The Nonsensical Lyrics Of “I Want It That Way,” Explained. Sorta.

Carl Williott | October 3, 2016 2:49 pm

Backstreet Boys‘ 1999 hit “I Want It That Way” makes no sense. It’s one of those eternally confusing love songs, like Meat Loaf‘s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” that rely on some odd syntax and semantics to make for a memorable hook.

It starts innocuously enough: “You are my fire. The one desire. Believe, when I say, I want it that way.” OK, you think. That is so romantic and I can get on board with those feelings. But then at the chorus it goes off the rails, suddenly becoming a breakup song. You know this. “Tell me why / Ain’t nothing but a heartache / Tell me why / Ain’t nothing but a mistake / Tell me why / I never want to hear you say / I want it that way.”

Where did this conflict come from? When did the definition of “that” change? Well, the Boys shed some light on the jumbled romance of the song in a recent interview with the Huffington Post. Basically, there’s no mystery to untangle, it just flat-out doesn’t make sense, and a version with more discernible logic didn’t sound as good.

“Well it’s funny, we actually were OK with the lyrics when we heard it first,” [Nick] Carter told HuffPost. “And then the president of JIVE records at that time ― I mean he’s a genius ― but he and some of the A&R people wanted to change the lyrics.”

“To make the song make more sense,” [Kevin] Richardson chimed in.

“We hired some really well known producers at the time to redo the song,” Carter continued. “So, there was another version of the song out there and then we listened to it back. Then, we as a group voted on it and said, ‘No.'”

Richardson went on to explain the reasoning behind their decision: “I think the newer version or the second version that we did that was more of a literal context didn’t … it was the rhyming scheme that didn’t feel right. Yeah, it just didn’t feel as good, so sometimes you just got to go with what feels right.” Plus, it kept the song open to interpretation for everyone singing along, which certainly didn’t hurt its longevity.

This may not be news to the real BSB diehards out there, but that “sensical” version has popped up online before, and its lyrics really do clear things up: “No goodbyes / Ain’t nothing but a heartache / No more lies / Ain’t nothing but a mistake / That is why / I love it when I hear you say / I want it that way.”