Sep 15

WESTLIFE – “Uptown Girl”

Popular29 comments • 6,634 views

#892, 17th March 2001

westlifeuptown 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.



  1. 1
    JLucas on 10 Sep 2015 #


    Passable reading of a famous song, completely ephemeral in the scheme of things. Pretty much your standard Comic Relief single. The novelty of Westlife doing an uptempo is pretty much all you can say about it.

    5 because it’s a good song no matter who sings it, and they give it a game enough go.

  2. 2
    Phil on 10 Sep 2015 #

    Meanwhile in Related Posts and related comments, I got really angry about the original of this one. I don’t think I can get at all worked up about this – 3 maybe?

    (Not a round, though – that’s London’s Burning or Whose Pigs Are These? or Frère Jacques, or on occasion Soft Kitty. Possibly a ‘catch’ – I’m not sure what the definition of one of those is.)

  3. 3
    JLucas on 10 Sep 2015 #

    New entry watch:

    #4 Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood: Who wouldn’t have preferred this at #1? Great song, and the whole ‘nightmare Archies’ conceit managed to stretch into a surprisingly long and interesting chart career.

    #10 D12 – Shit On You: Eminem now famous enough to give his mates a leg up on a record which is about as witty as its title. They had a couple of bigger hits than this to come, although it was always very much Eminem + others.

    #11 Artful Dodger featuring Michelle Escoffery – Think About Me: My personal favourite of the Artful Dodger hits, this is a very smooth kiss-off record with a nicely haughty vocal from Escoffery.

    #12 DJ Luck & MC Neat – Piano Loco: The fourth consecutive hit for two of UK garage’s more popular mid-level players. They never topped ‘A Little Bit of Luck’ in my eyes.

    #13 Aerosmith – Jaded: Notable only for being the last Aerosmith hit single (to date). I remember it clearly, but it’s not one of their best for my money.

    #14 Xzibit – X: I remember Xzibit getting a fair bit of hype at the time, but he never really amounted to much on these shores. Don’t recall how the song goes, but this isn’t my genre.

    #17 Dream – He Luvs U Not: WONDERFUL and criminally underrated blast of spiky girl-pop. Did better in America, but they never really took off. The GRL of 2001 perhaps? (Minus the tragedy).

    #20 David Gray – This Year’s Love: Emotional TV soundbed staple from Mr Wobble Head. Like all of his hits, it’s very nice. He was difficult to dislike given success came to him so late and he seemed so grateful for it, but I can’t say he ever really thrilled me.

    #24 Jonathan Wilkes – Just Another Day: Dubbed “Robbie Williams’ best mate” by the tabloids, which strangely enough was not enough to translate into a lengthy career. This was utterly mediocre and he never charted again, though I believe he forged a successful career in stage musicals.

    #29 Lionel Richie – Tender Heart: One of a number of modest hits Lionel enjoyed at the time. I believe this album (Renaissance) was a flop in America but he traded on his status to do lots of promo for it here and it wound up selling Platinum. None of the singles made the Glasto setlist though.

    #32 BM Dubs presents Mr Rumble – Whoomph! (There It Is): Pass, but I’m guessing from the title it was based on the Tag Team song.

  4. 4
    Tom on 10 Sep 2015 #

    Yes, sorry, it’s not a round is it.

  5. 5
    Mark G on 10 Sep 2015 #

    If there’s only two people in the pub, that’s not a round either.

  6. 6
    Ricardo on 10 Sep 2015 #

    What I remember most about this cover has not a jot to do with itself, but with a completely related item. Specifically, an MTV interview with Wheatus (the “Teenage Dirtbag” ones), who were concurrently charting with a cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect”. In that interview, they said something about “if you do a cover exactly like the original, you’re invariably gonna suck” or thereabouts. And then went into an impromptu mock-singing of “Uptown Girl”.

