After finding massive success during his time in the Irish boy band Westlife, Shane Filan has been gradually reinventing himself as a solo artiste. But it hasn’t been easy.
The band’s phenomenal success in the early 2000s works like a double-edged sword. While the Westlife name has definitely helped fuel his solo career, it’s hard for listeners to see Filan beyond his Flying Without Wings days.
“When you’re in a famous band, it’s like you’re in a famous TV show like, let’s say, Friends. You play one of the characters in Friends and after that, you want to try to do a movie or a new TV show. It’s difficult,” the 38-year-old opens up to Star2.
“You’re still acting, or in my case, singing, you’re doing the same thing, but people still see you as a part of something that was a massive memory for them.”
A year after Westlife disbanded in 2012, Filan released his debut solo album, You And Me, which enjoyed considerable success in Ireland and Britain. “I think it still comes down to the music, the better your music, the more success you have.”
And instead of adopting a dramatic shift in genres or a radical new image to differentiate himself from the band, the singer believes in simply embracing his musical roots.
“People who like my music, whether it’s the Westlife albums or my albums … I have to stay relevant to them. If I start making a heavy metal album or rock album, I just don’t think people will like them.”
Simon Cowell Is Not Mean
Filan was in Kuala Lumpur recently to promote his third solo release, Love Always. The cover album comprises mostly of Filan’s rendition of love classics like The Bangles’ Eternal Flame and Bryan Adams’ Heaven as well as contemporary hits Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now.
“I’ve done two original albums. I wanted to sing famous songs this time. We did covers back in Westlife like Uptown Girl and Mandy and fans loved them. It’s always important to try different things.
“Maybe when I’m older, I’ll make a swing album, just something different. I think you have to keep it interesting for yourself but also not go too far from what people like you for.”
During the interview, Filan reminisces about his time in the band, particularly one formidable figure – Simon Cowell, who was at that time the head of the label which Westlife was signed to.
“I don’t think he’s mean. He’s not mean at all. He’s a gentleman actually, a really nice guy,” he addresses the reality show judge’s fearsome on-screen personality.
“He’s like a genius, he’ll come up with these song ideas, and you’ll be thinking, ‘That’s crazy’. And then you do it and it becomes this huge song. He picked every single song that Westlife ever released for 14 years. He was the A&R (artiste and repertoire) man who went, ‘That’s your single.’ Even when he was doing American Idol, he would come back and A&R our album,” Filan gushes.
This isn’t the singer’s first time in Malaysia of course. Westlife has performed here numerous times after all. He remembers one particular occasion that stood out.
“What comes to my mind firstly, I remember we had a big massive concert and there was a football match, that was really cool.”
Back in 2002, as part of an initiative to launch its greatest hits album, Unbreakable, the members of Westlife took part in a football game, playing against Malaysian rockers such as Wings, XPDC and Spider.
Filan also recalls his last trip to the country four years ago.
“I went up to the Twin Towers for the first time. It was so high up. I remember just eating my steak and looking out at the other tower. It was pretty incredible. Kuala Lumpur is such an amazing city. The architecture is spectacular. You don’t see much of that in Ireland.”
A Westlife Reunion?
The singer reflects on the state of boy bands today. He believes they’re here to stay.
“With boy bands, it’s all about good songs and the right timing. Every five to 10 years, there comes a really big boy band like how there were New Kids On The Block, Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Take That, Westlife and One Direction, I believe was the newest one. But there will be another One Direction or a young Westlife, it’s only a matter of time before that happens. It’s probably due now.
“There’ll always be boy bands. The Beatles, The Beach Boys – they were all boy bands that did popular music for the younger generation. I don’t think it’ll ever go out of fashion. I think the music will always try to be relevant to that time, to the sound of the radio.”
And on the subject of boy bands, will there be a Westlife reunion on the horizon?
“I don’t know. It’s a question I get asked every day. There’s a chance it will happen some day. Will it happen right now? I don’t think so. The stars will have to align for that to happen. We’ll have a lot of fun if it happens.
“The four of us are still very close, we’re still very good friends and we see each other all the time. Someday we’ll be playing in Malaysia again. Who knows?”