Westlife were an Irish boy band, formed in Dublin in July 1998 and disbanded in June 2012. Originally signed by Simon Cowell and managed by Louis Walsh, the group's second and final line-up consisted of Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily, and Shane Filan. Brian McFadden was a member from July 1998 until his departure in March 2004.
Westlife sold over 50 million records worldwide, a total that included studio albums, singles, video releases, and compilation albums. The group accumulated 14 number-one singles in the United Kingdom. They achieved a total of 26 UK top ten singles over their 14-year career. In 2012, the Official Charts Company listed Westlife 34th amongst the biggest-selling singles artists in British music history. Despite their success worldwide, Westlife never managed to break into the U.S. market, achieving only one hit single in 2000, "Swear It Again".
Kian Egan, Markus Feehily and Shane Filan, along with fellow Sligo men Derrick Lacey, Graham Keighron, and Michael Garrett, were part of a six-member pop vocal group called Six as One, changed in 1997 to IOYOU. The group, managed by choreographer Mary McDonagh and two other informal managers, released a single titled "Together Girl Forever".
Cowell told Walsh: "You are going to have to fire at least three of them. They have great voices, but they are the ugliest band I have ever seen in my life." Three members of the band (Lacey, Keighron and Garrett) were told they would not be part of the new group, and auditions were held in Dublin where Nicky Byrne and Brian McFadden were recruited.
The new group, formed on 3 July 1998, was renamed Westside but that name was already in use by another band, so it was changed to Westlife. In Westlife – Our Story, Byrne revealed that, unlike the others in the group, he was keen to change the name to West High. McFadden also changed the spelling of his name to Bryan to make it easier to sign autographs. Boyzone singer Ronan Keating was brought in to co-manage the group with Walsh. The band then released an EP titled Swear It Again.
Debut album (1998–2002)
Westlife's first big break came in 1998 when they opened for Boyzone and Backstreet Boys' concerts in Dublin. Later, they won a special Smash Hits Roadshow award at that year's Smash Hits Poll Winners Party. In April 1999, the group released their first single, "Swear It Again" which immediately topped the charts in Ireland and in the UK for two weeks. Their second single, "If I Let You Go" was released in August 1999, along with the highly acclaimed "Flying Without Wings" produced by Steve Mac and written by Mac and Wayne Hector (their first 'Record of the Year'), released in October the same year, also followed suit. "Flying Without Wings" was also included on the soundtrack of the Warner Brothers film, Pokémon: The Movie 2000. Their first album, simply titled Westlife, was released in November 1999 and went to No. 2 in the UK. The album was the biggest chart dropper on the top 40 in UK music history when, in its 58th week on the charts it leapt from No. 79 to No. 3 before falling to No. 37 the following week.
In December 1999, a fourth, double-side, single was released, "I Have A Dream"/"Seasons in the Sun". It knocked Cliff Richard's "The Millennium Prayer" off the top spot and earned them the 1999 UK Christmas number-one single. The fifth and last single from the album, "Fool Again", also peaked at #1. Then the group went on a short UK, US and Asian tour in support of their debut album before releasing a second album.
Coast to Coast was released a year later and was another No. 1 UK album, beating the Spice Girls' Forever album. It became the country's 4th biggest selling album of 2000. The album was preceded by a duet with Mariah Carey singing the Phil Collins' classic "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" and the original song "My Love" (their second Record of the Year award). Both singles reached No. 1 on the UK charts. With this, Westlife broke an unexpected record of the most consecutive number-one singles in the UK, having their first seven singles debut at the top. However, in December 2000, their eighth single, the UK and Ireland exclusive "What Makes a Man", only debuted at number two. Outside the UK and Ireland, they gained chart success with "I Lay My Love on You" and "When You're Looking Like That". In 2001, they launched their first world tour, "Where Dreams Come True Tour".
The single 'My Love' was reportedly used as part of a CIA torture program in Afghanistan. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, "the music pounded constantly as part of a scheme to assault prisoners’ senses".
Westlife released World of Our Own, their third album, in November 2001. "Uptown Girl", "Queen of My Heart" and "World of Our Own" were released as singles, all of which peaked at No. 1 in the UK. "Bop Bop Baby" was also released as a single, but it peaked at No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart. In 2002, Westlife went on their second world tour, the World of Our Own Tour (In The Round).