  7. 7
    Tom on 10 Sep 2015 #

    Doubly apt since “Teenage Dirtbag” is the 00s “Uptown Girl”

  8. 8
    Ronnie on 10 Sep 2015 #

    @7: I wish I could upvote this comment

    This is basically identical to the original; the only real difference is the baggage each artist brings: Billy Joel, the ugly working-class kid from Long Island, vs. Westlife, the Westlife. I suppose you could work out whose vocal sounds more authentically blue-collar, but it would take at least a little effort.

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 10 Sep 2015 #

    I imagine that were the video to be broadcast on the BBC today there would be some manufactured outrage at its ridicule of the upper classes. The toffs look like milder versions of the Bullingdon Boys and given the Oxbridge background of some of the comedy talent involved that may have informed the portrayal.
    It’s a fairly bland simulacrum of the fairly catchy original pastiche so 4 seems about right.
    I read Martin Skidmore’s comments on the original with a mixture of sadness and wry amusement at his prediction that he and we would reach this stage by 2020.

  10. 10
    AMZ1981 on 10 Sep 2015 #

    Uptown Girl is the first of seven cover versions to get to number one in the UK this year. No less than four were covers of previous UK number ones (albeit one that had only got there as a cover very recently). A further two had reached the runner up slot in its original version (forty years ago in one case, to be entirely fair) leaving only one that hadn’t been a sizeable hit in the UK previously. Another recent UK chart topper returned as a cover with rewritten lyrics to arguably give an eighth.

    It’s a pretty strong indictment of the era that many of these covers were lazy photocopies of the originals and, while the originals remain popular, the covers were quickly forgotten. In context it must be added that of the eight artists only one was the only chart topper for any of those involved.

    A few things mitigate for Uptown Girl. It was for charity and it showed that Westlife could handle an uptempo song. It also wound up the fifth biggest selling single of the year which was a good showing for a Comic Relief single at the time although later campaign songs would do better. Finally it restored Westlife’s chart fortunes after their Christmas slip.

    Jlucas has already highlighted the second biggest new entry of the week, Clint Eastwood by Gorrilaz. This song entered at number 4 and slipped to 5, then 6 before rebounding back to 4 when Uptown Girl and Whole Again fell back. It was considered something of a surprise hit and was unfortunate to have hit big during a freak sales period; it would have been a number one and perhaps even one that got there as a climber in most normal circumstances.

  11. 11
    flahr on 10 Sep 2015 #

    “We’ll have to make do with this.” Well, quite [3]

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Sep 2015 #

    Inferior to Boyzone’s version of “When The Going Gets Tough”. And the alternating of lead singers here really works even less well than it did there. Almost, but not quite, enough to make one sentimental for Bananarama and Lananeeneenoonoo (3)

  13. 13
    mapman132 on 11 Sep 2015 #

    I’ve already expressed my thoughts as a longtime Billy Joel fan in the previous “Uptown Girl” thread. I wouldn’t call UG my favorite BJ song, but it’s good enough for an 8/10. So I was curious how our favorite Irish boy band would screw this one up….

    And the funny thing is, they actually did okay this time with a song that kind of plays to their strengths with each member getting a turn. I share other commenters’ ambivalence toward straight-up cover versions, but if you’re going to do it, at least do it well and for once Westlife does. And unlike most cover versions, at least the charity angle gives a reason for its existence, even if only for a short time. Would it surprise people that Wikipedia says this is Westlife’s biggest selling single?

    A stopped clock is correct twice a day, sometimes the blind squirrel finds a nut, and with 14 number ones there was bound to be one I liked at some point. 6/10.

  14. 14
    thefatgit on 11 Sep 2015 #

    Westlife doing Uptown Girl? Why not? On paper, it seems like throwing off the stifling 20 tog duvet of blandness and attempting something a little more adventurous, even if it’s a cover.

    Having said that, Billy Joel’s original is marvellously pitched at peak karaoke. The lads would have had to have been stunningly awful to bugger this up, and as we have established with their previous offerings, it’s their competence that undoes them. A Craplife would have at least been interesting for a while. No, they do the damn thing justice as a straight reading, and seem to enjoy doing it. It’s that sense of fun that comes through here, which means in terms of scoring, a 5 would suffice. Generous to a fault, me.

