry emails and social media messages on a pretty regular basis that I felt were completely unwarranted. I heard what other fan sites were saying about @U2 to the band’s associates. I thought it was all childish, like we were back in 5th grade.

We’d also get angry messages from @U2 readers who would demand that we cover the band differently. Half of them were pissed at us for being too mean to U2/Live Nation (about the constant ticket/fan club problems, or the constant touring of North America and Europe and ignoring the rest of the world) and the other half were pissed at us for being too nice. I always tried to be nice and respectful when readers would email with complaints like that, but it got to the point where I snarkily started offering them refunds if they didn’t like the work we’d been doing for 20 years for free.

There’s always been a sense of entitlement among some hard-core U2 fans, and it really seemed to get worse in the past 5-10 years. It extended to getting concert tickets, forming GA lines, getting on stage with the band, and lots of other aspects of being a fan. The hard-core, uber U2 fan community wasn’t something I wanted to be part of anymore.

And remember, while all this was going on, I was struggling with the death of my parents and other mental health issues. I remember often wanting to tell other fans to get over themselves, count their blessings, remember that life is short, and be grateful that U2 was still an active band. In fact, I tried to say some of that in my farewell message on @U2.

3) U2 Problems

With all that going on, I really wanted to turn to U2 and let the music right all the wrongs and lift me up when I was down. But I couldn’t do that.

Their last album, Songs Of Experience, just didn’t click for me. There were a few songs I liked in the early days/weeks/months — part of the rush and excitement of finally getting new music from your favorite band. But none of it had any sticking power. If I had to rank all their albums today, it’d be at the bottom of my list.

Worse, the live shows weren’t clicking for me, either. As I mentioned above, it was way too over-the-top political. And I don’t mean that in an I-disagree-with-what-they’re-saying way — I didn’t vote for our current president and think he’s an awful president (and worse human being). I mean it in the sense of … I was getting barraged 24/7 by politics, to the point where I had to rethink my entire approach to social media a couple years ago. I needed something else from U2 — an escape, something to take me away from all the B.S. going on in the real world. Instead, they hit me over the head with it for 3 hours during every show I saw on both the Joshua Tree 2017 tour and the Songs of Experience tour in 2018.

On top of all that was the non-music side of things. U2’s fan club has been awful for years and every time there’s a ticket pre-sale, it’s an absolute shitshow. The Joshua Tree 2017 tour pre-sale was so bad that fan sites around the world came together to call for changes in an open letter to the band and management. Guy Oseary, the band’s manager, replied with some less-than-pleasing explanations. But worse than all that, he promised to keep an “open line of communication” with fans to make sure things went better next time there was a pre-sale. We never heard from him again. (At least not before I left @U2 in June 2019.)

Between all that, plus the music and tours not clicking for me, it was hard to keep being a U2 fan.

Don’t get me wrong, though. In my decades of U2 fandom, I always said that the band should follow its own muse, and it’s our job as fans to either follow along or not. We don’t get to tell them what to do … and that’s not what I’m suggesting here. I’ve always said U2 should do what it wants. That’s what they did. And I chose to not go along with them anymore.

Final Thoughts

Last summer, about a week before I left @U2, I was hanging out with some of my “U2 friends” and it was kinda difficult when they were having these deep convos about the band. It was the kind of stuff I’d have loved to talk about in the past, but I did everything I could to ignore them and focus on something else. I had stopped listening to U2 about a week earlier — May 23, 2019, was the last time I intentionally heard a U2 song.

It’s been more than a year and I’m still trying to avoid U2. I don’t know when that’s going to change. I’ve come to realize that it’s a mental health thing. All of the stuff I’ve described above happened together over the course of a few years and was a key driver in a lot of sadness and depression. As I told Jesse on his Springsteen podcast, my fear is that listening to U2 again will re-open that door and bring back a lot of those feelings that I’ve managed to put behind me. I don’t want any of that in front of me again.

While all of that was going on, I discovered Gang of Youths. I wasn’t really looking for a new band, but they had songs that filled my needs the way U2 used to. They pretty quickly became my favorite band, and still are.

As I said on Twitter several months ago, being a Gang of Youths fan is better for my mental health than being a U2 fan was. And that’s really the best explanation for the “what happened with you and U2” question.

So to all who’ve asked, I hope that makes sense. I’m grateful for your questions; it’s helped me to sort things out and make sense of something I didn’t fully understand as it was happening.

Thank you.

23 Comments

  • Reply Sloaner July 26, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you for this, have always wondered. I guess that the fact people are still interested in why says a lot about your decades of work.

    • Reply Matt McGee August 1, 2020 at 4:07 pm

      Thx for reading it all, Sloaner – I appreciate it.

  • Reply James cox August 4, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Totally agree with the fans in GA lines. And they complain about the show having same set lists. Why go to 20 shows in a row? Two in a row is enough. As a mental health nurse my advice to all is do whatever gives you joy or makes you happy.

