Who would have thought, at the height of the diva-era, that one day the world of pop ballads would be ruled by a group of Irish lads, clad in leather jackets and seated on stools. But today, with Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston psychologically broken, Celine Dion holed up somewhere in Vegas, Christina Aguilera going all burlesque-esque and all other boybands falling by the wayside, Westlife are one of the few
groups still churning out chart-topping ballads.

Whether that’s good or bad probably depends on who you are. If you’re a teenager – heart-warmed by the crystal-crisp vocals of Nicky, Kian, Shane and Mark – or fond of the nostalgia of rehashed ballads, you’ll probably be in the former. But if you think covering ballads is unnecessary (or even offensive), you’re likely to think otherwise.

Westlife have become not only the kings of the soft pop ballad – they’ve become the kings of someone else’s soft pop ballad. Such tunes have become their central tenet, racking up a huge catalogue of covers over the past 13 years, including Barry Manilow’s Mandy, Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, Air Supply’s All Out of Love, Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, Bette Midler’s The Rose, Chicago’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart and a whole heap of Sinatra. Indeed, no song is safe.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1998, they emerged onto the Boyzone-Take That-Backstreet Boys-dominated landscape with chart-topping hits of their own like If I Let You Go and Flying Without Wings. But somewhere along the line, they decided that those songs weren’t as good as someone else’s. Commercially, it was an astute decision, and they’ve notched up 44 million album sales and 14 number one hits. They’ve got a second greatest hits album due later this year, but we do wonder whether it should be called Other Artists Greatest Hits.

Westlife play AsiaWorld Arena on September 27. Tickets: Sold out.

Donna Brewer and Mark Tjhung 


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