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Manufactured mayhem: Westlife

posted by Paul on 5/11/01

In this world of MTV soundbites and insanely uncreative lyrics, the manufactured band and the manufactured singer run rampant. People who are pooled together, not because they excel musically, but because their looks and personality can be pigeon-holed to fit a "type" : cute, funny, naughty, or sexy. It's just that cynical. Musical passion is generally becoming a fading art, with most people in it for nothing more than the money and the quick-fix of fame. Fame, you see, very rarely comes from the strength of the music. A few years ago, Britney Spears exploded onto the scene. Her virginal yet strangely flirty lyrics had pedophiles across the world intrigued. Here was a 16 year old girl who loved Jesus Christ, sung about being hit and claimed to be a virgin. It was all so..fantastic.

Britney went on to sell lots of records, preach Satan's teachings and get to wear increasingly skimpy outfits in her music videos. With this much success, the clones were bound to follow. And, lo and behold, they did. Christina Aguilera was the first to jump on the pink-coated bandwagon, and one of many to ride Carson Daly's gear-stick to TRL glory. The girl could certainly sing, but she was the blondest hispanic in history, and the most annoying Anorexic this side of "Ally Mc Beal". They became more and more annoying. Mandy Moore was about 12 and could barely even screech well. She sang a song about missing a guy "like candy", which is just plain sad. Nobody misses anyone like candy.

The manufactured craze is continuing as I write this dread-filled article. Oily men across the industry are lining their pockets and making an absolute mint from girls who dream about "cute guys" and "Dawson". In the States, songs about coming on over and getting hit in the face are all the rage. In Britain, the flavor love. If you're ever making a boyband, be sure they sing shitty songs about "love" and "cock". If you're planning on making a girl group, make sure they sing shitty songs about "love" and "cock". However, if you plan on plucking an underage girl from school (and there are laws against it) in the hopes that you'll create the next Britney, make sure she sings songs about "genies in bottles" and getting hit.

But make sure she records them. Perv.

Britain is just as bad as the States in terms of manufactured bands. There's a deep-seated history involved in the art of making boybands. In the seventies, the Bay City Rollers were all the rage. Essentially, they were ugly Scottish guys who wore Tartan costumes and sang really badly. But the teenyboppers loved them, simply because the machine trained them to love them. It's like that mind-washing scene in "A Clockwork Orange". Impressionable kids are force-fed a cocktail of bland music, and few of them have the intellectual tools or inquisitive nature to wonder why. Well, it's very simple. These guys make money, and the formula is easy to reproduce. And people will buy anything if it's well-packaged.

Sheep.

The formula worked with Bros and NKOTB in the 1980s and spawned Take That, the group responsible for the boyband boom of the mid-nineties. Take That were actually a talented group of performers with good songs and fairly individualized personalities. But greedy record producers tried to emulate their recipe, and many inferior rip-offs were thrown together with little thought for what actually made Take That stand out from the pack. It wasn't that they looked good and sang ballads. It was that they complemented each other so well, and it all seemed natural and flowed like a river. The group was certainly manufactured, but their delivery was cohesive, and their rhymes were phat.

If N'Sync prove anything, it's that ugly guys can be dressed up in trendy clothes, asked to sing weak music and they'll still be proclaimed hot. Whilst shifting a bucket-load of records. The formula doesn't even dictate that the band members need to be hot. As long as they don't look like Quasimodo and are prepared to sing very bad lyrics, they're in with a shot at success. How else can you explain Joey Fatone and AJ McLean?

Best not to think about it too much. Fact is, these bands make great money for their producers, all by living up to a fallacious image. It's easy money, and while the fat cats grow obese, we're the ones who are losing out. Because when genuinely talented performers fail to find a niche in the busy marketplace, we'll be overcome with these beasts.

I'll be honest, though. I like a wide range of music. Many times I'll be blown away (ok, hooked) by a boyband tune or maybe I'll even shock myself and buy the track...

Ok, let me be completely honest: I prefer pop music to virtually any other type of music (yes, even opera). Now, I love a lot of "respected" artists and I think I have fairly good taste when it comes to rating music, but there's something alluring about Pop. I'm not saying the music is necessarily good, but it is very effective. I realize that it's manufactured, that it's sugary and the song lyrics are dud, but tell me you yourself haven't caught the Pop bug at some point. These songs linger in your mind, even moreso than Papa Roach screaming about how much life sucks and how we should all die.