    • Reply Matt McGee September 1, 2020 at 11:31 pm

      Thx so much, James. That sounds like great advice to me. 🙂

  • Reply Kenny I October 13, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    M2 – I still intend (one day) to have this conversation in person. Thanks for sharing – keep well
    – stay safe.

    Sing

    • Reply Matt McGee October 17, 2020 at 5:56 pm

      Thx Kenny – I hope we get the chance to do that.

  • Reply Nancy Briggs October 21, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    Matt, I didn’t know you were gone until you didn’t show for the current U2 Conference. I still remember you pushing me to get on stage with the tribute band at the after party at Hard Rick Cafe in Cleveland after the last U2 Conference I went to. I have video of my “performance”. Thsnk you for all the incredible work you put in for so long. You are missed but you have the responsibility to make the decisions that are best for you. I have depression too, off and on, and know how debilitating it can be. I hope you will find happiness and fulfillment wherever you go. You gave so much to the U2 fan community. God bless. Nancy Briggs

  • Reply Nancy Briggs October 23, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Just found out AtU2 is folding. “I can’t believe the news today”. Thanks for everything.

  • Reply John October 23, 2020 at 9:13 am

    Excellent read. Follow your heart and thank you for all you did for the U2 fan community with @u2. My father past away last November and I also have been grappling with the thought of death being inevitable. I just took for granted he would always be around. I’m still coping with the reality he’s no longer alive.
    Take care and be good to yourself.
    John

  • Reply Neil J Mills October 23, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Hope your well and your family is also. I’ve just read on a FB page that @U2 has folded. And I’ve just read your post great by the way. I also loved the podcasts that you done on @U2. Will they still be on youtube to view? Take care mate and maybe one day you will give U2 a listen again. All the best from the other side of the pond Scotland.

    Neil.

  • Reply How To Dismantle A News Bomb? - u2.se October 25, 2020 at 5:45 pm

    […] left the site some time ago. On his personal blog, he details how he has experienced the last few years with U2 and with @U2. He returned last Friday, as the domain owner, to deliver the news. “This has been an extremely […]

  • Reply Matt McGee November 2, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    Nancy / John / Neil – thank you for understanding and for your words of support here. I do appreciate it.

  • Reply Der November 11, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    Hey Matt. Heard you on the podcasts and you sounded like a really likeable and good guy. If being a fan had become a chore without enjoyment, your right to put it aside. Wish you a great future.

  • Reply Steve from Minny November 13, 2020 at 6:59 am

    Appreciate all you did over the years. You were my go-to. I wish you all the best, but most importantly – peace and comfort.

    Steve

  • Reply Matt McGee November 14, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    Steve and Der – thanks so much, I appreciate it.

  • Reply Björn December 2, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    I was a huge U2 Fan for many years and visited a lot of shows in the last 20 years. But i also lost the connection to this Band in the last 5 years. For me it starts with the leaving of Paul McGuiness as Manager of the Band, replaced by Guy Oseary. Until the 360° Tour, there was always a good Ticket Pricing at the Live Shows, so that even people with not so much money could attend the shows, but it changed when Oseary came in.

    Starting with the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour in 2015, i was not longer “rich enough” to pay these extraordinary high Ticket prices (here in Germany). This was the first Tour i said to myself, that it’s not worth it for me, to pay ~200€ for a 2 hour Live Show. And i was a bit sad about it. Because U2 always said that they would do a great show for anybody. Rich or Poor. But these times are over. U2 became a Cash Cow. A Moneymaking Concert Machine, like other “old” Heroes (Elton John, Rolling Stones etc.).
    And the second thing is, that if they go on tour, they only played a few cities in every country. So if i would like to see them, i had to travel, with high extra costs. Beside the high ticket prices. And if you are not in the position to see your Heroes live, you lost the Connection and see bands that came to your City, with affordable Ticket Prices.

    Don`t get me wrong, i will always remember the old U2 Concerts, they were a great part of my life. And i will always love the Music of U2. Even if the new Songs aren’t that great as the old stuff, i like them. But am i a real Hardcore Fan anymore? No. I lost the connection to the Band. But it’s not because of the Music, it’s becaus of the focus on the Fans Money.

    All the Best

    Björn

  • Reply Frederick December 2, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Matt,

    I wanted to thank you for your many years of service. I appreciate you explaining the reasons why you made your decision as somehow it helps me to process my feelings of loss and sadness. Your site shutting down is the end of an era.

    Like you, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with U2. It was really sad to experience their last tour. It kind of felt like a Christmas tree on January 10. I, too, have been thinking about my mortality and how nothing lasts as long as we want it to.

    I lost my mom when I was 17 and I’ve found that I tend to want to leave things in the past, even when they’re not negative. For instance, if I see someone from my past, I’ll try to avoid them even though we never had a falling out or any kind of negativity. I’ve also found that music is a dangerous time capsule. Perhaps these 2 things are related through grief.

    At any rate, I respect where you’re at and I thank you for all the great memories. I used to be in a band, and we always said we’d stop making music when it stopped being fun. One day I had to pull the plug and end the band. The other guys were bummed, but I never regretted it. I seriously doubt you’ll have any regrets either.

