It’s the year 2000, and a seven year old me is sitting in the Sheffield Arena, three rows away from what that was soon to become one of the UK’s most popular boy bands. Over 44 million record sales and 26 top ten singles later, Westlife have just announced their amicable split after 14 years of success. The band, following the departure of Brian McFadden in 2004 consists of Shane Filan, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan and Nicky Byrne and are the only group in British and Irish history to have their first seven singles peak at number one. In a statement on their website, the band promised fans a greatest hits collection to be released in November and a farewell tour next year: “the perfect way to celebrate [their] incredible career along with [their] fans.” It goes without saying that the split is a huge shame, but in this ever-changing, throw-away society; it was inevitable.
Music, like everything else, seems to have a shelf-life. What was popular ten years ago is considered “old school” today. The day of the boy band was left behind in the noughties along with the BN biscuits and Friends, and although they remain firmly in our hearts, and occupy a nostalgic corner of our memories; there just isn’t a place for them in our shops. In a society where image is everything, the clichéd and romantic ballads of bands like Westlife are just too cheesy; being caught listening to Westlife is about as cool as admitting that at the age of seventeen, you still watch The Hoobs every single morning. It’s a sad fact in the music industry that if you don’t appeal to the masses, you won’t last long: it’s much less about raw talent and more about whether you have the ability to sell your music. So it would seem that for boy bands that were once new and exciting, no matter how good their music may be, their appeal to present generations just isn’t great enough.
It is becoming increasingly less acceptable for musicians to simply stand and sing, the public now expect an all singing, all dancing group with extravagant performances to match their talent. That was never Westlife’s style. Although the group have mentioned “new ventures” outside of the band, suggesting possible solo careers, the future doesn’t look great for them. They’re just not versatile enough to keep up with “modern” bands. Their style is outdated. I don’t imagine we’ll see Shane doing a duet with Lady Gaga, for example. I’m sure the dedicated Westlife fans amongst you (if there are any…) will remember the outrage when they released their Allow us to be Frank album in 2004. It was weird, and didn’t suit them. Cheesy ballads are what Westlife do best; it’s why they’ve been loved for so long. If the new ventures they speak of involve modernising their music, it’ll be a shame, and a betrayal of their roots. McFadden tried it when he left the group, and it was cringe worthy; it would be disappointing to see the band exit the music scene on such a high, with such an amazing legacy behind them, only to throw it all away in a desperate attempt to stay in the limelight like so many artists do.
The future is unclear for Westlife. Maybe they’ll all have successful solo careers and will be topping our charts for years to come; maybe they’ll remain with their genre, in the distant but much missed past; maybe we’ll see them back in 10 years time for a reunion tour. Who knows? Personally, I’ll miss them. It feels like the end of an era of pure, innocent pop music. A band that is representative of my childhood. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I suppose nothing lasts forever though. “I should have seen it coming, I should have read the signs. Anyway, I guess it’s over…”