I was a strange child. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Practically too cool for anything mainstream, I was like a withered fine art dealer who enjoyed the Antiques Road Show with a glass of chardonnay in the evening at four years of age. My aunt thought I had been reincarnated because I was such an old soul, but I think I was just weird.
This anti-mainstream hysteria I found myself in (when all my friends were playing with Bratz) meant that I was too cool for Westlife. Flying Without Wings was beneath me. Such was the extent of my musical critique, I could have sat on the Mercury Prize judging panel. Growing up with two older siblings meant that in my many ways I wanted to emulate them. Or at least, have them think I was cool and not the demon child.
A seven-year-old hipster
The music they liked, I had to like. The night before my first holy communion I sat and listened to Turin Brakes and The Doves with my brother, while we recorded obscure bands on the radio with a cassette tape. Westlife released the album Turnaround in that year with Mandy being the lead single, but for this overzealous, Sunday-mass-going, seven-year-old hipster, I couldn’t be seen to like them. It would devalue my street cred. What street-cred I had, I don’t know because firstly, I was seven and secondly, all my class adored the lovely lads from Sligo and the cheeky chaps from Dublin, so my supposed ‘too cool for school attitude’ should have singled me out.
This complex continued for many years. The more of a genuine ‘bop’ Westlife would release, the more I would fight against it. Even my brother, who at times can be musically snobbish, wanted to emulate their style, telling me to make his hair ‘look like Shane’s from Westlife’. That same brother would also rank World of our Own as one of the best pop songs ever written. Sometimes I wonder why no one tried to tell me to get back in my box because liking Westlife wasn’t a crime.
The crime was not liking them.
In 2008, they played in Killarney for the annual Summerfest. I was thirteen but still engrossed in an internal struggle with my conscience. I would hear a Westlife song come on the radio and my feet would start tapping and I’d begin to float away on a cloud of Kian Egans, but I’d quickly bring myself back to earth and remember the seven-year-old I was once was.
How does one stop a Westlife urge? Two words; Take That.
I immersed myself in the world of Gary Barlow and co. wholeheartedly. Their comeback had worked and the people loved them. And it was cool for me to like them because I wasn’t born when they were at the height of their fame. It was vintage. Seven-year-old me would have been quaking in her Sketchers with delight. In 2011, they played in Croke Park and I cried. However, somewhere in the distance, I heard whispers of Shane Filan’s voice in Sligo telling me to Swear it Again and it was like being pulled by an ocean current.
The fight was exhausting and at some point, I just gave up. I let the Westlife feels take me away to the sea of high stools where there were tears and Nicky Byrne. Mark’s voice gave me shivers and when the bells would chime in Queen of My Heart, it was like Christmas even on a sweltering summer’s day. Now, a pre-drinks doesn’t go by without me requesting a blast of When You’re Looking Like That. Then, when Kian Egan won I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, it felt like Kerry had won an All-Ireland, and I can’t help but think that all four have aged like a fine wine.
When they announced their comeback tour, I squealed. I was howling manically like the girls I never wanted to be. And tonight, you will find me right at the front in Croke Park with a cowboy hat on wailing.
They are a national treasure and I await a statue to be erected in Sligo in their honour and a mural of Nicky Byrne’s face placed on the Spire. I love Westlife and I’m not afraid to say it.
Seven-year-old me is shaking.
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