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From Westlife to Boyzone: 90s UK boy bands that remain iconic to this day

By Mica Rodriguez Published Aug 13, 2023 6:35 pm

The 90s is a decade that a lot of pop music lovers can never forget.

It was the time when a number of boy and girl groups captured the hearts of many. Some served as a source of comfort for others especially in their loneliest times, while there were some who even inspired talents to pursue a music career or simply improve their singing and dancing skills.

Let’s get real: Though the US produced a lot of iconic boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, good-looking lads from the UK were also at their peak. With a number of boy groups from the past reuniting and touring for nostalgia, it would be nice to take a look back and remember some of the UK boy bands from the 90s that music fans continue to love and admire to this day.

Take That (1990)
Take That 

Let's start the list with the boy band who paved the way: TAKE THAT!

Inspired by the success of the late-80s American boyband New Kids on The Block, Nigel Martin-Smith held auditions in Manchester way back in 1990 with the goal of forming a teen boy band with good-looking lads who can sing and dance.

When the ambitious manager with a vision met Gary Barlow, who back then had a number of self-written songs and had been performing in clubs at a young age, he decided to recruit him as the first member and hired new members to complement the young talent’s musical ability. Eventually, dancers Jason Orange and Howard Donald as well as vocalists Mark Owens and Robbie Williams joined the band.

Despite having a squeaky-clean image, Take That was experimental in their early days. They have a good balance of ballads and pop dance tunes. Some of our favorites include It Only Takes a Minute, Pray, Could It Be Magic, Relight My Fire, Pray, Everything Changes, Babe, and Back for Good.

In 1995, Williams left the group. The band disbanded officially for the first time in February 1996.

The group reunited a number of times in the past years. Although Williams only rejoined for a limited time and Orange permanently retired from the music industry, remaining active members Barlow, Owens, and Donald still do perform as a trio occasionally. They are expected to release a new album by the end of the year.

East 17 (1991)
East 17 

If Take That became famous for their boy-next-door image, their "rival" East 17 became known for their "bad boy" persona onstage.

In 1991, talented songwriter/rapper Tony Mortimer signed a record deal with London Records when he presented his own material. Instead of promoting solo, they agreed on forming a group. With the inclusion of Brian Harvey, John Hendy, and Terry Coldwell, a new hip-hop group was born.

The name East 17 was derived from the postcode of their hometown, Walthamstow. Some of the group’s hits include House of Love, It’s Alright, Deep, Steam, Hold My Body Tight, Around The World, and Stay Another Day.

Several issues triggered Mortimer to leave the group in 1997. The remaining members were promoted as E-17 for a time before disbanding in 1998.

The group reformed in 2006, but a clash between Mortimer and Harvey ensued once more.

As of writing, Coldwell is the only original member of East 17 performing in nostalgia gigs in the UK with new members Robbie Craig and Joe Livermore. Will the OG lineup ever get back together in the future? Only time will tell.

Boyzone (1993)

Influenced by the success of Take That, Ireland-based theatrical manager Louis Walsh was inspired to make an Irish version of the band.

Various advertisements were published in Irish newspapers in 1993 and the auditions were held in Dublin. The 300 hopefuls were asked to sing Wham!’s Careless Whisper. For the second round of auditions, those who passed were asked to sing a song of their choice. In the end, Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Mickey Graham, Stephen Gately, and Shane Lynch were selected.

Boyzone was officially formed in 1994 and they started performing in clubs and pubs all over Northern Ireland. They eventually signed under PolyGram Music. The group released a cover version of Four Seasons’ classic Working My Way Back to You. Their next single was a cover of the Johnny Bristol song Love Me for a Reason and from then on, the Irish group became unstoppable!

Boyzone is best known for their original ballad tracks and iconic covers of classic love songs. Some of our favorites include Words, Picture of You, All That I Need, Baby Can I Hold You, No Matter What, Everyday I Love You, and Better.

With the tension ongoing behind the scenes, the group decided to take a break in 1999 to pursue solo endeavors. The group reunited in 2008 to do a successful tour much to the delight of their loyal fans.

Unfortunately, Gately died on Oct. 10, 2009. The remaining members released a number of albums until 2018.

There are speculations that Boyzone will reunite next year for their 30th anniversary.

911 (1995)

“Don’t go changing, rearranging… hold on to a love sensation!”

It seems like Take That inspired a lot of talented lads to form a group and try their luck in the music scene. In 1995, Glawgow-based late-night TV dancers Jimmy Constable and Simon “Spike” Dawbarn saw how their fellow dancer Jason Orange found success as a member of Take That. The two decided to start their own boy group. The duo reached out to Steve Gilmour, who by then already had experience managing PJ & Duncan (Ant & Dec) and Boyzone. Gilmour initially turned them down, but eventually agreed to take them on. Lee Brennan, who was a fan of the duo, became the lead singer.