Unbreakable, Turnaround, and Brian McFadden's departure (2002–04)
The group released their eleventh UK No. 1 single, "Unbreakable" in 2002. Amidst rumours of a split, Westlife released their first greatest hits album in November that same year titled Unbreakable - The Greatest Hits Vol. 1, which zoomed all the way to No. 1 in the UK. The release was followed by the double A-side single "Tonight/Miss You Nights", which debuted at No. 3 in the UK. At this time, Because Films Inspire made a TV documentary titled "Wild Westlife", directed by Iain MacDonald and starred the group, featuring their daily life as musicians and their tour experiences. In 2003, Westlife went on their third world tour, The Greatest Hits Tour, shrugging off rumours of a split. Westlife was supported around the UK and Europe by newly formed British boyband FY8 with lead singer Chris Tolley who later became lead singer of D-RAIL, After the band themselves asked the group to tour with them.
In September 2003, Westlife released "Hey Whatever", which peaked at No. 4 on the UK Charts. Their fourth studio album, Turnaround, was then released in November, earning the group another UK No. 1 album. "Mandy", a cover of the Barry Manilow hit, was released in November 2003. Their version won them their third Record of the Year award, in under five years. Their version of "Mandy" is also considered the single with the longest leap to the top (from No. 200 to No. 1) in UK music history. "Obvious" was released as the final single from the album, charting at #3.
On 9 March 2004, just three weeks prior to embarking on their fourth world tour, Brian McFadden left the group to spend more time with his family and work on solo projects. On that day, a press conference was held where all the group's members were present, each giving emotional individual speeches. McFadden's final public performance as part of Westlife was at Newcastle upon Tyne's Powerhouse nightclub on 27 February 2004. He subsequently began a solo career, and reverted the spelling of his first name back to its original 'Brian'. He released his first solo single, "Real To Me", which entered the UK chart at No. 1 and soon after, he released his first solo album Irish Son under Sony Music. McFadden later released more singles, but only with moderate success.
Less than a month after McFadden's departure, the group kicked off their "Turnaround Tour". A live version, from the tour, of "Flying Without Wings" was released as an official UK download, earning them the title of the very first UK Downloads #1.
Allow Us to Be Frank, Face to Face, The Love Album, and Back Home (2004–08)
In September 2004, they performed on the World Music Awards, where they were recognised as the Best Irish Act of that year. They then released a Rat Pack-inspired album and fifth album ...Allow Us to Be Frank, which peaked at No. 3. No singles from this album were released in the UK. "Ain't That a Kick in the Head", accompanied with a music video, was released as a physical single in other European countries. "Smile" and "Fly Me to the Moon", both with music videos as well, were released as digital downloads only.
Prior to the release of the ...Allow Us to Be Frank album, Westlife scouted for "the perfect fan" to help promote their album from their one-season special show She's the One, presented by Kate Thornton. After X Factor-style auditions, they found Joanne Hindley, who recorded "The Way You Look Tonight" with the group. To mark this special collaboration, a special programme was televised, showing auditions and live performances. Westlife continued to tour Europe as part of their "The Number Ones Tour".
In October 2005, Westlife returned with their comeback single, "You Raise Me Up", which was taken from their sixth album Face to Face. On 5 November 2005, both the album and the single were at No. 1 in the UK, at the same time, during the second week of the single. It was the first time that Westlife had held both the top album and the top single position in the same week. "You Raise Me Up" was awarded as their fourth Record of the Year in the UK, for 2005. In December of that year, the group released "When You Tell Me That You Love Me", a duet with Diana Ross, as the second single, and it debuted at its peak position of #2. Westlife then released a third single, "Amazing", which debuted at No. 4 and marked as the group's lowest-selling single yet. After that, Westlife embarked on the "Face to Face Tour", travelling extensively to the UK, Ireland, Australia and Asia. This tour marked the first time that Westlife travelled to mainland China for a concert.
In late 2006, Westlife signed a brand new five-album deal with Sony BMG. Their seventh album, The Love Album was a "love" concept album which consisted of popular love-song covers. The album outsold other compilation albums by Oasis, The Beatles, and U2 in its first week of release and went straight to No. 1. The first single from The Love Album was a cover version of Bette Midler's classic, "The Rose", which became their 14th UK No. 1 single.
This made Westlife the third act (along with Cliff Richard) in the UK to have the most No. 1 singles, tailing behind Elvis Presley (21) and The Beatles (17). Westlife then kicked off their eighth world tour, "The Love Tour", in Perth, Australia. The group then went on to other Australian cities before moving on to South Africa, the UK and Ireland. They also returned back to the Miss World stage where billions saw them performing their biggest hits.
