Everyone's heard the saying A&R guys have been kicking around for decades to describe the hottest up-and-comers: "the next Beatles." While this title has been liberally conferred upon many acts since the Beatles' prime, no artist has really been as big a hit or had as profound an influence on pop culture as the Fab Four. But U2 have come pretty damn close.
With upward of 170 million albums sold worldwide and three decades of commercial and critical success, there's no denying that U2 are one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. With the Edge's soaring, signature guitar chime and the group's catalog of arena-size anthems, U2 have consistently reinvented themselves, experimenting with and evolving the direction of their unique sound, even at the risk of alienating some of their die-hard fans.
They've maintained their musical relevance, and the bandmembers have achieved gravity outside the realm of rock and roll. The band — and in particular frontman Bono, who's become something of a global ambassador — has used its music and celebrity to shine a spotlight on political and social issues and injustices, working closely with organizations like Amnesty International, Make Poverty History, the ONE Campaign, Live Aid and Live 8 (see "Jay-Z, U2, Madonna, Pink Floyd Deliver Live 8 Highlights"). Bono has become increasingly involved in campaigning for Third World debt relief and raising awareness of the plight of Africa, including the AIDS pandemic (see "Bono, Brad Pitt Launch Campaign For Third-World Relief" and "Bono's Humanitarian Efforts Not Good Enough For North Dakota").
In 2002, Bono formed DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), an advocacy organization dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty and AIDS in Africa, and he's met with a host of world leaders to solicit support for the various campaigns he backs. For his part, the Edge founded Music Rising, a campaign to rescue the musical culture of the U.S.'s Central Gulf region following the catastrophic summer 2005 hurricanes (see "U2 Keeping Up Charitable Momentum Following Superdome Set").
So forget the Beatles — we're more interested in who's poised to become the next U2. Here are some notable candidates.
It's hard to imagine the architects of "One Step Closer" could one day be as internationally influential as a band like U2. But they're certainly keeping pace with the band as far as album sales are concerned (see "Linkin Park Rule The Albums Chart: New LP Has Best First-Week Sales Of The Year"), and aesthetically speaking too, the California hard rockers are definitely on their way. The band's latest video, for the track "What I've Done," resembled U2's "Vertigo" clip in several ways.
First, there's the setting: a dusty, windy desert, where both bands rock out with purpose. Then there's frontman Chester Bennington's penchant for Bono-like shades. In the video, he even seems to borrow Bono's signature microphone-stand manipulation, swaying back and forth and side to side and cradling a pole. And what of the black-and-white cover of Linkin Park's new record, the Rick Rubin-helmed Minutes to Midnight (see "Linkin Park's Minutes To Midnight Preview: Nu-Metallers Grow Up")? Doesn't it sort of resemble the cover of U2's 2000 effort, All That You Can't Leave Behind? And is it just a coincidence that U2's next LP will also be produced by Rubin?
Minutes to Midnight is also the most political of Linkin Park's three studio sets, as evidenced by the lyrics to "Hands Held High," on which Mike Shinoda sings, "For a leader so nervous, in an obvious way/ Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay/ And the rest of the world watching at the end of the day/ In the living room laughing, like, 'What did he say?' "
And let's not forget Bennington's humanitarian work. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Bennington appeared with Mötley Crüe at ReAct Now: Music & Relief, a concert to benefit Katrina's survivors, for a rendition of "Home Sweet Home" (the benefit also featured U2, as it so happens; see "U2, Coldplay, Pearl Jam Added To MTV Disaster-Relief Show").
The band also helped relief efforts for victims of the 2004 tsunami, staging several charity concerts and setting up an additional fund called "Music for Relief" — Bennington visited victims of that disaster in Phuket, Thailand (see "Linkin Park Establish Charity To Help Tsunami Victims"). Linkin Park also participated in Bob Geldof's 2005 Live 8 concerts, appearing onstage with Jay-Z in Philadelphia (see "50 Cent Drops Off Live 8 Bill — But Destiny's Child And Linkin Park Sign On").
According to Bennington, "There's nothing you can say that sucks about being compared to U2."
The Berkeley, California, band — which has influenced the likes of My Chemical Romance and Blink-182 — has come a long way since the dope and dick jokes that pervaded 1992's Kerplunk. Like U2, they've become one of the most important bands in the world and, also like U2, they believe in reinvention, especially during periods when their relevance has been challenged. Their recent work has contained a much deeper message than the joys and perils of self-manipulation; Green Day's 2004 opus American Idiot was a politically tinged rock opera dealing with the nature of individuality and rebellion and the war in Iraq (see "Why Idiot Was The Smart Move For Green Day").