  15. 15
    James BC on 11 Sep 2015 #

    Probably in the top 50% of Westlife number 1s, but I’m not sure it’s worth a 4. Goodness gracious, they really weren’t very good.

    I’m very pleased to be able to say I don’t know (specifically, obv I can guess) why they are wearing T-shirts with red Y-fronts on them on the single sleeve.

  16. 16
    swanstep on 11 Sep 2015 #

    The original UG kind of bounced off me at the time (it obviously wasn’t aimed at me) and I’ve never given it a thought since until this year when it was used as both a joke about a character’s terrible taste then as the disappointing climactic, self-makeover song in Amy Schumer’s star-vehicle Trainwreck, then (successfully trolling for virality?) Schumer and sometimes also her recent BFF J-Law started appearing at Billy Joel concerts dancing along to UG sometimes atop Joel’s piano. Now, completing the year of UG, here Popular considers a UG cover.

    Like all previous #1s by Westlife, their version of UG is undistinguished and instantly forgettable. That the underlying music’s got some pep for a change is about the best that I can say about it. What a strange phenomenon this band is:

  17. 17
    anto on 11 Sep 2015 #

    ‘Uptown Girl’ is one of those songs almost custom-tooled to go to number 1.
    Here it is being covered by a group on a roll with a devoted fan base, and it’s for charity.
    All such advantages make this the most ‘over-priveleged’ chart-topper of 2001, ironically.

  18. 18
    Mark M on 11 Sep 2015 #

    I found myself particularly allergic to the video for this – I think I find mid-tempo Westlife somehow more actively repellent than their standard mode, which was easier to ignore. I still find everything about it just horrible.

    Re14: Xzibit was a more than decent rapper who is best known as the (very endearing) host of MTV’s Pimp My Ride. He’d been around for a fair while by the time of X – it features Dre and Snoop, which might have helped it out. His second biggest UK hit, but not one of his best musical moment.
    (He’s in a Werner Herzog film, too, which I had forgotten).

  19. 19
    Tommy Mack on 13 Sep 2015 #

    #15: They are Comic Relief’s Pants To Poverty T-shirts! Mrs Mack works for Comic Relief and still has one that I occasionally use for pyjamas. Might not now I’ve seen this…

  20. 20
    weej on 14 Sep 2015 #

    Considering that I hate Westlife and I hate comic relief singles, this turned out pretty well, in that it’s a reasonable karaoke facsimile of a classic pop song and nobody tries any showboating or crap jokes. Still pointless, but the sheer relief of not hearing another Westlife ballad makes me almost enjoy it. Almost.

  21. 21
    weej on 14 Sep 2015 #

    Also, having just read the comments on the BJ original thread, I’m very much looking forward to the review of this one on Blogging Without Wings.

  22. 22
    Rufus Headroom on 18 Sep 2015 #

    A perfectly ok kind of record. An uptempo westlife is a novelty in and of itself! I wonder what John Sebastian could have done with this record?

  23. 23
    JLucas on 19 Sep 2015 #

    I just saw a clip of them performing this on TOTP on BBC News (Shane’s promoting a new solo record). Holy moses they were awful dancers. The reliance on stools makes a lot more sense now…

  24. 24
    typowatch on 30 Sep 2015 #


  25. 25
    Ronnie on 17 Oct 2015 #

    The year is wrong on this, here and on the PopuList.

  26. 26
    weej on 2 Dec 2015 #

    Hello Admin, the date on here should be 2001, not 2000, and it’s messing up the populist.

  27. 27
    CriticSez on 10 Jan 2016 #

    Not reviewing it yet, but I came here to say the year has been corrected. The Populist is no longer messed up, and the 2001 #1 hits list is all in order now.

  28. 28
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Bad compared to Joel but their biggest hit across Europe with this one. It sounds cheap and not as vocally or musically interesting as Joel.

  29. 29
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    Find Billy Joel annoying myself, so having listened to the radio edit, I actually prefer Westlife’s version. 4/10.

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