On 5 November 2007, Westlife released their eighth album, Back Home, which contained nine new original songs along with three cover songs. The album debuted at No. 1 on the UK Music Charts and it was also 2007's fifth biggest selling album in the UK. The first single released from the album was a cover of Michael Bublé's "Home", which peaked at No. 3 in the UK. "I'm Already There", not released as a single, managed to chart in the UK based on downloads alone, following a performance on an episode of The X Factor.
On 15 December 2007, they had a two-hour show called The Westlife Show where they performed 10 of their songs, some of which were voted online by fans and some from Back Home. It was hosted by Holly Willoughby. Months later, "Us Against the World" was announced and released as their second single in UK and Ireland. Before the release of the second single, they embarked on the Back Home Tour on 25 February 2008. This tour marked the first time that the group had travelled and performed in New Zealand, performing four sold-out shows in Auckland, Wellington, New Plymouth and Christchurch. Meanwhile, "Something Right" was released as the second single and "Us Against the World" became the third single in Europe and the Asia Pacific region. Both songs performed well on several music charts.
Music Week revealed on their website that Westlife was the official third top touring act within the years 2005–2008, while they were the seventh top touring act of 2008.
10th anniversary and hiatus (2008–09)
To mark their tenth year in music, Westlife staged a special 10 Years of Westlife, a sold-out concert at the world's thirty-third biggest and Europe's fourth biggest stadium, Croke Park, on 1 June 2008. Shayne Ward filled in as a support act for the concert, which Egan described to be a "pop extravaganza". Filan confirmed that a corresponding live concert DVD would be released. The group announced that they would be on hiatus for a year after their Back Home Tour and that there would not be an album release in 2008 as they would be spending more time on the production of their tenth album. As promised, the group's official website confirmed on 27 September 2008 the release of a DVD on 24 November 2008 entitled 10 Years of Westlife – Live at Croke Park Stadium which went straight to No. 1 on UK, Ireland, South African, Hong Kong and New Zealand Music DVD charts.
As the group ended another successful tour, Louis Walsh announced in the show Xpose that 1 July 2008 would be the official start of the longest hiatus of the group. He said that it will be a one-year break, from that day up to 1 July 2009. On 13 December 2008, while on a break, Westlife made an unexpected appearance during that year's X Factor final where they performed "Flying Without Wings" with runners-up JLS. After the performance, Filan and Byrne were interviewed on The Xtra Factor with Ronan Keating and Stephen Gately of Boyzone. As JLS also performed, "I'm Already There", Westlife's version of the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart at No. 63 while a new entry on Ireland Singles Chart at No. 47 due to extensive downloads only. In the last week of January 2009, a DVD entitled The Karaoke Collection was released. It contained some of their music video hits. In the 27 February 2009 issue of Herald Ireland, Louis Walsh revealed that Simon Cowell had already picked three new songs which he believed would be instant hits. On 18 March 2009, Westlife won the Best Irish Pop Act on the 2009 Meteor Awards for the ninth consecutive time.
Last two studio albums (2009–10)
Their tenth album, Where We Are, was released on 30 November 2009 in the UK and peaked at No. 2 on both Irish and UK Albums Charts. The new single, "What About Now", was released a few weeks earlier on 23 October 2009, with digital downloads being available the day before. The said single peaked at# 2 on both Irish and UK Singles Chart. Daughtry's original version of the song gained exposure on the audition rounds of The X Factor prior to Westlife's release. They were also part of the Haiti charity single in early 2010 with, "Everybody Hurts", an R.E.M. cover which was organised by Cowell. The tour in support of this album was called, "The Where We Are Tour". The eleventh album was recorded and processed with songwriter and producer John Shanks in London and Los Angeles and was entirely produced by Shanks.
On 14 November 2010, the single "Safe" was released. It debuted on the UK Singles Chart on 21 November at No. 10, giving the group their 25th Top 10 single in the United Kingdom. It was also their lowest charting lead single to date in the country. The new album titled Gravity was released on 22 November 2010. It went to No. 1 in Ireland and No. 3 in the UK. In March 2011, they started their eleventh major concert tour, the Gravity Tour. This tour marked the first time the group travelled to Oman, Namibia, Guangzhou and Vietnam for concerts.
Westlife was named the fourth most hard-working music artist in the UK by PRS in 2010. In August 2011, it was reported in the Irish Examiner that the profits of the band's firm grew five-fold in 2010.
Greatest Hits and split (2011–12)
On 14 March 2011, Westlife confirmed that they had left Cowell after 13 years and his record label Syco Music after nine years. The group cited Syco's decision not to release a second single from Gravity as the reason Byrne felt it as another reason of being unloved,
We signed to Simon back in 1998 and he was brilliant, but then came the development of The X Factor and American Idol. Simon became famous himself and his interests went that way rather than on Westlife. We almost felt a little bit unloved with Simon Cowell, if I was to be honest. We had it (full time support) with Simon but he got so busy and would do it at the very last minute and we needed someone who was on it all the time.