That strange mixture of superficial positivity and cynical marketing works for me. Which is why people probably think I'm gay!

But while I won't admit too vehemently that I enjoy cheesy pop ballads, I'd like to celebrate some of the manufactured "artists" here - where no-one "in real life" will ever know.

Our first group up for discussion is...

Westlife, or using their pronunciation, "Westloife".

Formed in the Republic of Ireland by Louis Walsh, Westlife, originally called Westside (diggit) have carved a niche as the perennial boyband. They're young, attractive and under 5 foot 2, so they slot easily into the mold. They were originally co-managed by Ronan Keating, the lead singer of old favorites, Boyzone. Boyzone followed in the footsteps of Take That's success, and were a huge success by covering old hits and dancing badly. Ronan has since ventured the solo path, and Boyzone's chances of a reunion are slim, since the Irish Charmer has been very successful as a singles artist. Notable friction exists between the other members of Boyzone and Ronan Keating, but also between Boyzone and Westlife. You see, Boyzone see Westlife as the "New Boyzone", having been backed 100% by their shared manager (Walsh). Walsh has pretty much put all his focus on Westlife, and openly slammed Boyzone as "yesterday's news". Such cynicism is prevalent in the entertainment industry, and Boyzone are the latest victims.

Westlife are sure to follow into the pit of oblivion, but right now they're the most successful boyband in Europe. And the strange thing is, most of our delicious readers won't even have heard of them. What's stranger is that I'm writing this.

Bryan is the tall one with blonde hair. That's pretty much his only function in the band. You see, boybands only really need three people. One to sing the songs, one to write the songs, and one to make the others look good. Bryan is the one who's just there. To make up the numbers and make it look like he has a function beyond poor miming. In fact, he fits into the Robbie Williams slot. Before Take That, every boyband centred around five or six guys with equally nauseating personalities. Take That were different. They had four guys with nauseating personalities..and Robbie Williams. Robbie was the smirky one. You sensed he knew this was a cynical business, and that he was just being fed through the ever-changing machine, so he might as well get the most out of it: you know, things like drugs, drink, the best parties and groupies. So he did. And he was all so post-modern about it. He broke the boyband silence by actually having a personality, and being open and honest in public. He joked about sex on TV, told risque jokes and made the other guys look like PR bores. Which they were:

Question: Do you have a girlfriend?
Boreband Answer: I don't have time for girlfriends. I'd really like to meet someone sweet, but I'm just so busy with work.

Question: Do you have a girlfriend?
Robbie Answer: No, but I shagged two fans last night, so at least I'm getting some.

From then on, the new criteria was to throw a "Robbie type" into the equation - the cheeky chappie with the sly grin and sharp wit. Bryan isn't quite there, but he does stand out because he's tall and has huge gums - like a horse. Apparently, when he was younger he was a very fat child with no friends. So, it's a good thing he shaped up, or else he'd be living his life through pixelated friends on website forums. Scary thought that. The pixelated friends, I mean. But I digress.

Bryan is so hot.

Kian is the baby of the group. He throws up on stage, gets spanked after a bad gig and wears a big white diaper. Only kidding, but that would be more interesting than the reality. Basically, he's the good-looking, inoffensive member of the group. Typical boyband alumni who boasts that he can play guitar, tinkle on the ivories and sing in cue. So it's a good thing he's in music, for I'm smelling another Billy Joel in the making. Indeed, Westlife have covered Joel's most famous track, "Uptown Girl". Kian said "good". According to his bio, he used to flash his bare backside at passing cars. What a fun loving guy. Willem Dafoe was accused of flashing his bare arse at passing cars, but it turned out to be his face. Just a pity that people assume the posterior could be that unsightly.

Kian claims to fancy Cameron Diaz, but it's evident that he's porking one of Westlife's unfortunate members, if not more:

" He is a wizard on the piano and guitar, and basically any instrument you can put in front of him." - Nicky from Westlife.

There you go.

Shane is the resident singer of the group, and the face of Boyzone. Quiet and polite, he is also the one over whom girls regularly swoon. With his square jaw and small frame, Shane is the stand-out of the group. I doubt any member of Westlife will achieve any great solo success, but if they do, it will be Shane waving the flag..of homosexuality. He says he doesn't want a girlfriend, and he's not into one night stands. Although he did admit that he enjoys a greasy member down his throat and being kicked in the nuts. Kidding. Shane is the "nice guy" - the wholesome one pre-teen girls absolutely adore.

