20 years later, 'I Want It That Way' songwriter discusses what the mysterious lyrics actually mean
Yep, the song was released in April 1999!
Hot off the back of their first two albums, Backstreet Boys in 1996 (which gave us 'Quit Playing Games With My Heart'), and Backstreet's Back in 1997 (which gave us 'Everybody' and 'As Long As You Love Me'), the boy band were gearing up for album number three, Millennium, due for release in 1999, and they needed a HUGE first single to maintain momentum.
In comes songwriter and producer extraordinaire Max Martin (who is still going strong today), and his new co-writer Andreas Carlsson (who went on to write songs for Westlife and, eh, Jedward) brought them their new track, 'I Want It That Way'.
History tells us that it would indeed go on to be one of the biggest songs of their career, as well as one of the biggest selling singles of all time, but originally, the management of the Backstreet Boys wanted Martin and Carlsson to rewrite some of the lyrics, because they felt they were too confusing and vague.
Eventually, things came back around to their original version, but as Carlsson tells Billboard on the track's 20th anniversary, the management were right in thinking the song didn't make huge amounts of sense:
'Yeah, it makes absolutely no sense. It doesn’t really mean much. There were a lot of songs at the time like that. Take [Meat Loaf’s] 'I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).' Do what? It was a title which was of its time, and the sound of the words were just intriguing.
"Then we tried to turn that into a story, but everything for the Backstreet Boys was made to be universal - even for people who didn’t speak English. So, it was like, 'This is an anthem that anyone can sing along with.'
"It became like a mysterious song. People were looking for deeper meaning when there was no deeper meaning… it was just that the verses sounded great. And were written by Swedes."
So there you have it.
It both means nothing, and means whatever you want it to mean.
Regardless, it still resulted in one of the best jokes in recent TV;
Clip via Brooklyn Nine-Nine