After going back to RCA Records full-time for a one-year album contract, they announced their Greatest Hits album to be released on 21 November 2011. It debuted at number 1 in Ireland and number 4 in the UK. The first and lead single, "Lighthouse" was released in November 2011.
In October 2011, Kian Egan ruled out speculation that Brian McFadden would reunite with them for a television show. Egan said: "All the rumours about Brian re-joining Westlife are untrue. We have been a 4 piece for too long now. We love Brian but it's not going to be. That includes any TV performances." With a new compilation album coming out, it was speculated Westlife would be doing a new greatest hits tour. They were scheduled to headline the ChildLine Concert in Dublin on 12 November 2011 and to have another exclusive concert on O2 Blueroom, also in Dublin on 24 November.
A UK Tour was first officially announced on 18 October 2011, with dates confirmed for May 2012 and it was titled, The Greatest Hits Tour or The Farewell Tour. Stereoboard.com reported that the tour was sold-out in minutes. As part of it, ITV commissioned a one-off music event that would mark Westlife's final TV appearance as they took to the stage to sing some of their greatest hits, it was entitled "Westlife: For the Last Time". Another show entitled, "The Westlife Show: Live", was broadcast from Studio One of London Studios on the same channel on 1 November 2011. Then they had a live guesting on The Late Late Show.
On 19 October 2011, Westlife officially announced they were splitting after a Greatest Hits album and a farewell tour.
After 14 years, 26 top ten hits including 14 number one singles, 11 top 5 albums, 7 of which hit the top spot and have collectively sold over 44 million copies around the world, 10 sell out tours and countless memories that we will forever cherish, we today announce our plan to go our separate ways after a greatest hits collection this Christmas and a farewell tour next year. The decision is entirely amicable and after spending all of our adult life together so far, we want to have a well-earned break and look at new ventures. We see the greatest hits collection and the farewell tour as the perfect way to celebrate our incredible career along with our fans. We are really looking forward to getting out on the tour and seeing our fans one last time.
Over the years Westlife has become so much more to us than just a band. Westlife are a family. We would like to thank our fans who have been with us on this amazing journey and are part of our family too. We never imagined when we started out in 1998 that 14 years later we would still be recording, touring and having hits together. It has been a dream come true for all of us.
Kian, Mark, Nicky and Shane
They described the split as an "amicable" one and they wanted a "well-earned break". However, later reports from the Daily Record said there was an "irreparable rift" in the band, but was later denied by a source close to the band saying: "There's no bad blood in the band, they're still great pals. But all good things come to an end and they are all keen to do their own thing." Later, the band also denied it and called the split a "united decision". A more comprehensive story behind the split was discussed by the Daily Mail. A second statement was issued through their official site, saying the fans were continuing to be the best support system. Some fans on social networks described themselves as feeling "devastated" following news of the split. The band had their final concert on 23 June 2012 at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. The 82,300 capacity show was sold out in 5 minutes. Due to this popular demand, an extra date was added at Croke Park on 22 June 2012. Their last concert was also screened live in more than 200 cinemas worldwide.
Three months after the split, Byrne said that members of the group fought with one another more and more often in the latter years leading up to the split and he felt that it was the right time to end their time together. Some media predicted a possible reunion in the future, but Westlife put an end to that speculation by vowing they would never reunite. However, on 22 July 2016, four years following the split, Filan told Lorriane that while there are currently no plans for a Westlife reunion, he would not rule it out for the future.
Westlife's debut album and single coincided with the apogee of boy band popularity, and their success was most apparent in their homeland and the UK. They had 12 worldwide concert tours over their 14-year career.
Westlife performed for the Sultan of Brunei, an occasion on which they were paid £2.5 million to play a private concert of seven songs. They also performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2000, and in 2005 with the songs "World of Our Own" and "You Raise Me Up" with Rolf Løvland and Fionnuala Sherry, and in 2009 with "What About Now" and "You Raise Me Up".
Despite their success worldwide, Westlife was unable to break into the U.S. market. They had only one hit single in the United States, "Swear It Again", which peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000. The band made an appearance on MTV's Total Request Live and the U.S. edition of their debut album, Westlife was released, but it didn't meet with success. In 2002, with the two most prominent boy bands in the US, the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, going on hiatus that year, an attempt was made to promote and release a US version of World of Our Own, but was never successful.
