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Monday, 6 November, 2000, 12:53 GMT
Westlife: Pretenders to Beatles' throne?

Westlife are enjoying their seventh consecutive number one, equalling the record set by The Beatles. But are comparisons between the Irish boy band and the Fab Four justified?

BBC News Online's Darren Waters takes a view.

Even the most deadpan of critics would not be able to keep a straight face while uttering the words: "Westlife are better than the Beatles".

Both bands may have enjoyed seven consecutive number one singles, but aside from the all-male line-up, the comparisons end there.

Bryan, Kian, Mark, Nicky and Shane are not the new John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Westlife have taken the well-worked formula of the boy band and stripped back any excesses and frills - even Take That had a modicum of raunch and sex appeal - to create a streamlined, marketable product that is easy both on the eye and the ears.

The band's musical output is almost entirely made up of non-experimental ballads.

The Fab Four may have started out with simple crowd pleasers, such as Love Me Do, but they soon moved on to songs which re-defined the boundaries of pop music.

The Bealtes
The Beatles: Westlife have equalled their record for consecutive number one singles
Westlife's music appeals as much to the crucial pre-teen market as it does to the grey economy of grandparents.

But the band itself believes it is growing musically.

"I know people still see us as a boy band but I think our music is crossing over," said Shane Filan.

He added: "I think you always start off with a young fan base then reach out to an older audience."

The pop market today is almost unrecognisable from that of the 1960s, muddying further any real comparisons.

Westlife's album sales have flickered into the millions while The Beatles have sold more than 113m albums in the US alone.

Re-releases of Beatles albums in the last couple of years have pushed sales to new heights with 20m copies of two anthologies sold in in the UK in 1996, making them as popular in the '90s as they were in the '60s.

The Beatles were among the first bands to exploit fully the burgeoning teen market in the 1960s but as the years went on their changing music alienated as many fans as it won new admirers.

Today's pop creations owe a greater debt to the marketing men.

While even the Spice Girls were divided into easily-digested components - Sporty, Baby, Scary and Posh - the members of Westlife are, well, harder to tell apart.

Shelf-life

The average shelf-life of a boy band is only three or four years and there is a steady production line of newcomers ready to take the place of those who have passed their sell-by date.

Westlife's true rivals are 5ive and the Spice Girls, and the band goes head-to-head this week with the Spice Girls in a battle for the album top spot.

According to British Phonographic Industry figures, the singles market is worth almost 10 times what it was in the early 1970s.

Last year singles' sales earned 138m compared with 14.4m in 1973.

But sales of singles are down 22% on last year, according to trade magazine Music Week.

It is entirely conceivable that Westlife will break the record of seven consecutive number ones in the near future.

But not many people imagine that their children and grandchildren will be humming My Love in the year 2040.

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See also:

06 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Westlife gun for Spice Girls
01 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Beatles to launch website
24 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Westlife break own record
05 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Westlife open Harrods sale
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