Features the best joke on a Comic Relief single – a girl gets bored of her “whitebread world”, and instead she chooses Westlife. But the video for “Uptown Girl” – the most entertaining thing about it – leans into just this conceit, casting the band as five honest lads working service jobs and pitched into a cartoon class-clash fantasy, against posh goons straight out of an IPC comic. This puts the emphasis on a part of the song Billy Joel doesn’t stress as much – “Uptown Girl” in his reading is the fantasy of a boy dreaming that a rich girl will notice what a stand-up guy he is. He wants to beat the high class boys, but they’re a background detail. “Uptown Girl” in Westlife’s world involves a woman waking up to the fact she’s stuck with a pack of howling arseholes.
On record, Westlife’s take cuts out a lot of Joel’s emotional nuance – the delicious tension between brag and daydream, the way Joel is fronting for the lads, but also thinking, what if…? In Westlife’s version, the boys are the lads, and the song is staged as a round, with different members stepping up for a verse. “Uptown Girl” becomes more of a romp – no butchery, as it always had rompish elements – and to seal that impression it’s all iced and cherried with a patented Westlife key change. This jolly atmosphere matches its video, though the emphasis on poor virtue’s triumph over rich vice has the sad side-effect of treating Claudia Schiffer as a prize. But it’s not like that wasn’t part of the original’s appeal.
So there are far worse Comic Relief singles and far worse Westlife records. Its sin, which it shares with almost every 2001 cover hit, is that there’s no earthly reason to choose it over the original. Still it’s an unusual track for them, not just in the tempo but in the way the song and its singers operate in different registers of fantasy. “Uptown Girl” is a daydream of inversion, the world turned upside down so much that an ordinary boy and a rich girl might make it together. Westlife until now have offered nothing so seismic – theirs are songs of security, with drama coming not from bold choices made but from bad decisions avoided. Was this record a bad decision? Not really. And that’s as fair as I can possibly be.