Goodbye Westlife, hello “the male Adele”?
It’s nearly all over. Two rounds of shouting, screaming, singing, cowboy hats, banners, syrupy ballads and four lads sitting on stools at Dublin’s Croke Park this weekend will bring the curtain down on the momentous Westlife story. There will be …
It’s nearly all over. Two rounds of shouting, screaming, singing, cowboy hats, banners, syrupy ballads and four lads sitting on stools at Dublin’s Croke Park this weekend will bring the curtain down on the momentous Westlife story. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and that will be just from the showbiz writers in the press box wondering who will provide them with innocuous quotes now. Indeed, there is much to remember from the band’s 15 years on those stools (the same stools for 15 years!) and Peter Robinson’s piece for the Guardian does this very well. They really did have it all: the hits, the fans and the mouthy Mayoman doing the swengali bit from the sidelines.
Before we get to Louis Walsh’s prediction about what comes next for one of his charges, let’s mark the occasion of Westlife disappearing from our lives (for now, at least – we can expect a reunion in less than a decade, especially if there are bills to pay). Like that “show me the medals” boast from any award-winning sportsman, Westlife’s members can point to a string of best-selling albums, Number One singles and sold-out tours as proof of their success. But their impact goes far beyond those statistical footnotes in the record books.
Westlife were pop’s ultimate middle-managers, the stars of the suburbs who kept their eyes on the prize at all times. There was no experimentation or creativity here. As Robinson notes, they had a formula and they rarely gravitated too far from it for fear of what any wobble might do to the bottom line. They saw how things had worked out with Boyzone and were determined that that wouldn’t happen to them. Thus, they became the blandest, hardest-working boy-band the world has ever seen (even Bryan McFadden’s buffoonish bad-boy antics couldn’t give them an edge), but it turned out that there was a very large market for such beige fare here and elsewhere. Once they clocked that, the band stuck rigidly to the ballads, stayed rooted to those stools and made out like slick, well groomed bandits for many years.
That their success coincided with the boom in this country was no coincidence. Westlife epitomised a certain attitude which was (and still is, to an extent) prevalent here and were the perfect band for those bizarre years when a society used celebrities and brands as validation for what was going on. If the Sindo’s glossy Life magazine was a band, it would be Westlife. Like many of their fellow countrymen, they saw an opportunity to make quick bucks and went for it like a property developer throwing up an estate of new houses in a tiny Co Roscommon village in 2006.
Which brings us neatly to “the male Adele”. That’s the shorthand Walsh is employing for bankrupt singer Shane Filan’s solo career. We know there’s been a lot of talk about the Adele effect in pop, but this is taking that favoured record business cliche of the moment to a whole new level of WTF. Does anyone really believe that Filan can produce an album with the emotional punch of “21″? Post-boy band careers don’t usually see singers suddenly finding a new range, as we’ve seen with Ronan Keating and Filan’s old bandmate McFadden. Instead, it’s more of the same. More stools, more ballads.
Perhaps Filan and his handlers will surprise us, but don’t hold your breath. Just because you’re pitching a possible solo star from the boy band green room as a male Adele, it does not follow that you’re going to produce an artist who can continue to sell thousands and thousands of albums 18 months after its release. You can huff and puff all you want about the star-making campaign – and use every single one of those old-school record label marketing tricks which served Westlife well – but it’s not going to wash because we know Filan’s form and we can’t see him doing “for real” at this stage. It is, you have to admit, a great line, but “the male Adele” is not going to be created at a marketing meeting.
That’s all to come, though. Before we get to run the rule over “the male Adele” and the other solo careers which will emerge, there are two last hurrahs for Westlife. They’ll enjoy themselves, they’ll spill some tears (they’re needed for the Christmas TV show and DVD) and they’ll thank their loyal fans for 15 years of runaway success. Then they’ll go home, mow the lawns, go for a round of golf and plot what comes next. Those middle-managers, they’re always plotting.