  • Reply Zevy R. December 3, 2020 at 12:08 am

    Matt,
    Thank you again for all of your hard work over the years. I personally benefited a lot from your website. I’m sorry that the site added to your pain in recent years.
    I hope one day you’ll finish that blog post offering proof that U2 shows were never as political as they were on recent tours. While I agree with you that the band is free to do whatever they want, I do feel there is room for us to be disappointed in them.
    Like I noted to you previously, this is a worldly band. They’ve seen what real dictators do. There are more than a handful of leaders in this world who kill their own people. The band knows all of this and then they imply Trump is the devil (and no one else)? It’s so off.
    And the fan club is just a joke. Loyal U2 defenders – are the fan club issues because they don’t care about their fans or because they’re completely out of touch and truly have no clue what’s going on? Those are the two options and neither one is OK.
    Matt – I hope you’ll get to a place one day where you can once again listen to their music to just enjoy pleasant sounds and reminisce about the good old days…without that causing you any mental anguish. In the meantime, I’m so glad you’re in a good place now. All of the best to you.

  • Reply Matt C December 4, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    Matt,
    I was a longtime casual reader of your site since 2000. Like many my interest waxed and waned as tours came and went. I’ll never forget recognizing you in line at a Seattle show. I gave your a quick thanks for all you did and you gave me an appreciative thank you in return. But I noticed how your friends in line looked at me like I was some kind of nut for saying anything, which I found curious given you are all wearing matching shirts that showed you were all atu2 staff and obviously wanted to be seen and recognized as such.

    A few years later I was in line for a Vancouver show and saw several staff, again with their shirts. I gave my quick thanks for all they did, but I was quickly brushed off. Once inside I saw you walking around by yourself and again said some quick thanks. I didn’t realize you were trying to livestream some comments on your phone which I was interrupting, but you again gave me a warm and appreciative thanks and we went about our ways. It’s clear you saw your page as a way to connect strangers who shared the same love, but it also feels like many of your coworkers saw it as an elite group.

    One thing I’ve learned as I’ve entered my 50’s is we touch more lives than we will ever know, including people we’ll never meet. Through your passion with your site you’ve touched more people than many will do in a lifetime and that’s a pretty cool legacy. Best to you and your family on whatever paths you go down next.

  • Reply Matt McGee December 9, 2020 at 10:48 pm

    Sorry everyone, I’m way behind in replying to comments. So thanks to Bjorn, Frederick, Zevy, and Matt for your kind words above.

    Matt – in defense of the @U2 staff, we didn’t wear @U2 shirts because we wanted to be seen by the crowd. We wore them to help us identify each other in person. Even though we worked very closely on the site day after day, week after week, etc., the live shows were usually the first and only time most of the team ever got to meet and spend time together. That doesn’t excuse anything you viewed as rude behavior, but you should understand why we made and wore the shirts. If we wanted to be noticed by everyone, I would’ve made the logo a helluva lot bigger than it was, maybe put some glitter or something on it, etc. 🙂

  • Reply Mike February 4, 2021 at 1:57 am

    Good read, Matt you seem to be genuine and I agree with U2 being too political- but to me they always were and during Trump years- well just about everyone became too political. On ticket prices: I don’t blame. Look at age of average fan at concerts- they’re middle aged. In 80’s and 90s U2 (and Pearl Jam) were activist on ticket prices and fought to keep prices down for their younger fan base. Now, their fan based has aged and and is it worth the fight to lower prices when bulk of their fans can afford it now? Admittedly, I didn’t see last tour because It was so close to Joshua tree tour and because it’s an expensive spurge/ treat to see them. I took all four of my kids to Rosebowl and am so happy that their first concert was U2.
    And I’m just grateful they’re still around as a band and can tour. They’ve been doing this for over 40 years, they have the right to pare down their tour dates and locations. Matt, I hope you can step away from all the extra duties and work you that I imagine became quite a drag. Someday maybe you can just return to U2 vast array of music and appreciate it like I do. Beautiful music with great depth of lyrics that can apply in so many situations.
    Best regards.

  • Reply Jeffery Muir February 23, 2021 at 2:45 am

    Hi Matt,
    I’m reading this for the first time. Much of what you have stated also rings true with me. I could not show the commitment & love for the band, when their music was not doing anything for me. Personal their indifference to the fans is also a major factor, I’m not going into that here as it winds me up. Stay safe & keep well.

  • Reply Mark May 22, 2021 at 8:28 am

    Matt:
    I can understand when you stated “I changed” as I went through a period in my life (early marriage, children, new job) where I did not appreciate or care for the music U2 had in their catalogue at that time. It just didn’t click with me “at that time”. Since then there have been periods of my life where I returned to listening to their music and each time I heard (and appreciated) different things that they have included in their music. They, like all of us, have changed over time. I have found their last album to be resonating the most with me during my extended work-from-home furlough, bringing joy and comfort when I needed it. They may not be around forever (and I need to go see them as the last time was in October 1987) but their music will outlast us all. It will be waiting if you ever decide to return. Please take care and stay safe.

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