There was a brilliant moment on last Saturday’s X Factor where Louis Walsh, confronted with one of the groups having just sung Bruno Mars’ ‘Just The Way You Are’ all sat on stools, was moved to comment: “It just works! Five guys sat on stools, singing in tune.”
He then added, as a caveat, “But you MUST stand up for the key change.”
Maybe this letting the genie out of the bottle had something to do with the news that broke yesterday, that his most famous, successful charges are to split. Yep, just in case you haven’t heard – and you might want to sit back down on your stool for this, ladies – Westlife have spilt up. Or, as their stat-heavy (and pretty undeniably impressive) press release has it:
“After 14 years, 26 top ten hits including 14 number one singles, 11 top five albums, seven 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.”
For context: Elvis Presley has the most UK Number Ones ever, with 21. The Beatles have 17. But Westlife are third on that list, ahead of Madonna, Take That, ABBA, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Queen and quite a few other. Cliff Richard is level pegging with them, but there’s a good chance their farewell single ‘Lighthouse’ will see off their spiritual borefather. Begrudgingly, you have to concede that it is pretty impressive.
What’s most impressive about Westlife is their total and utter refusal to deviate from Louis’ winning formula. There was a blip when former member Brian McFadden got a bit “wild”, and did the classic boyband thing of going off in search of a Robbie Williams version of credible (the opening line on his first solo single was: “Bullshit dinners and the free champagne/Men in suits who think they know it all/That’s not real to me”). But that aside, they have stuck to their stools, and stood up, and sat down, and stood up, with an almost military organization. Because of this, they have succeeded where others failed.
And so in tribute to the world’s most depressingly successful boyband, this week’s Listomania features ten boybands who should have learnt from their steely dedication, heeded Louis Walsh – the Yoda of boybands – and not rebelled against what they were.
1 – 5ive
5ive were onto a good thing: in pre-teen girly mag terms, they were street, but not quite as street as their spiritual forefathers East 17. Basically, they were Kasabian to East 17’s Oasis. They struck on a winning formula of little rap bits, Play-Doh hip hop beats and big rock riffs – fact: Erol Alkan used to play ‘Everybody Get Up’ (which nicked Joan Jett’s ‘I love Rock And Roll’) – and rode the wave successfully for a few years.
Their problem came when they got sick of being puppets a few albums in, started “writing our own material”, and started declaring the charts “manufactured rubbish.” Their fans weren’t on board with the new direction, and deserted them. A reunion came in 2007, followed by this fabulous statement:
“It is with deep regret that 5ive today announce that their comeback is no more. The band have decided to call it a day, seven months after reforming. They would like to apologise to all their fans throughout the world for any disappointment. Despite considerable broadcast interest in a reunion television series being secured, an album being half-way completed and a world tour in the final stages of confirmation, Ritchie, J, Abz and Scott feel that they cannot continue together. A huge amount of hard work and effort went into the band’s reformation, but with the state of the music business as it is and with decent record deals being so difficult to procure.”
2 – A1
A1 made another classic boyband mistake. They’d had a few hits where they danced around like maniacs and winked at the camera. Then a cover of ‘Take On Me’ went to Number One.
And then – in a move that must have crushed their managers – out came the acoustic guitar. The screams stopped pretty soon after that.
3 – Upside Down
Upside Down were innovators: in the sense that they were recruited and put together on a televison programme way back in 1995. Unfortunately for them, this was a good few years before the UK went crazy for reality TV, then Pop Idol, then X Factor.
The format clearly needed refining, and scenes of them singing out of tune meant people didn’t buy it. They were over before their album even came out. Boybanding is an arena where it is definitely better to jump on a bandwagon rather than build one. Look, again, at Westlife, who watched Boyzone deviate ever-so-slightly from the balladeering with the slightly upbeat ‘So Good’, which everone laughed at and their fans didn’t buy. Let others make the mistakes!
4 – Backstreet Boys
These boys are STILL in and out of rehab. Rehab is NOT a good look for Boybands.
5 – Busted
One of them is now a frighteningly serious solo artist and member of Fightstar now, of course. But before the “hardcore” band, Charlie Simpson and his two pals cashed in on the American Pie / Blink 182 craze and started singing about “hanging at the mall” with guitars in ludicrous American accents. They were doomed from the start, because only one person, James Bourne, was not embarrassed by being in the band. Post-split, he commented that they could “easily have milked it” for a bit longer.
6 – N*Sync
Westlife can all walk the streets, unbothered by anyone. No-one knows what they look like. The same is true of N*Sync (even the one who was going to be the first man in space) except for you-know-who. From the outset Justin Timberlake was always going to be a solo star. N*Sync was just a cog in the machine that got him there.
7, 8, 9 and 10 – North And South, LFO, Northern Line, One True Voice
Be heard of, at least fleetingly. Weslife’s first single went straight to Number One. ‘Love On The Northern Line’ did not. This game is about hits, and quickly.
Agree? Disagree? Which boybands make your skin crawl?