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The Inside Story of Westlife’s Hugely Successful Online Concert in China

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On December 17, Westlife held their first online concert on WeChat, China’s most popular social media app. The virtual performance proved incredibly successful, bringing in nearly 28 million views and a staggering 160 million likes, and highlighted the legendary Irish pop group’s ongoing popularity in China. 

Westlife formed in Ireland back in 1998, rising to fame one year later with their eponymous debut album, Westlife. The boy band was among the first Western bands to build a substantial Chinese audience — their popularity grew as China began to embrace globalization, a time when people were excited by exotic and foreign cultures. 

Westlife China

A promotional poster for Westlife’s WeChat concert on December 17

Many Millennials in China first discovered the band in school: English teachers would demonstrate grammar and vocabulary with their songs, and PE teachers would use the tunes as background music for stretching. 

Westlife was one of many bands to come to China during this transitionary period. The Backstreet Boys were similarly popular: Sometimes, the two were introduced by school teachers at the same time because they both sang melodically about young love and struggle. 

“[Westlife] was among the first Western bands that I listened to,” a netizen commented on Weibo. “With their songs lingering in my ears, I felt that the world was for me to explore.”

In the wake of Westlife’s wildly successful online show, RADII had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A with Andrew Spalter, the founder of East Goes Global — a company that connects international celebrities, personalities, and brands with audiences in China.

Spalter at the Great Wall of China

Andrew Spalter, founder of East Goes Global, at the Great Wall of China

Westlife is one of East Goes Global’s numerous high-profile clients. Eager to produce an excellent virtual event for Chinese fans, they landed on Westlife as the group of choice — due to the fact the band has toured four times in China and is the most-followed Western boy band on QQ Music.

The 28-year-old Spalter, who hails from Los Angeles, told us about the motives behind his company’s latest digital endeavor, the work that went into the production, and what we can expect from Westlife in China in the years ahead.

RADII: Tell us a bit about why Westlife decided to undertake a virtual performance for the China market? And what made them settle on WeChat as the host platform?

Spalter: While I can only speak personally, I believe there was a multitude of reasons as to why they decided to take on this amazing undertaking. One, they love China. The guys have performed in the market four times, China has supported them for decades, and their music resonates across a wide range of age groups.

WeChat is obviously one of the largest platforms in the world, and because their music resonates with so many different types of people, to me, it seemed like an extremely smart solution. On top of that, we’ve worked with WeChat for nearly a year now, and during our search for the perfect partner, Westlife came up time and time again.

Westlife

Westlife performs for online audiences on WeChat

RADII: What did the pre-concert preparation entail, and when did planning begin?

Spalter: As you can imagine, this [concert] entailed quite a bit [of prep work], as planning for this began all the way back in April.

Of course, there were countless calls, Zoom meetings, FaceTimes, emails, WeChat calls, etcetera. But this also required a ton of planning in terms of rehearsals, especially with the performance of the song “Ordinary Road” by Pu Shu. Everyone wanted to make sure that this was performed in a very tasteful manner, and the guys absolutely nailed it.

They are such professionals, and I think the reach of this event is primarily attributed to how well Westlife handled themselves during both the performances and Q&A.

RADII: Westlife has toured China four times throughout their career, so they must have been aware of their popularity in the country. But were they surprised at the massive viewership numbers for their WeChat concert?

Westlife performs for online audiences on WeChat

Westlife performs for audiences on WeChat on December 17

Spalter: Yes. Transparently, I think that this was a surprise to everyone! WeChat has never held an event of this size, let alone with a Western act, and I believe it smashed everyone’s expectations out of the water.

We knew that WeChat undoubtedly had this capability, but, in the end, everyone involved was extremely happy with the outcome.

RADII: Why did Westlife decide to perform Chinese singer-songwriter Pu Shu’s “Ordinary Road” in Chinese?

Spalter: Westlife’s intention going into this event was to make sure that everything was done properly, respectfully, and complete with a special treat for fans. The WeChat team brought up the idea of performing a song in Chinese, and frankly, everyone loved it but was also cautious.

As you can imagine, no one wanted to mess this up, but the Westlife guys are just such pros that they absolutely nailed it. “Ordinary Road” was a fantastic choice by the WeChat team.

RADII: Are there any plans in place for Westlife to perform an offline concert in China once pandemic prevention restrictions ease up?

Spalter: Fingers crossed that things across the world make a turn for the better soon. With that said, the guys definitely want to get out there as soon as things do open up.

RADII: And finally, does East Goes Global have any other exciting livestream events coming up that Chinese and global audiences can look forward to soon?

Spalter: We’ve done livestreams with Weibo, Douyin, Bilibili, Tencent’s QQ Music, and now WeChat. This last event (WeChat) has definitely made noise across the entire industry, and with that said, I’d expect a lot more from us in the new year. I cannot wait for what’s to come. We’ll leave it at that.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

All images courtesy of Andrew Spalter

Tian Tian
    Tian Tian is a RADII staff writer based in Shanghai. She has been writing out of love for her whole life and has previously worked for GQ and Dazed. She tries her best to understand different perspectives and absolutely loves music. In fact, she is practicing to perform a piece by John Cage (not 4’33’’) while writing this bio.
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