Westlife - The Ultimate Boyband? (Westlife Feature)30/11/2011 19:01
By: Heather McDaid
There are two key kinds of boybands in circulation today. First, we have the new breed; the One Directions and Wanteds of the music world with fresh young guys set to steal many a girl’s heart with their baby faces or ridiculously good looks. Then, there are the comeback kings - Take That, Backstreet Boys, we could go on. Given the gift of time, they’ve formulated their return to the music world, set to recapture the hearts of their old legions of fans and become bigger and better than ever.
For boybands, there is nothing rarer than longevity; few have had a long spanning career without an enormous bust-up, hiatus, or break-up preceding a comeback years later that seems nothing more than a desperate cling to the music industry. So, imagine the sadness that swept the UK music scene when Westlife, the veterans and ultimate success story under the veil of the ‘boyband’, announced that they are to disband in 2012.
While they’ve given the world time to adjust to next year being the last chance to catch Westlife together, we’ll take a run through the ultimate boyband’s history, and consider what the music industry will be like without them to keep a solid stance in the mainstream?
Formed in 1998, the band hit their first big break as the openers for Boyzone and the Backstreet Boys' shows in Dublin that very year. In early 1999, their first single 'Swear It Again' topped both the Irish and UK charts. The band remain the only act in both Irish and British history to have their first seven singles hit the number one spot. ‘What Makes A Man’ would have been their eight consecutive number one single, but the band found themselves ultimately defeated by Bob The Builder’s ‘Can We Fix It’ in December 2000.
Rumours of a split were rife in 2002 following the release of their greatest hits record, ‘Unbreakable’. The closest the band truly came to a split was in 2004 as Brian McFadden (small pic) parted ways with Westlife to dedicate more time to his family and solo career. While his first single ‘Real To Me’ peaked at number one, his success from then on in was relatively middle of the road.
While I admit, back in the day I used to have a little crush on Shane (a McDonald’s ‘M’ hair style and tank tops seemed to be what I thought was cool at 9 years old), there was no better move for Westlife than when they released ‘Allow Us To Be Frank’, a Rat-Pack inspired record. While many bands have taken time away and suited up for their return, Westlife took it as a turning point in their career. This period still remains the personal favourite.
Since then, the band have seamlessly continued their road of success with more number ones – finally hitting the top spot on both the single and album charts consecutively – and performing to bigger and better crowds. In celebration of their decade together, the band performed in Croke Park to their biggest crowd to date: over 82,000.
Earlier this year, the band ended their professional relationship with Simon Cowell; perhaps fuelling their decision to leave the industry without dispute. Finding that Simon’s interests were more focussed on his media empire, i.e X Factor, American Idol, etc, they found themselves almost unloved by their mentor and seeking a new path outside of SyCo Music.
The announcement of this split has left many devastated, even calling 19th October 2011 ‘the day the music died’. We’ve still got a while to adjust to life without Westlife, but who, really, can step up to the musical plate?
According to Westlife: no one. Well, they’re not as brash as that, but they have their fair comments and criticism on the music industry they are set to leave behind in a recent interview with Muzu.tv.
“I think it's gotten too cool; that's my honest opinion on music right now. Sometimes I think great songs get lost because of that. I think the variation of music young people are listening to now is just the same thing with a different melody. I just think it's got very samey samey,” noted Kian, who also said people are ‘making music for radio instead of making music’.
Mark also adds, "I agree that the whole singer on top of a dance song is definitely wearing off a lot. It spoils the good ones. I actually really enjoy the movement that's happening at the moment.” He then goes on to compliment the likes of Ed Sheeran. “There's definitely a gap for some big mainstream pop act. There's no new Britney. Rihanna and Lady Gaga have definitely gone much more edgy."
This segment of the interview is the most telling, and they’re completely right in their notes. Suggesting that Westlife maintained their success by sticking to what they know and love instead of following trends, the duo solidify the detriment on the industry by everyone aiming for the same sound.
The main artist that merited praise from the duo was Adele, with Mark saying she appeared during ‘Lady Gaga overload’. As the world flocked to follow the trends of dance, raunchiness and overzealous production, Adele appeared with just her piano and her voice. In the same way that Westlife rest their success on their refusal to follow trends, Adele is following a similar suit.
Not that we’re suggesting Lady Gaga and Rihanna aren’t successful; that would just be ridiculous. But there’s something frankly wonderful about an artist who can capture the world’s attention with simple songs about heartbreak without being renowned for flashing flesh or opting for strange attire. Frankly, like Westlife, Adele is famed for her music: pure and simple.
Of the boybands today, it’s hard to suggest who will follow in their footsteps. Can we really look at the new sensations like One Direction and picture them together around 15 years down the line? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows what life holds? That’s the beauty of it. There are constant revolutions in music; it’s entirely unpredictable. Successful or not, we doubt anyone will outdo the legacy of Westlife and their music.
They've collaborated both live and in the studio with Mariah Carey, Lulu, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie to name but a few of a very, very long list. Pitching their dream duets with Beyonce and Christina Aguilera, we'd like to suggest that being a part of their final run of shows. So, Beyonce - if you're reading this....
They've won so many awards it's seemingly not worth listing them all. Their extensive repertoire includes numerous Meteor Awards, Smash Hits Awards, Brit Awards as well as winning the Best UK and Ireland Act at the 2000 MTV EMAs. As for the records they've broken, well...
They are the fourth biggest selling pop band of all time, only beaten by the Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block and N*Sync. They are also the sixth biggest selling boyband of all time with over 44 million records sold; quite a feat for a band who never managed to break America. Their self-titled album has the most #1 hits from one record in the UK, they had 14 number ones between 1999 and 2006, they were both the biggest selling band in the UK between 2000 and 2009. They have the highest single leap with 'Mandy', which jumped from #200 to #1... Their achievements could rack up a feature on their own.
Westlife will collectively leave behind quite the legacy and I’d go as far to suggest that the reason they’ll be missed is that they were just plain good without overtly striving to be. They were never in your face, never outspoken for the sake of press, they never took a ridiculous risk by dabbling with the trends of any given time; they were just wholeheartedly good and devoted to what they wanted to do.
The way they are ending this career is a testament to this legacy. If any band deserved to quietly take time for themselves after years of dedication to music and touring, then it’s them. Amicably parting ways next year, they not only give fans the option of time to adjust but they are leaving on their terms and on a high. We all know that Westlife could keep on going for years; their entire farewell tour sold out in minutes.
It seems just yesterday that Westlife were flying without wings, and while it will be sad to see them go they’ve packed enough into well over a decade in the industry for fans to look back on. Added to that, they’ll be saying their final farewells in a string of dates that will inevitably be the end of a very important chapter in the British music industry.
So Mark, Shane, Kian and Nicky; enjoy having some time to yourself. If you ever want to do a comeback tour somewhere down the line, I’m rather certain you’ll be welcomed back with millions of open arms.
Westlife will be embarking on their farewell UK tour next Spring - tickets are onsale now.