At the end of Apple's live-streamed 'special event' today, Tim Cook excitedly announced a band would come to the stage.
A year ago, Apple dropped the new U2 album into every single iTunes in the world—at no cost to listeners. This album went on to be named the best album of the year by Rolling Stone. (I would say that's a mammoth stretch, but it's an accolade nonetheless.)
So there was a good amount of hype over who the tech giant would choose to perform this year. Would it be Frank Ocean? Coldplay? Rihanna?
It was OneRepublic, a band whose song you might have once overheard playing in a Gap and thought, "I wonder who sings this," before immediately forgetting how the melody went. The band's most famous song is probably "Apologize," which was released in 2007 with production by Timbaland.
Apple wants to be the biggest name in music, and it is doing everything in its power to make that a reality, including paying what we can assume was big bucks to bring a popular band to a tech press conference. When the iTunes store launched in 2003, it completely changed the music-purchasing game and for a moment in time, Apple seemed untouchable. But as streaming took over, its dominance shifted and then quickly plummeted.
It's in moments like this, when it picks OneRepublic or even U2, that Apple shows how out of touch it really is with the musical tastes of diverse iPhone lovers. Or maybe, how willing the company is to exclusively cater to its mainly white, mainly straight, mainly male fanboys.
OneRepublic is a fine band. That's the best thing I can say about them. They have produced 3 albums in an 8-year span (under average for a major label band) and had two top ten hits on the Billboard charts. There's nothing terrible about OneRepublic, but they certainly aren't U2. Musically OneRepublic is okay pop rock that falls somewhere between Imagine Dragons and the Fray but without the energy of the first or somber, emotional quality of the second. Everyone has their favorite bands, and this one apparently is Tim Cook's.
The problem is that when it comes to music Apple seems, well, old. When it launched Apple Music in June, it was already really late to the streaming game. It gave listeners the same options already available to them on Spotify and Tidal, but with a little bit less intuitive interface. Apple, which is always seen as a world leader in technological innovation, is behind when it comes to the music scene.
In June, it promoted an artist in conjunction with the launch of Apple Music named Loren Kramar. Kramar is hardly a musician who has earned the kind of publicity Apple gave him. He hadn't produced a single song. . Since the event, Kramar hasn't released an album. He's barely released a single. I don't really have a bone to pick with Loren Kramar, but Apple's choice to promote him showed a lack of knowledge about the way the music industry works and what kind of new artists people want to discover. There are plenty of other up-and-coming artists who have done solid early work (on or off a major label) that Apple could have chosen. But Kramar, because he had no history, also had no drama.
Apple should have had plenty of other options for performers at its live-streamed event. It has a new streaming service, a partnership with Dr. Dre, and signed deals with edgier, younger artists like Pharrell and Drake. Instead OneRepublic performed a fairly mediocre set. Ryan Tedder, who is, in another life, one of the best songwriters and producers in modern popular music, was a sweaty mess who struggled to breathe through most of the set. Tedder is a very talented songwriter and producer, but his best work has been for other people.
I guess one could argue that Apple didn't have many bands interested in playing a concert for what is essentially a niche marketplace of tech bloggers and aficionados, but this kind of negates the amount of sway and money that Apple holds in the music industry. Apple can put an artist's album in every single person's iTunes in a single moment without their permission, as they showed us last year with U2. So why wouldn't it give this opportunity to a band with an album to promote? Or a young unknown singer-songwriter with a good first album under their belt who might need the exposure?
OneRepublic, ultimately, was a safe choice. Apple's tech fans wouldn't cry in outrage, and Apple as a company wouldn't have to worry about any scandalous behavior or PR problems. But the fact that the safest choice for Apple is an all-male, all-white pop punk band well past its prime, is just a little too fitting at an event that felt much the same way.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.