Westlife returns: The Irish boyband on working with Ed Sheeran and BTS ambitions
Shane Filan, Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan and Mark Feehily tell CNA Lifestyle why they decided to reunite after seven years – and that they'll be back with a tour before September.
It might have been 21 long years since Westlife first burst onto the pop music scene with their power ballads and teen-crush image in 1998. But the older and wiser Irish boy-banders would like you to know they are still flying without wings.
They’ve recently released Hello My Love – their first single in eight years – penned by none other than singer-songwriter du jour Ed Sheeran. In May, they will also be embarking on The Twenty Tour, playing all across Europe.
And, yes, to the delight of their fans this side of the world, there is also an Asian tour in the works that will "most definitely include a Singapore concert”.
“We reckon we’ll be back in Singapore sometime before September,” Shane Filan told CNA Lifestyle during an interview at The Fullerton Hotel. “The details are all still being worked out, but it’s definitely happening.”
MISSING THE SPOTLIGHT
As Westlife, Filan, Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan and Mark Feehily have sold over 40 million studio albums and a staggering 55 million records worldwide. During their 14-year career (which included former member Brian McFadden who left the group in 2004 and is not part of the reunion), they’ve achieved 14 UK No 1 singles – including Swear It Again, You Raise Me Up and Flying Without Wings – and seven top-selling albums.
In the seven years Westlife went their separate ways, the quartet went as far as explicitly ruling out comeback tours. So why the reunion now?
Egan, 38, said that it's for the fans – and the simple fact that they’ve all “missed it”.
“We spent a long time away from it. We started Westlife when we were very young. And we did it for a long time. And for the last six to seven years, we’ve all missed it. We all missed the feeling of being on stage. We’ve missed the audiences,” he shared. “We’ve missed making music, the buzz of making a new album, the buzz of flying around the world, promoting that record, doing big concert tours and all.”
“When you start living a normal life and when you see people on the talent shows on TV trying to do what you used to do, and then going to concerts and seeing them play arenas and stadiums, it’s like, ‘Hey, that’s what we used to do!’”
There was also, said Egan, "the feeling from social media that our fans wanted us back."
“We have such an amazing fan base across the whole world. They are the most supportive and loyal. They are the reason we’re back, because they want us back.”
Many of those fans have grown up with the group.
“It’s beautiful to think that we were big poignant moments in their childhood, and now they are women and probably married with their own children,” said Byrne, 40. “We equally share that same love. It’s as exciting for us as with them hearing that Westlife are back!”
ED SHEERAN AND 'BT-WEST'
According to Filan, 39, the group didn't just want to dust off their old songs for a tour. “To come back, we had to come back with amazing new music,” he said. “And make an amazing album that was current, that was 2019, and that would fit with every other artiste in the world.”
Ed Sheeran’s Perfect... Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born soundtrack; the ballads from The Greatest Showman – they could all be Westlife songs!
Feehily understands that some people might say that the songs that Westlife used to do before they spilt up are “old and tired”.
“But since we’ve been away, what’s happened is that music has changed so much. And it’s almost come full circle. And now you’ve got Ed Sheeran’s Perfect, which really could be a Westlife song; Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born soundtrack; the ballads from The Greatest Showman – they could all be Westlife songs!” said Feehily, 38, with a laugh.
“We all felt that this could be the perfect time for us to come back. Because with the music that we make, we can be ourselves and fit in. We don’t have to pretend. Or try and come back and make music that wasn’t us, just to try and fit in.”
Indeed, one cannot get more “current” than having Ed Sheeran on one's team. What’s extra fortuitous? The fact that the Thinking Out Loud singer-songwriter is a Westlife super-fan.
Years before Sheeren was famous, Feehily had caught the soon-to-be Grammy-winner at a gig. "And he told me, at that gig, that he was a massive Westlife fan.”
“And he started playing Westlife songs on his guitar to me," recalled Feehily. "At that time, I just thought that he was really cool, really musical and very talented.”
“I never thought he’d become one of the biggest superstars in the world. And end up writing a song for us all these years later.”
The video for the Sheeren-penned Hello My Love, which was produced by frequent Westlife collaborator Steve Mac, has already garnered more than eight million views on YouTube.
And Westlife hopes that the big name collaborations won’t just stop at Sheeran. In fact, they would love to do a duet with – drum roll, please – Korean boyband BTS, who the boys say they are big fans of.
“We can call it 'BT-West',” quipped Filan. “They’ll do the dancing, because that’s what they are very good at. And we’ll have our mic stands in-between."