The trio started performing in schools and clubs and they were able to gain a lot of teen fans. Despite their growing popularity, they failed to secure a record deal. This prompted the management team to start their own record label, Ginga Records.

In 1996, they released a cover of Shalamar’s A Night to Remember. The second single, Love Sensation, became a big hit and was eventually included in the official soundtrack of the 1997 live-action film Casper: A Spirited Beginning. Now that 911 caught the attention of mainstream radio, the group eventually signed under Virgin Records on a four-album deal. Before you know it, the guys were "body shaking" their way to the bank! 

911 is best known for their dance hits like Body Shakin', A Little Bit More, More Than a Woman, and All I Want is You.

Because of their demanding promotional schedule, the band started to fall apart. The group released their Greatest Hits album in 1999 and disbanded quietly. The group reformed in 2007 to do a series of live shows then reunited for the second time in 2013 when they participated in the reality show The Big Reunion.

The members of 911 still perform in nostalgia shows in the UK with some of their contemporaries. Just early this year, the group collaborated with Vietnamese singer Đức Phúc for the song I Do.

5ive (1997)

Looking for the male version of the Spice Girls?

In 1997, Bob and Chris Herbert placed an advertorial on The Stage. They were looking for young male singers/dancers with “attitude and edge” that will be a part of a boy band. In case you didn’t know, Bob and Chris Herbert were the original managers of the Spice Girls, but they were also determined to form and launch a male group.

More than 3,000 hopefuls auditioned and in the end, five members made it: Richard Breen (now known as Abz Love), Ritchie Neville, Scott Robinson, Sean Conlon, and J Brown. 5ive/Five was eventually signed by Simon Cowell and BMG/RCA for a six-album deal.

The music and style of 5ive had a big resemblance with American boy groups that were also active back then like Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. They’re good-looking, talented, and they also write their own songs.

Some of the group’s best hits include Slam Dunk (Da Funk), When The Lights Go Out, Got The Feelin’, Everybody Get Up, We Will Rock You, Until The Time is Through, If Ya Getting’ Down, Don’t Wanna Let You Go, Let’s Dance, and Keep on Moving.

Conlon left the group in 2001 due to a mental breakdown caused by being a part of the group. Robinson followed. The remaining three members tried their best to finish promotions before disbanding. 

In 2012, all the members except J Brown joined the reality show The Big Reunion. Abz Love left the group in 2014.

As of writing, Neville, Robinson, and Conlon are participating in nostalgia gigs in the UK (like 911). The trio released the album Time in 2022.

Westlife (1998)

With Boyzone’s success, Louis Walsh found the right recipe for creating the close-to-perfect boyband. Why not do it again?

Schoolmates Kian Egan, Mark Feehily, and Shane Filan participated in a school production with three other members and eventually formed a group named Six as One back in 1997. Louis Walsh got to know the group after Filan’s mom contacted him. The group was initially brought to Simon Cowell, but he wasn’t a fan of the visuals of the band. The three other members were told that they won’t be a part of the new lineup. Auditions were held in Dublin where Brian McFadden and Nicky Byrne were chosen as the final two members.

The new lineup, now known as Westlife, was officially formed on July 3, 1998. They signed a record deal with RCA Records and were given the chance to open for Boyzone and Backstreet Boys on their Dublin shows.

The group started right with their debut single Swear It Again, which immediately topped the charts. Some of their timeless hits include If I Let You Go, Flying Without Wings, I Have a Dream, Seasons in the Sun, Fool Again, Coast to Coast, My Love, What Makes a Man, I Lay My Love on You, World of Our Own, Bop Bop Baby, Uptown Girl, and When You’re Looking Like That.

In 2004, McFadden left the group to spend more time with his family (he was in a relationship with Atomic Kitten’s Kerry Katona at that time). The remaining four members continued to promote as a group until their split in 2011.

The group reunited in 2018 (without McFadden) and has since continued to release new albums and embark on concert tours much to the delight of their loyal fans.

A1 (1998)

A1 was formed by Steps manager Tim Byrne with Vicky Blood in 1998. Paul Marazzi, who was supposed to be a member of Steps, became the first member of the boy band. Through auditions, Ben Adams, Christian Ingerbrigtsen, and Mark Read were recruited.

With their boy-next-door and heartthrob charm, the group captured the hearts of young girls. Some of their notable hits include Be the First to Believe, Ready or Not, Everytime, Like a Rose, Take on Me, Same Old Brand New You, No More, Caught in the Middle, and Make It Good.

In 2002, Marazzi left the band due to undisclosed reasons. Eventually, the group disbanded. Each member pursued solo careers with moderate success.

In 2013, all the members except Marazzi reunited in the show The Big Reunion. In 2017, Marazzi rejoined the group and performed in a series of shows in Southeast Asia to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

The good news for A1 fans is that the foursome will be back in the Philippines in October 2023. They’re scheduled to perform in Davao, Cebu, and Manila.