What way do you not want it to be?


The Backstreet Boys Discuss The Meaning Behind “I Want It That Way”

by Devan McGuinness

It can be hard to predict what song or artist is going to hit superstar status, but it’s easy to recognize when they do. The Backstreet Boys achieved both those marks when the group of 5 guys burst onto the music scene in 1995 when they released their first single, “We’ve Got It Goin’ On.” From there, the group hit mega status and their biggest hit “I Want It That Way” was all over the radio in 1999. Now, a shocking 21 years after that song came out, the boy band is finally admitting the song makes no sense.

The Backstreet Boys consists of group members Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, AJ McLean, and Howie Dorough. Back in the day, they were the biggest boy group and they traveled all over the world performing to stadiums full of screaming fans. Now they’re all dads: Richardson, Carter, McLean, and Dorough each have 2 children, and Littrell has one. The group been off and on in the public eye until 2019 when they announced with another album which debuted at number one.

The group is currently gearing up for their DNA World Tour and recently appeared on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. During the episode, a fan called in and asked the boys the question that has been on all our minds since 2009. The fan asked, “In your song ‘I Want It That Way,’ why do you sing ‘I never want to hear you say/I want it that way’? What way do you not want it to be?”

It was such a good question. We’ve all been singing these lyrics for years without understanding what it means, and the boys set it straight for us. It makes no sense, and turns out there’s no reason behind those lyrics at all. And they all know it.

“First of all, the song makes no sense,” McLean answers. “There was a completely different version of the song that actually made sense, and thankfully we decided to go back to the one that didn’t make sense.” Adding, “I don’t think it would’ve been as big as it was, had it made sense.”

He’s totally right, too. The song is so memorable because it makes no sense. Another example of this theory is the girl group Spice Girls and their “zigga-zig-ah” line from their song “Wannabe.” But let’s be totally honest here… none of The Backstreet Boys songs make sense, but I definitely want it that way.