Boy bands are a pivotal part of pop culture and Westlife are no exception.
One of Ireland's most prolific chart-toppers, the group have been recording and performing pop hits since their first self-titled studio album, Westlife, which was released in 1999. Shane Filan, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan and Nicky Byrne have since released 12 studio albums, with their latest being 2021's Wild Dreams.
On Thursday, Westlife will be performing in Abu Dhabi for the first time, at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island.
“We're very excited to come back to the UAE,” Shane Filan tells The National. “We did a gig in Dubai a few years ago and it was an amazing show. We've never played a gig in Abu Dhabi, it will be the first ever Westlife show. We're excited to see what the fans will be like and hopefully they'll all have a great time.”
Westlife dominated the cultural consciousness with pop classics such as You Raise Me Up, Swear It Again, Uptown Girl and Flying Without Wings in the 1990s and early 2000s. Their continued success and popularity resulted in the boy band selling more than 55 million records worldwide.
And while one of the original members, Brian McFadden, left the group in 2004, the remaining members have continued to create music and perform sold out shows around the world.
Their coming performance in Abu Dhabi, part of The Wild Dreams Tour, marks the group's first set of international shows since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“Covid has been a terrible time for everybody all over the world and the music industry was really hit hard,” Filan says. “We've realised now that there’s a little bit of extra excitement for people just to be back in crowds again. You can feel the energy. It's more than it ever was before. The atmosphere is electric.”
Despite a hiatus between 2012 and 2018, Westlife's longevity is an achievement worth noting, given the fleeting nature of boy bands coupled with a youth-obsessed music industry.
Filan says it all comes down to mutual respect among members.
“There's the feeling of brotherhood within the group,” he says. “We know that together we are Westlife and it means a lot to a lot of people around the world.
"I think it's more special now. Because we've all got children. We've got 10 children between us and they're all fans and they're all friends as well and they all come to the concerts together.”
Good music is, of course, at the heart of their success.
“I think we're singing people's memories and it means a lot,” Filan says. “It feels like it's more nostalgic now than it's ever been.
“The most important thing in our show is the set list. Every song we perform, people will know. We want to do the singles, we want to do the number ones.”
While it hasn't always been easy to maintain success as a boy band, Filan says the excitement of performing together as a group outweighs the struggles.
“To be going this long, to still have those army of fans — it's not easy. We're going like 23 years now and we're doing our first show in Abu Dhabi and we just played Wembley Stadium for the first time — it feels really exciting," he says.