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Members include Nicky Byrne; Kian Egan; Mark Feehily; Shane Filan; Bryan McFadden, vocalists. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records (U.S.), 6 West 57th St., New York, 10019, phone: (800) 6-ARISTA. Website--Westlife Official Website: http://www.westlife.co.uk.
Within a matter of a few years, members of the Irish pop group Westlife went from singing in their school's performance of the musical Grease to selling more than 10 million records worldwide. This was not an easy feat considering that the United Kingdom is filled with burgeoning talents trying to replicate the success of boy groups like Take That and Boyzone, which spawned solo artists Robbie Williams and Ronan Keating, respectively. Westlife has been able to rise above other spotlight seekers, though, to find record-setting success.
Shane Filan, Kian Egan, and Mark Feehily formed the backbone of Westlife while the three were attending school in the mid 1990s and performing around Dublin, Ireland, as IOU. Like the Backstreet Boys and O-Town, an entertainment manager had a hand in the formation of Westlife. When IOU appeared on a Dublin television show, the group piqued the attention of Louis Walsh, a pop "Svengali" who also managed the similar-sounding Boyzone. To showcase the group, Walsh offered IOU a spot opening for the Backstreet Boys at the Dublin club The Point.
After the group came together as Westlife in 1998, Walsh took them under his wing and introduced them to Nicky Byrne, an ex-soccer apprentice, and Bryan McFadden, who was attending a local stage school. According to Westlife's record company biography, RCA Records signed the group immediately after seeing a performance. "When showcasing them, I instantly knew they were going to be a very successful band. They have surpassed my expectations. The great thing is that after all of their achievements, they have remained down-to-earth. They are a great bunch of guys to work with," said RCA Records A&R consultant Simon Cowell.
The deal also brought onboard a co-manager, Ronan Keating, who is best known in the United States for his appearance on the Notting Hill film soundtrack. Westlife's first single, "Flying Without Wings" debuted at number one on the British charts in 1999. The same success followed with "Seasons in the Sun" and "Swear It Again" in 2000.
The group's self-titled debut album was released in November of 1999 and became the fastest-selling album in Irish music history. It has since gone quadruple platinum in the United Kingdom and sold more than five million copies worldwide. In Indonesia, Westlife has been dubbed the biggest-selling international release. The album offered five British number one singles including "Swear It Again," "If I Let you Go" and "Flying Without Wings."
Following in the general practice of saturating the market with an influx of singles to drive sales and broaden exposure for a group, Westlife sent their covers of "I Have a Dream"/"Seasons in the Sun" and later the fifth single, "Fool Again," to stores. The group also earned a Guinness World Records 2001 listing as the most successful new chart act of all time for achieving consecutive number one spots on the British charts with its first seven singles.
After finding success in Britain, Westlife moved on to the United States where "Swear It Again" peaked at number two on the Billboard sales chart. While Boyzone paired with U2 for the song "The Sweetest Thing," Westlife collaborated with American favorite Mariah Carey on the song "Against All Odds" in September of 2000. Like the group's previous singles, "Against All Odds" hit number one in the United Kingdom. Feehily was thrilled to work with Carey: "It was beyond all my wildest expectations," he said in the RCA biography.
In between touring and making several guest appearances, Westlife traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, and London, England, in the summer of 2000 to record its second album, Coast to Coast, which includes the Carey-Westlife piece "Against All Odds" and a cover of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl." Working with two different sets of producers--the single-named Cheiron in Stockholm, and Steve Mac and Wayne Hector in London--allowed the members of Westlife to indulge in their pop sensibilities. "We're very happy to be working with both sets of producers again. They keep impressing us with their ideas and we're comfortable with how they work--it's like we've grown up together," RCA Records quoted Filan as saying. "On the whole, this album is a big step up for us, both vocally and musically."
The first single, "My Love," achieved the same success as previous releases, reaching number one in October of 2000. British magazine New Musical Express (NME) panned Coast to Coast, however, implying that its lyrics were shallow. "'Angel's Wings' includes the line, 'You make everything that used to seem so big seem to be small'--surely an excuse that ranks up there with 'Sorry love, it's a bit cold' and one which shatters the few illusions we had left of Kian [Egan]."
The popularity of Coast to Coast helped the album top its rivals on the charts and at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Westlife beat out Robbie Williams, Craig David, Travis, and Sonique for the Best United Kingdom and Ireland Act prize. The group also won a BRIT Award for Best Pop Act in 2001.
As of the summer of 2001, Westlife had begun work on a collaborative single with Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, whom NME called a "serial collaborator." Egan told NME that the song is "very much like Bryan Adams' old stuff rather than his new stuff. It's in the same kind of style as '(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.' We're really excited because he's got a great voice and it's a brilliant opportunity for us."
Fame reportedly started wearing on the group after newspapers shared accounts of Westlife's drinking sprees. During a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in May of 2001, Westlife told journalists that they just want to be normal guys. "We make good music and we're successful all over the world but when it comes to having a private life we got to have a private life. If one of us goes to a bar and is photographed coming out of it, that's not his fault," Filan is quoted as saying in a Reuters news service story on the Yahoo! News website.
Still, fans have flocked to see Westlife. Sixteen fans were injured on May 25, 2001, at Soemantri Bodjonegoro sports stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, when the audience of 15,000 surged toward the stage at the end of the show. Two months earlier, four fans were crushed to death during an autograph signing at a shopping mall in the same city.
Despite speculation that the group's reign at the top of the pop charts was coming to an end, Westlife planned for continued success with at least four more records on BMG as part of the group's contract with the label. Westlife--who made history in May of 2001 for becoming the first boy band to play in South Africa--planned to record songs in Spanish as its next musical venture.
by Christina Fuoco
Group formed in Dublin, Ireland, 1998; released Westlife,1999; in U.S., 2000; released Coast to Coast worldwide (except for U.S.), 2000.
BRIT Award, Best Pop Act, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Westlife (includes "Swear It Again," "If I Let You Go," "Flying Without Wings," "I Have a Dream," "Fool Again"), RCA (U.K), 1999; released in U.S., Arista, 2000.
- Coast to Coast (includes "My Love," "Angel's Wings," "Against All Odds"), RCA (U.K.), 2000.
- Time International, April 16, 2001.
- BRIT Awards, http://www.britawards.co.uk (June 28, 2001).
- "Just Let Us Be Normal Lads," Yahoo! News, http://uk.news.yahoo.com/010525/80/brnac.html (May 28, 2001).
- "'Life and Bryan!," New Musical Express, http://www.nme.com (May 28, 2001).
- "Westlife Become First Modern-Day Boy Band to Play South Africa," Yahoo! News, http://uk.news.yahoo.com/010519/4/bqq5f.html (May 28, 2001).
- "Westlife: Coast to Coast," New Musical Express, http://www.nme.com/NME/External/Reviews/Reviews_Story/0,1069,6246,00.html, (May 29, 2001).
- "Westlife Fans Injured at Gig," Yahoo! News, http://uk.music.yahoo.com/010525/92/brnz3.html (May 28, 2001).
- Westlife Official Website, http://www.westlife.co.uk (May 28, 2001).
- "What a Difference a Dane Makes," Yahoo! Music, http://uk.music.yahoo.com/010522/92/br3wq.html (May 28, 2001).
- Additional information was provided by Arista Records publicity materials, 2001.
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