Westlife is an Irish boyband that was active from 1998 to 2012 before reuniting in 2018. They are best-known for love ballads like Swear it Again, My Love, You Raise Me Up, among others, as well as for performing while sitting on stools.
Originally a sextet called IOU from County Sligo, the group was significantly retooled by uber-producer Simon Cowell to create a quintet that almost immediately topped the charts and stayed there for the entirety of the group’s existence.
The original quintet was made up of:
- Shane Filan (1998 - 2012, 2018 - )
- Markus Feehilynote (1998 - 2012, 2018 - )
- Kian Egan (1998 - 2012, 2018 - )
- Nicky Byrne (1998 - 2012, 2018 - )
- Bryan McFadden (1998 - 2004)
Bryan eventually left the group, citing the workload’s negative effect on his personal life, changed the spelling of his name to ‘Brian’ and started a solo career with mixed success.
Meanwhile, the remaining quartet regrouped and continued recording and touring and enjoyed continued success until the four collectively decided that Westlife had run its course and to end their time as a group on their own terms. They've all gone on to pursue solo careers to some success.
In 2018, Shane, Markus, Kian, and Nicky announced that they were getting back together to record new music and go back on tour.
- Babies Ever After: Shane, Nicky, and Kian were all in long-term relationships while they were in the band and all three married their sweethearts and started families.
- Brian was actually the first to have children, but he had a harder time balancing his professional life and his personal life than the other members.
- Boy Band: Naturally. In fact, they were THE boyband for much of the time they were together.
- Break Up Breakout: Attempted by Brian after he left Westlife, which angered the other members because he’d said he was leaving to focus on his personal life. But while he had moderate initial success, it didn’t last and Brian eventually moved to Australia to try and start over.
- Concept Album: Two.
- One was the Rat Pack-inspired ‘Allow Us to be Frank’, which was a collection of straight covers of songs from the big band era. It received mix reactions from their fan base and the group didn’t particularly enjoy making or promoting it.
- The other was ‘The Love Album’, which was Exactly What It Says on the Tin: cover versions of famous love songs. It was a much better fit with the band’s oeuvre.
- Eccentric Mentor: Louis Walsh, the group’s manager, became more and more of a cartoonish character as he entered the public eye through his association with Simon Cowell. Westlife did nothing to help matters as they took every opportunity to break out their comedic impressions of him during interviews. For all their teasing, though, Westlife made it clear they credited Louis for their success.
- This belies the fact that Louis turned Westlife into international superstars in the cutthroat music industry and held them together when they were reeling after Brian’s departure. He even knew exactly how to manipulate Simon Cowell to make sure Shane stayed in the band after Cowell wanted Shane cut because Shane bombed the audition.
- His interview segments for Wild Westlife showed a very different Louis Walsh, who was more hardnosed and made it clear that he was only managing Westlife for as long as they remained successful and made him a profit. Back then, Louis predicted that Westlife would only be around for five years, at most, before album and ticket sales would start to significantly decline and he’d move on to find another act to manage.
- Level Grinding: Westlife were never an act associated with flash or innovation. They were, however, some of the hardest workers in the business. They were constantly recording and performing, and had new material ready for release like clockwork for ten years before going on an extended break. Even that was for just over a year before they were back at it. This meant that they had plenty of opportunity to hone their craft and the market knew that Westlife could be relied upon to provide a consistent, polished product.
- Long Runner: Westlife were together for 14 years before they broke up. That is a long time for any music act and an eternity for a boyband. What’s more, they were at the top pretty much the entire time.
- They were around even longer if you consider the time Shane, Kian, and Mark spent as part of IOU.
- New Sound Album:
- The band cites ‘Face to Face’, and the single ‘You Raise Me Up’ specifically, as being the album that turned them from a “boyband” to a “manband”. While it was still very much a pop album filled with love songs, it looked at the subject in a more mature manner and acknowledged that the band and their fans were growing up. This was what, arguably, allowed the group to continue in the wake of Brian’s departure and the oddity that was ‘Allow Us to be Frank’.
- Spectrum, as their comeback album, is a bit of a departure from the usual Westlife formula. There are fewer love ballads, more mid-tempo numbers, and several tracks cover darker subjects like bullying and neglectful partners. It also features more vocals from Nicky and Kian, as opposed to how Shane and Markus dominated the band's previous releases.
- Signature Move: They were notorious for performing on stools and standing up during the key change. In fact, they actually made a point of not performing on stools on their first tour (leading to some fans to call it the "No Stools Tour"). The group is so associated with it that the SECC Arena in Glasgow permanently installed four bar stools with Shane, Nicky, Kian, and Marc's names engraved on them near the arena's entrance as a tribute.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Shane, Mark, and Brian (when he was with the group) had the bulk of the lead vocals. Nicky and Kian had fewer and fewer lead parts with each successive album, until eventually they would only have a line or two during the bridges of a couple of songs.
- Nicky and Kian had more prominent roles during tours, however, as they always got sizable parts during the medley portion of concerts and split Brian’s vocals after he left. Nicky was particularly relied upon to keep the audience pumped up between songs.
- Tabloid Melodrama: Averted for the most part. They really are just nice guys who happened to become international pop stars. They were actually derided in the press for not being edgy, causing scandals, or having any skeletons in their closets. Even a fly-on-the-wall documentary that was supposed to show them unfiltered revealed not much more than the fact they occasionally cursed, drank, and were cranky when woken early in the morning.
- Mark publicly coming out as gay didn’t cause much drama and did nothing to affect Westlife’s popularity at home or internationally.
- When Shane revealed he had become bankrupt when Ireland’s property market crashed, tabloid reports actually took the trouble to mention that although he made some extravagant purchases during the early stages of Westlife’s success, his money woes came from the fact that instead of trying to make a quick buck, he tried to ensure his family’s long term financial security but ended up having some really bad luck. Then when he declared bankruptcy in the UK rather than in Ireland, news reports made sure to point out that Ireland had some of the world’s most oppressive bankruptcy laws.
- Brian was the only member whose personal life was really worthy of tabloid coverage. Even that was only because he was involved with other pop stars and mostly after he left the group.
- Technician Versus Performer: An unusual example with Shane and Mark.
- Vocally, Shane’s solid pop vocals and consistency meant that he could be relied to sing lead and anchor the melody while the others harmonized around him. But it was Mark, with his soulful voice and high range (he could hold his own against Mariah Carey), who would be relied on for the sweeping vocals during the chorus after the key change both on their albums and during live performances.
- On stage, though, Mark was never comfortable with dancing (the boys would tease him about it in interviews) while Shane was more of a showman.
- Un-person: During the "Twenty Tour" retrospective photos and videos were carefully cropped to avoid showing Bryan on screen.