Just don't look into his beautiful eyes. Because you'll fall in love!!!111 Click here to read Shane's poetry!1 Sign my Guestbook!!11

Mark is the youngest member of Westlife and also the least attractive. That sounds harsh, I know, but it's the truth. Every boyband has to have at least one member who's not as good-looking as the others. N'Sync have four. Backstreet Boys have two. Boyzone had two. You get the idea. Mark slots into that "ugly duckling" role. Not that he's ugly by conventional standards. But he looks a bit perplexed to be in a boyband. Having said that, he is popular because he looks attainable. The Pacey Factor. And the guy can sing. He's easily the second best singer in the group, even though he looks pained when blurting out a track.

What really brings him down in my estimation is that he fancies Lisa Kudrow. That is wrong on a variety of levels. Well, there's always one nut who'll love a "Friends" cast member.

Nicky is the cute member of Westlife. And also the oldest. He is not single either, girls, so talk to the palm. Not my palm. The palm of Georgina Aherne, the daughter of Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Aherne. Nicky is a keen soccer player and enjoys sticking the ball in the net. As well as scoring goals. *drum roll*

Thank you.

Of course, he's just a good looking guy with no discernible talent, but that's part of the appeal of boybands. They throw gormless guys together and watch as the talented ones carry the rest. It's like Lennon/McCartney to the rest of The Beatles. Nicky might not have a huge nose or voice tank engines in TV shows, but it would be difficult to think of him as anything other than good-looking Ringo. Except Ringo was in the "The Simpsons". He owns us.



The Songs

Westlife really stand out in this department. Their lyrical content, while not awe-inspiring, is miles apart from the "Bye Bye Bye"s and "Chinese Food makes me sick"s of sugar-pop infamy. No shame here, but the guys do have some amusing lyrics. Have a look:

Swear it again

I'm never gonna say goodbye
cos I never wanna see you cry
I swore to you my love would remain
and I swear it all over again and I..
I'm never gonna treat you bad
cos I never wanna see you sad
I swore to share your joy and your pain
and I swear it all over again
all over again

Not only does it sound like some bright spark was making up sentences and trying to make them rhyme, it also sounds like said bright spark was eleven years old. Let me try this method of song-writing:

Smell my Finger

I love you with all my soul,
I hate that band called Hole,
There is a hole in my heart,
When will love start?
Love is like a gift,
It moves and it swifts,
I hold for the stinger,
Smell my finger.

Smells like future chart success to me. Let's look at this one:

Flying without Wings

Everybody's looking for a something
One thing that makes it all complete
You'll find it in the strangest places
Places you never knew it could be

Some find it in the face of their children
Some find it in their lovers eyes
Who can deny the joy it brings
When you've found that special thing
You're flying without wings

This is Westlife's entry into the "we condone drug usage" halls of chart history. I know that I'm only flying without wings after ten too many beers, and it's obvious that these depraved young men are promoting illegal substances (shouldn't they be in S Club 7. The band, that is. Not the band members). Or singing about love. Whichever way you look at it, the song is pretty damn kooky. All right, it's sweet and touching. This sucks.

And now I've been called away by a knock at my door. And the person knocking is another God-lover telling me I need the light of God. I haven't like God she sung that "Ironic" song. And she looks like a horse. God is a lot like a boyband. People go on about him 24/7 and plaster his posters on their bedrooms, but has he ever written his own tracks?

Exactly.



Westlife are hugely popular at the moment, but the ever-shifting landscape of popular music will pave the way for the "next big thing". The shelf life of a boyband is incredibly short. Boyzone lasted an incredible six years and aren't even completely out of the game; Take That had four very successful years; E17, mang, survived longer than they should have. 911 got an emergency kick out the door, and Backstreet won't be back for very long. That leaves only a small number of vaguely talented groups, and O-Town isn't one of them. Westlife will be around for a while longer, though. Not only because the Irish are lucky and charming (I should know), but because they don't look out of place in boybands. After two years of existence, Boyzone looked peculiar as a boyband. Only Ronan and Stephen had the boyish looks, and one of those two came out of the closet, so that effectively killed their appeal (since the other three are married and Mikey is hideously deformed).

You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?

But you will. Someday.

When you're flying without wings.

Paul
paul@whatever-dude.com
AOL IM: paulwdfans

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