Additional reporting by Ali Trachta


See also: The 20 Worst Hipster Bands

Top 20 Sexiest Female Musicians of All Time

Welcome to our new column, Lyrical Dissections. It's pretty self-explanatory, and this week we're discussing beguiling pop song “I Want It That Way,” by the Backstreet Boys. The best part is that Kevin Richardson himself — who spoke with West Coast Sound's Ali Trachta about his upcoming holiday show and boy band gossip — weighs in on the track's ludicrousness below.

The main problem with the song is not the plane in the video, above, to which the Backstreet Boys logo was clearly added in post production. (We find not a shred of evidence on the internet to the contrary.) No, the main problem is that the song makes zero sense.

“I Want It That Way”'s lyrics are an enigma wrapped in a riddle tied up in a pencil-thin beard. Mainly, the meaning of “that” is at issue.

You are my fire

The one desire

Believe when I say

I want it that way

So, you're saying you want me to continue being your fire and one desire. Cool so far.

But we are two worlds apart

Can't reach to your heart

When you say that,

“I want it that way”

So, wait, the “that” that I say is different than the “that” that you say? You're saying that I want it a different way? A way that is not preferable to you?

Then the chorus kicks in and this thing goes off the rails.

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”

None of the sentiments here seem to go with any of the other ones. Even worse, no further explanation is given for what “that” is.

So, without specifics, I can only guess what you mean. And it seems fair for me to assume you simply don't like it when I express preferences.

You never want to hear me say I want things in particular ways.

But why? Maybe an example would help flesh this out.

Let's pretend I'm me and you're, say, Kevin Richardson. We're going on a date. You pick me up at eight, wearing a long trench coat. You whisk me away in your chauffeur-driven 1998 custom-made stretch Jeep Cherokee. We arrive to the restaurant, an elegant, dimly lit downtown spot full of tanned people. We receive our menus and consult them, occasionally glancing up and directly into each others' eyes. The waiter arrives and, since you are a gentleman, you let me order first. I'll have the Neiman Ranch steak, I say.

“How would you like it done?” the waiter asks.

“Rare,” I reply, mouth already watering. The waiter and I both turn to you, but your face is frozen in horrified anguish.

“Baby,” you say, loud enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear. “I never, ever, EVER, want to hear you say you want it that way.” You set your napkin on the table, get up, and then, crying, run out the restaurant's front door. Date over.

Sound implausible? Maybe, but could there be a deeper meaning to the song, one I just can't wrap my thick skull around?

Nope, says Kevin Richardson. (The real one, not the one who went on the imaginary date with me.)

“Ultimately the song really doesn't really make much sense,” he admits. The track was co-written by Swedish songwriter Max Martin, who remains a one-man wrecking crew hitmaker. (His resume includes everything from boy band era hits “Everybody (Backstreet's Back)” and Britney's “Oops!…I Did It Again” to Kelly Clarkson's “Since You Been Gone” to Katy Perry's “California Gurls.”)

The problem? Dude barely spoke English. “His English has gotten much better, but at the time…” Richardson says, trailing off.

“There are a lot of songs out there like that that don't make sense,” he continues, “but make you feel good when you sing along to them, and that's one of them.”

That's true, it does make you feel good. I love that song. But you'd be hard-pressed to find one that makes less sense.

Below, the new, mind-blowing shit.

So, check this, it turns out that the popularized version of “I Want It That Way” was not the only version the Backstreet Boys recorded. There's another version out there, one that actually makes sense. Here it is; it's the same video, but the lyrics are different. (Thanks to commenter loh for the tip.)

The key lyric:

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”

!! This is like discovering the rosetta stone of craptastic late '90s boy band music! Okay, not really, but it's still pretty amazing.

It makes one wonder: If there's a version out there that makes sense — and it's the same damn music — why did they go with the retarded (excuse me, developmentally disabled) version instead?

Turns out the answer can be found on Wikipedia, of all places.

An alternate version of lyrics were written and recorded by the band in January 1999….In this alternate version, the song has the opposite message (“I love it when I hear you say, I want it that way”)… The alternate version became released on the internet via Napster and other methods in the early 2000s, and was also played infrequently on some radio stations. According to then-member of the Boys' backing band, Tommy Smith, the released version is the “original version”; the alternate version was recorded because the chorus of the released version did not make sense.

Here's some more info from that page that puts things into even clearer focus:

In an interview with HitQuarters, Carlsson described the genesis of song: “'I Want It That Way' was a play with words. When Max came up with the original idea for the song, it already had the line 'you are my fire, the one desire'. We tried a million different variations on the second verse, and finally we had to go back to what was sounding so great, 'you are my fire, the one desire'. And then we changed it to 'am I your fire, your one desire', which made absolutely no sense in combination with the chorus – but everybody loved it!”

So, there you have it. The story of a song that was just simply destined not to make any sense.

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See also: The 20 Worst Hipster Bands

Top 20 Sexiest Female Musicians of All Time

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