“I Want It That Way” is arguably The Backstreet Boys’ biggest song. It’s also undeniably their most perplexing. While grandparents, drunken frat boys, teeny boppers and children learning their first words can confidently sing along to the chorus, none of them could say what this song is actually about. Neither can BSB, and they’ve been singing it for fourteen years. I’m going to take this tune line by line to see if I can find out what way Backstreet wants it.

You are my fire

This is a pretty clear metaphor. The mystery woman is Brian’s passion, his inspiration, his eternal flame.

my one desire

Also quite clear. She is the only thing he desires in life. It might not hurt to expand your interests, Brian, but the sentiment is sweet.

believe when i say

I’ll believe anything when you sing it to me in that sensual voice. Just say it.

I want it that way

Okay, here’s where things start to derail a bit. I get it. I am supposed to believe that you want it “that way” (or “that-a-way”). But what way is that way? That this girl is your fire and one desire? You already said that, and you’re singing a love song to this mystery woman. If you didn’t want her to be your fire and desire and all of that, this would be a far less upbeat tune. Maybe Nick can shed some light on the situation.

But we are two worlds apart

Not literally (or maybe literally; who knows where this girl is), but it’s a nice figure of speech. Nick is commenting on some sort of emotional separation between him and mystery girl. Maybe she’s an Uptown Girl who hasn’t realized that Nick is her downtown man, a la Billy Joel. I feel for you, Nickolas.

can’t reach to your heart

Clearly not. Nick’s a musician, not a cardiologist. And this girl is probably closing herself off emotionally, refusing to communicate with him, etc.

when you say

We’re about to find out what this girl says to make Nick unable to connect with her on a deeper level. I’m so excited!

I want it that way

Huh. Brian wanted it that way, and she was supposed to believe him when he said it. Therefore, wanting it that way and saying so is positive. Right? Wrong. Now the girl is saying that she wants it that way and Nick is claiming this is why he cannot access her heart. So are she and Brian not wanting the same way? Does this girl want to be two worlds apart from Nick? Who could possibly want that? So many questions…

Tell me why

Yes, please do.

ain’t nothing but a heartache

Oh, you’re asking why everything is a heartache. Probably because you made this girl your one desire in life, but she is emotionally withholding and wants all sorts of ways that you don’t want.

ain’t nothing but a mistake

It was a mistake to think that you could only want one thing in life. What happens when that one thing is not one but TWO worlds apart and she wants it in a way that is not the right way to want it? You get some serious heartache, that’s what happens.

tell me why I never wanna hear you say

What don’t you want to hear, BSB?

I want it that way

But what way is “that way”? How is this girl supposed to find the right way to want it and to express that to you if she has no idea what you are talking about? A.J., help me out here.

Am I your fire?

You just said this woman was your fire. I know you’re having some trouble reaching to her heart, but hopefully she reciprocates your feelings.

Your one desire?

Two things: (1) this is starting to sound a little desperate and (2) you probably should have confirmed this BEFORE you made her your one desire.

Yes I know it’s too late

Are you sure about that? Because here you are, singing a song about how she’s your desire and fire despite being worlds apart.

But I want it that way

The way that she shouldn’t want it? Do you want to want her despite the fact that your relationship (if ever there was one) is slowly crumbling? Do you want it to be too late to salvage your chances with your one desire?

Tell me why


Aint nothing but a heartache

You’re bringing a lot of it on yourself.

Aint nothing but a mistake

Maybe you wouldn’t be in this position if you didn’t send mixed messages. You can’t want it that way and not want your one desire to also want it that way. It’s confusing!

Tell me why i never wanna hear you say

Let me guess…

I want it that way

But why can YOU want it that way?! Kevin, you’re a deep thinker. What’s the answer?

Now I can see that we’re falling apart

Probably because this girl has no idea what you want from her. It’s also possible she doesn’t know you exist and this is just a crush from afar.

from the way that it used to be, yeah

You’re just giving me more questions. How did it used to be? She was only one world apart? No worlds apart? She was one of a few desires?

no matter the distance, I want you to know

How far away are you? Still the two worlds, I assume. What should she know?

that deep down inside of me

You’ve got to be kidding me. Howie, any thoughts?

You are my fire

I guess we’re back at square one.

the one desire

Really? After all of this, after all of the questions and acknowledging some serious flaws in this relationship, she is still your ONLY desire? I don’t even want to hear about your heartache again. You deserve it.

you are, you are, you are, you are


don’t wanna hear you say

The ONLY thing I want to hear you say/sing is what the heck way you want it/she wants it/she shouldn’t want it/you don’t want it.

ain’t nothing but a heartache

Do you not want to hear her say this? Because you already said it several times, so that would be hypocritical.

ain’t nothing but a mistake

I just don’t know anymore.

I never wanna hear you say

If you don’t want to hear it, then maybe you should stop saying it!

I want it that way


And what is “it”??? Oh my God, just tell me!

*my head explodes somewhere in the repeated chorus and I black out*

Cause, I want it that way

I want it your way, BSB. Whatever way that is.

You can read more from Lisa A. on her blog.

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