"We sent over a CD of World of Our Own with no name on it. They didn't know it was Westlife and every single radio station in the States – all came back and said that this is an absolutely huge hit. They said it was great for radio and people are gonna love it, especially as there's just a slight bit of rock guitar to it. But as soon as we revealed it was Westlife, the radio pluggers all went, 'Whoa, not Westlife – it's a boyband.' And we cannot break that down, no matter what song we come out with. The problem with America is that it's all radio and you've got to break into radio first. And currently radio doesn't want to play boy bands or pop music. If Bono wrote a song with us tomorrow and it was the biggest hit in the world, if Westlife's name is put to it, it won't be a hit in America because radio will not play us."— Nicky Byrne
Though Westlife didn't gain as much success in the States as they did elsewhere, their music was still appreciated. Kid David Corey, assistant PD and music director at top 40 WXKS (Kiss 108) radio station in Boston, MA was a Westlife supporter that was recorded saying "Bands like Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync are still climbing the charts, and radio is supporting them, so I don't think the boy band thing is going to hurt them. Besides, this song ["Swear it Again"] is just too good for any of that to be a concern. I can't imagine anyone not playing this because it's another boy band, especially when it doesn't even sound like those other guys."
"Flying Without Wings" peaked at No.2 in the USA when American Idol Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard recorded and released it as his debut single. In 2003, Westlife went to Nashville to film a TV documentary. While they were there, they gave a live performance of the song "Daytime Friends", originally by country music singer Kenny Rogers.
Celebrities including Alexandra Burke and Robert Pattinson have said that they are fans of Westlife. Some well-known music artists like Ronan Keating, Will Young, Shayne Ward and Ruben Studdard have also covered their songs.
The group has recorded studio and live performances with music acts including Mariah Carey ("Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)"), Lulu ("Back at One"), Joanne Hindley ("The Way You Look Tonight"), Diana Ross ("When You Tell Me That You Love Me"), Donna Summer ("No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)"), and Delta Goodrem ("All Out of Love"). They have also collaborated on "If I Had Words" with The Vard Sisters, "I Have A Dream" with Indonesian child-star Sherina, and "My Love" with Amr Diab. These songs were also recorded and included on various albums. In 2002, Westlife re-recorded their hit song "Flying Without Wings" with Mexican singer Cristian Castro and with Korean singer BoA as two separate duets.
Westlife has performed live duets with many other music artists including: Sinéad O'Connor ("Silent Night"), Donny Osmond ("Crazy Horses"), Mariah Carey ("Never Too Far/Hero Medley"), Secret Garden ("You Raise Me Up"), Lionel Richie ("Easy"), Ronan Keating ("The Dance") and Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries.
Products and endorsements
Some of the products that Westlife officially released include books, calendars, and tour merchandise such as T-shirts, and fragrances. They also received sponsorship for their concert tours from Adidas in 2002 and Volkswagen in 2011.
They have official and unofficial books released. The book written by the members of Westlife was released on 16 June 2008 by HarperCollins UK Publishing entitled, 'Westlife - Our Story', as part of their 10th year celebration.
The band released a perfume gift set.
The group has supported various charitable causes. They were involved in the "Helping For Haiti" charity single that was released in February 2010 in the UK, as well as releasing a cover version of "Uptown Girl" for Comic Relief, one of their biggest selling singles to date.
They have participated in a Royal British Legion poppy appeal and did an advertisement for Galway's Irish Water Safety campaign. They also lent their support to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS).
Kian Egan supported the Strandhill Indonesian Relief Fund (SIRF) in aid of South Asian tsunami victims.
- Nicky Byrne (1998–2012)
- Kian Egan (1998–2012)
- Mark Feehily (1998–2012)
- Shane Filan (1998–2012)
- Brian McFadden (1998–2004)
- Westlife (1999)
- Coast to Coast (2000)
- World of Our Own (2001)
- Turnaround (2003)
- Allow Us to Be Frank (2004)
- Face to Face (2005)
- The Love Album (2006)
- Back Home (2007)
- Where We Are (2009)
- Gravity (2010)
Awards and nominations
- East Meets Westlife Tour
- Where Dreams Come True Tour
- World of Our Own Tour
- Unbreakable Tour as The Greatest Hits Tour
- Turnaround Tour
- Number Ones Tour
- Face To Face Tour
- The Love Tour
- Back Home Tour / 10th year anniversary
- Where We Are Tour
- Gravity Tour
- The Greatest Hits Tour as The Farewell Tour
- List of artists who reached number one in Ireland
- List of songs that reached number one on the Irish Singles Chart
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