Ask someone to think of a person that quit their boyband to go solo, and they’ll almost always say Ronan Keating or Robbie Williams. Both (arguably) the most talented songwriters and singers in their bands, they stepped out of the group and tried to make names for themselves as individual artists, and were incredibly successful.
And then there’s Bryan McFadden.
Only months after announcing his retirement from Westlife to ‘spend more time with his family’, he was onstage again, this time by himself without the other four to back him up. He shed his squeaky-clean image, changed the spelling of his name to ‘Brian’, and started writing songs about how the Catholic church liked beating him up when he was in school. Bryan was no longer – this was a newer, rougher Brian, one that had shed all the stereotypes the press had condemned him for, one with a newfound independence, and one that just wanted to write genuine, quality songs.
So what went wrong?
His first single ‘Real To Me’, an air-guitar classic about the trappings of his Westlife fame, went straight in at the number one spot. He both dismissed and relished the press heralding him ‘the new Robbie’, and began playing at festivals on the same bill as Westlife, his energetic performances drawing attention and acclaim. But within months the bubble burst with the release of second single ‘Irish Son’, a very pointed dig at his Catholic upbringings, painting his Catholic school teachers as abusive and tyrannical. The church hit back against the allegations and, rather than garner acclaim for speaking out, Brian was branded a liar. Regardless of its high musical quality and its affecting subject-matter, the single only just struggled into the number six spot amidst a flurry of bad publicity.
Not only this, rumours concerning his departure from Westlife surrounded both him and the Westlife camp, and Westlife came out ahead. There were claims that Brian had been evicted from Westlife for violence, alcoholism, and his bad work ethic, though these were denied by both parties. In accordance with his new ‘rough’ image, he began to make outspokenly negative comments about other artists, and about his past life as a Westlifer, forgetting that it was Westlife fans that were primarily buying his music. Unable to establish a new rock and roll audience because of the stigma surrounding his status of ‘that bloke that used to be in that poxy boyband’, and with the old fans beginning to feel discontent and anxious with his new image, music and attitude, he was on uneasy footing.
But more was to come. The release of his album Irish Son, co-written entirely by Bryan and with the help of Robbie Williams’ usual writing partner Guy Chambers, coincided unfortunately with the collapse of Brian’s marriage. The bitter separation was carried out in the national press. Wife, Kerry McFadden, used the press at her discretion, releasing statements branding Brian a cheat and a drunk, and it staggered his career further, his third single, ‘Demons’ limping into number 28 to little notice. All attention was turned to Kerry’s allegations of infidelity, and she became a media darling while Bryan was turned into a press punching-bag. His charity work and quality music was ignored, drunken snapshots the only media coverage .
Still, all was not completely lost. Feeding off each other’s respective public figures, Brian McFadden and Delta Goodrem released Almost Here, a duet featured on both their albums and written by Brian. The single did remarkably well, considering the controversy surrounding McFadden. In Australia it made the number one spot, and the number three spot in the UK, despite rumours that Goodrem and Brian were an item and that she was the driving force in the collapse of his marriage.
Brian and Delta announced their relationship following the release of the single, though maintaining that they had not started their relationship until after Brian and Kerry’s split. News of Kerry’s sudden relationship with another man following the split was ignored, and Brian was branded a cheat and Delta a scarlet woman. This did not stop the commendable success of their single in Australia, but his own solo career was largely ignored down-under as well, his position instantly becoming that of ‘the bloke Delta’s dating’, and not one of individual talent.
For a long while, nothing was heard of him. It seemed he had done the only thing possible and buried his head in the sand, apparently content organising his next creative move, supporting Delta, and avoiding the eye of the media. Ultimately, it was the best move he could have made. Without a feud to satisfy their readership, the Irish press turned their scrutiny back onto ex-wife Kerry. Soon, rumours of cocaine use and her own infidelity surfaced, as well as allegations that she was neglecting their two daughters – of whom she had custody. Brian reappeared, fighting for custody of their children, whom he said were being passed around to relatives and friends while Kerry entertained different men. This time, the press sided with Brian, seemingly sick of Kerry’s constant media whoring.
With a new album in the works, a custody battle building, and a successful relationship, it seems as though Brian may be regaining his footing on the slippery slope of public approval.
Let’s hope he doesn’t fuck it up again.