The Backstreet Boys’ single I Want it That Way is arguably the band’s signature song, which is funny to AJ McLean because he thinks the lyrics make absolutely no sense—and he fought to keep it that way.
While chatting on Us Weekly‘s Anatomy of a Song, McLean shared that the group’s label was puzzled by the refrain of the 1999 and almost forced them to change it. But he and his four bandmates—Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, and Howie Dorough—refused.
“The record label actually fought us on the original version because they felt that because of the lyrics, it didn’t make sense. They had us go in and rerecord the chorus.”
The 45-year-old shared that the label’s rewrite would have had the guys sing “No goodbyes / No more lies / I love it when I hear you say / I want it that way.” But for a reason he can’t explain, the band didn’t like the change-up.
“It just didn’t feel right,” McLean continued. “We went with our gut, and we fought the label on it tooth and nail.”
The Backstreet Boys Single Became an Instant Chart Topper
Fortunately, the Backstreet Boys got their way. On April 12, 1999, the single from their Millennium album dropped with instant success. And the lyrics were forever immortalized as “Tell me why/Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache/Tell me why/Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake/Tell me why/I never wanna hear you say/I want it that way.”
While McLean admits the label was right, he’s happy he stuck with his instincts. I Want It That Way earned three Emmy nominations, hit No. 1 on three U.S. Billboard charts, and reached No. 14 on the end-of-year U.S. Top 100 chart.
“By the grace of God, we made the right decision,” he added.
Ben Westhoff of LA Weekly wrote a whole story about the nonsensical song in 2011. After going on a mini-tangent, he admitted that he asked Richardson for some insight, and Richardson said he had none. The massively popular single is just a confusing ball of words, and it’s because of an interesting reason.
The person who wrote the song is Swedish songwriter Max Martin. When Martin penned the words to I Want It That Way, he wasn’t fluent in English yet. Martin was highly successful with pop songs in the late ’90s and early 2000s, however. He also wrote chart-topping songs for Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, and Katy Perry. So, his upbeat positivity still hit the spot for music lovers.
“There are a lot of songs out there like that that don’t make sense but make you feel good when you sing along to them,” Richardson said. “And that’s one of them.”
And McLean thinks that the song’s meaningless lyrics are part of its charm, anyway.
“It was a moment,” McLean noted while speaking to US Weekly. “That song will forever go down in history as the song that makes no sense.”
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