On their new single, in lyrics penned by Bono, guest star Kendrick Lamar raps that ‘the filthy rich can only truly own what they give away’
November was supposed to be a special one for U2. These weeks would be all about building excitement for the release of their 14th studio album, and first in three years. But while U2 and Bono have been in the news, the forthcoming album, Songs of Experience, has only been a footnote in the conversation.
Instead, the frontman has had to come out to defend his investment in a Lithuanian shopping centre. The so-called Paradise Papers — millions of documents about the tax avoidance schemes of celebrities and big corporations — showed that Bono’s money has filtered through a Malta-based firm in order to minimise his tax bill.
It’s perfectly legal, but the revelation has caused him a considerable headache. Headlines like the Guardian’s ‘Tax rogues like Bono are harming the world’s poorest people’ will not have made for pleasant reading.
Nor would the sentiments of James Delingpole, writing in Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, The Sun: “I can forgive Bono’s greed — I’m sure we’d all behave the same if we earned that much and could afford a fancy accountant. What I can’t forgive is his outrageous hypocrisy. Bono is forever using emotional blackmail to make starstruck governments spend our money on his worthy causes.”
Bono says he “distressed” by the revelations, but insists that — to the best of his knowledge — everything is above board. “I’ve been assured by those running the company that it is fully tax compliant,” he said in a statement, “but if that is not the case, I want to know as much as the tax office does, and so I also welcome the audit they have said they will undertake.”
It’s not the first time Bono and U2 have had to answer tricky questions about their tax affairs, but it could hardly come at a worse time with Songs of Experience set for release on December 1. After the triumphant tour in honour of their most emblematic album, The Joshua Tree, they might have felt that 2017 had been going their way. But the Ausra shopping mall in the town of Utena has put a spanner in the works.
Even their latest single, ‘Get Out of Your Own Way’, is being scrutinised with fresh eyes in the wake of the Paradise Papers. In lyrics penned by Bono, guest star Kendrick Lamar raps that “the filthy rich can only truly own what they give away”.
And Bono, by anyone’s definition, is filthy rich. Estimates vary wildly, but some US reports suggest his net worth is in the region of $600m. Much of it is down to the music — and being a member of one of the most consistently popular bands on the planet — but a series of canny investments have also swelled those coffers.
And U2 — especially Bono and the Edge — have been enthusiastic investors for years, with a keen eye for start-ups with potential.
Facebook may have moved well past the startup phase by 2009, but it was still in its infancy compared to today. That year, U2, through the Elevation Partners investment group Bono had co-founded, spent $86m on a 2.3pc share of the social media site. Six years later, they cashed in their share for an eye-watering $1.4bn.
U2 have also had a close relationship with Apple — having worked with then CEO Steve Jobs around the time of the launch of the iPod. And, they inked a lucrative deal — rumoured to be as high as $100m — to allow Apple to give away a free copy of their last album, Songs of Innocence, to all iTunes subscribers, a figure that in 2014 stood at 500 million people. (Many of them were unhappy to receive the album unexpectedly, much to Bono’s chagrin.)
The band also bought a $300m stake in the US business bible, Forbes — ironic, perhaps, as their collective wealth is regularly featured in the magazine’s annual Rich List.
Last week, Forbes carried a report looking at the success of the band’s Joshua Tree tour — which called to Croke Park in July — and noted that they had collected more than $300m in ticket sales. It’s a figure that pales into comparison with their more extensive tours — such as the globe-trotting 360° Tour — but it’s still enough to ensure that they will be close to the top of the chart for the most revenue made from touring by any act this year.
Despite a hefty recording and touring schedule, Bono is said to have an insatiable appetite for investment opportunities — and several at a much smaller scale to the Facebooks of the world. One of the projects he’s most engaged with at present