In 2005 Green Day performed as part of Live 8, and last year the band collaborated with none other than U2 themselves on a Rick Rubin-produced cover of the Skids' "The Saints Are Coming" (see "MTV News Exclusive: Catch A Sneak Peek Of U2/ Green Day 'Saints' Video"). Sales from the single benefited the Edge's Music Rising campaign. In April, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong headed to New Orleans to help rebuild homes destroyed by the storm.
Green Day have also joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the most effective environmental organizations in the U.S., for the "Move America Beyond Oil" campaign and other environmental concerns. The work they've done has helped raise awareness of the nation's dependency on oil and offers possible courses of action to reverse the trend.
From a strictly political standpoint, of all of rock and roll's big names, Coldplay are perhaps the most comparable to U2.
Chris Martin, who leads the British quartet, has been particularly outspoken on issues of fair trade and has become the face for Make Trade Fair, a campaign organized by Oxfam International to promote trade justice among governments, institutions and multinational corporations. Martin has personally traveled to Ghana and Haiti to see firsthand the effects of unfair trade practices. And when the band performs live, he can usually be spotted with the words "make trade fair" or an equal sign written on his left hand.
Martin has been fairly active in politics and has been a vocal critic of Bush and the war in Iraq. He threw his support behind John Kerry's failed presidential bid in 2004 during his acceptance speech at the 2004 Grammy Awards, when the band's song "Clocks" was awarded Record of the Year honors. The band also supports Amnesty International.
Oh yeah, and Martin's been known to refer to himself as "Crono," a play on the name of his "hero," Bono.
Nine Inch Nails:
Trent Reznor has gone from crafting tunes about his personal anguish and misery (see 1989's Pretty Hate Machine) to addressing social and political themes on his most recent outing, this year's Year Zero (see "Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero Preview: Beginning To Solve The Mystery"). The concept album revolves around the generally terrifying story of a future society poised on the brink of spiritual, moral, political and environmental Armageddon — his response to Bush's presidency and the war in Iraq.
Reznor, of course, has made no secret of his disapproval of the POTUS; in 2005, he dropped out of performing at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards because of a disagreement with the network over the use of an unaltered image of George W. Bush as a backdrop to the band's performance of "The Hand That Feeds" (see "Nine Inch Nails Drop Out Of MTV Movie Awards Over Bush Dispute"). The song includes the lyrics, "What if this whole crusade's a charade/ And behind it all there's a price to be paid/ For the blood on which we dine/ Justified in the name of the holy and the divine."
Reznor — whose work has influenced the likes of Marilyn Manson and Filter — has also thrown his support behind People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which he filmed a public-service announcement for in 2006. Reznor narrated an undercover video exposing the gruesome cat- and dog-fur trade in China and the barbarity of the fur industry throughout the world. "Workers kick and stomp on the cages and jab the animals with sticks to get them out, then their weakened bodies are bludgeoned, hanged, bled or strangled with wire nooses to kill them," he says in the spot. "Many of the cats and dogs still have collars on, proof that they were someone's beloved companions."
System of a Down:
Descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, System of a Down had no choice but to be a political band. Frontman Serj Tankian helped form the Axis of Justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together musicians, music fans and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice, and the band frequently promotes awareness of the Armenian Genocide (see "System Of A Down Mark Genocide By Playing, Not Preaching").
Every year (with the exception of 2006), System of a Down have organized "Souls" concerts to raise money to support the cause. System's song "P.L.U.C.K. (Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers)," from 1998's self-titled debut, touches upon the genocide, and in the CD's booklet, the band dedicates the track "to the memory of the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Turkish Government in 1915." The song "Holy Mountains," from 2005's Hypnotize, is also about the genocide.
"B.Y.O.B.," the Grammy Award-winning single that was featured on Hypnotize's counterpart LP, Mezmerize, questions the integrity of war and was believed to be a direct attack on Bush's international policies.
Last spring, the band asked its fans to contact Bush, urging him to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide as "genocide" in presidential statements. Tankian said at the time that "the constant, ridiculous denial of the Armenian Genocide by not only Turkey but by consecutive U.S. administrations made me aware of the world of disinformation and injustices around the globe."
But with the future of the heavy-metal act unclear (they announced they'd be going on an indefinite hiatus a year ago; see "System Of A Down Aren't Breaking Up — They're Going On Hiatus"), System don't seem a very likely candidate for the title of "the next U2."
It's not as though the Irish rockers are going anywhere anytime soon, and they've shown no signs they're ready to renounce their place as rock and roll royalty. They're hard at work on their next album — what will be their 12th studio release — with Rubin at the boards, and Bono's humanitarian efforts have not waned one bit. Bono just joined the Irish government's Hunger Task Force as part of his continuing efforts to raise awareness of world poverty.