The Irish boy band Westlife had an astonishingly long run for their genre, releasing 10 albums in 11 years and racking up 14 No. 1 hits in the U.K. (Consider that contemporaries *NSYNC, in comparison, released just four albums over their lifespan.) They did it thanks in part to their slightly anachronistic bent: Early cover songs included “Against All Odds,” “Uptown Girl,” and “Mandy,” soft-rock classics that were hardly standard fare for a group aimed at preteen girls. Formed in Sligo, Ireland, in 1998, the group was signed by Simon Cowell in the U.K. and Clive Davis in the U.S. Members Shane Filan, Kian Egan, and Mark Feehily had been singing together for years, first in Six as One and then in IOYOU; Nicky Byrne and Brian McFadden were added after auditions. They had their first hit in 1999 with the ballad “Flying Without Wings,” a lyrically clean, romantic ballad whose earnest lyrics, crystalline production, and sweeping strings speak to the hopeful 13-year-old girl in everyone. Listening to Westlife, one could be forgiven for thinking that EDM or hip-hop had never happened, but they filled an important niche in Europe, picking up where boy bands Take That and Boyzone had left off. McFadden would leave in 2004, but the group soldiered on, releasing an album of Rat Pack covers that same year and doubling down on the balladry that made them stars. The group disbanded in 2012 but reunited in 2018 for a reunion tour and a new album, Spectrum, in 2019.
- Sligo, Ireland
- July 3, 1998