The guys at Westlife know what their audience wants, and what their audience wants is cameras zooming in on their asses. My one and only live Westlife experience was at their Croke Park 20th anniversary show in 2019 and I’ll never forget Mark, Shane, Kian and Nicky shaking their denim clad behinds in unison during a medley Queen as the image filled the big screens. One of them – probably Nicky – pulled his jacket up further to expose his ass.
The stadium was filled with screams and in an out of body experience I realized that I was screaming too. I did not feel violated. I did not turn my face away to preserve my innocence. I knew I was safe and that extremely PG lower display was as risky as it gets. Ireland’s biggest band of men know their bread and butter comes from generations of the same family, desperately devoted to hits and nostalgia. Asses are as low as it gets.
I was largely ironic when I went to Westlife in Croke Park. “It’s a good search for books” and “they have some decent hits” was reason enough to head to a band that I didn’t really have any nostalgia or fan connection with. I was not deceived. On the same evening, Mayo and Galway faced off in the Football Championship play-off at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Kick-off was at 6.30pm and several TVs around Croke Park were showing the action live, while people ate carvery dinners and packets of Tayto. Surely the only proper warm-up for a Westlife concert?
The show itself was a wall-to-wall success. Songs that I forgot had come out but knew all the lyrics to. Lots of dubious dancing dads. They even pulled out stools to facilitate the classic Stand Up For the Octave Change move, leaning into the snap with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. From the scene, Mark Feehily revealed the gender of the first child he and his fiancée were expecting, and I definitely had tears in my eyes as I toasted the little girl. I lost it and became a Westlife superfan one night.
Maybe big screen mature manband asses are where I found my musical anchor?
I thought back to my early twenties when I worked at Golden Discs on Mary Street in Dublin city centre, and I was forced to give up any musical snobbery that a decade of grunge and indie had left me with. had instilled. There was a strict CD rotation of Pink, Avril Lavigne, Daniel Bedingfield, Eminem and Westlife. I fell so in love with When You’re Looking Like That that I brought home the Westlife album. My roommates would capitulate after a few hours on the essence of the white wine lady and we would shout, “She’s six feet in a catsuit and Bambi’s eyes,” around the parlor.
Westlife were not Ireland’s first boy band. Boyzone walked so they could race, from that infamous “performance” on The Late Late Show in 1993 to the height of their success later in the 90s. It was almost as if Boyzone had disappeared so that a new vehicle Louis Walsh can take his place, this time with Simon Cowell behind the wheel. It’s a bit like that in the life cycle of a pop group. They have an embarrassing start with terrible haircuts, they gain children and teenage girls, they have their first number one in the UK, they gain teenage girls in Asia, they break up, they reform eight years later, then on every major birthday they graduate to the band of men.
Boyzone’s 30th anniversary is coming up in a few years and I’d be surprised if the four surviving members didn’t reunite for a tour. The death of Stephen Gately in 2009, two years after their reunion, devastated them but they continued to record and tour until 2018 before slipping away again to make way for the re-emergence of Westlife. There’s a lot of money in birthday tours, I bet. Repackaging the greatest hits and adding a few crowd-pleasing medleys will attract original fans as well as weather-curious daughters, granddaughters, and looky-loos like me. Take That has been doing it for years in three pieces and when I saw them in concert a few years ago, again somewhat ironically, I was screaming with delight at the end of the show. Maybe I’m finally catching up on the fact of not having been a little sore in my youth? Maybe big screen mature manband asses are where I found my musical anchor?
A few weeks ago Westlife were back in Dublin for two big titles at the Aviva Stadium. As images of a nine-song medley of Abba and an atrocious but fascinating dad dancing and trotting backstage to Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love circulated like wildfire on social media, I cursed myself not to. did not get a ticket. It felt like another inspiring, musically rich and ultimately harmless evening and I would defy anyone not to enjoy it. I think what I’m trying to say is that everyone should see Westlife at least once in their lifetime. When You’re Looking Like That is a stone cold banger, and you know it.