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“I Want It That Way” is one of the most widely known songs by the Backstreet Boys. It is a single from their 1999 release Millennium. For a song that spent 12 weeks in the number one spot on the Billboard music charts, some fans might be surprised to learn there’s another version of the song. Ironically, the first version of “I Want It That Way” wasn’t written by the Backstreet Boys, but the second version — which makes more sense lyrically — was. 

The Backstreet Boys and singers of 'I Want It That Way,' including Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, AJ McLean, Brian Littrell, and Kevin Richardson
The Backstreet Boys | Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’ was written by Swedish songwriter Max Martin

In 2011, BSB member Kevin Richardson revealed why the lyrics to “I Want It That Way” might be confusing to some listeners. “Ultimately, the song really doesn’t really make much sense,” Richardson explained to LA Weekly

That’s because Swedish songwriter Max Martin co-wrote the song with the Backstreet Boys. Martin’s library of smash hits includes Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did It Again,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone,” and Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”

According to Richardson, Martin’s English wasn’t all that great when they were writing the song. “His English has gotten much better, but at the time…” Richardson told the outlet without completing his thought. 

“There are a lot of songs out there like that that don’t make sense,” the Backstreet Boy added. “But [those songs] make you feel good when you sing along to them, and [‘I Want It That Way’ is] one of them.”

‘I Want It That Way’ lyrics explained by the Backstreet Boys 

Most people know the iconic Backstreet Boys song. But if you don’t, here’s how it goes: 

You are my fire
The one desire
Believe when I say 
I want it that way

This part checks out and technically makes sense. “I Want It That Way” is a love song, after all. 

But we are two worlds apart 
Can’t reach to your heart
When you say 
That I want it that way

These next few lines might come off as misconstrued, but they still make sense in that they could be suggesting the people in the relationship don’t see eye to eye. For most people, including Chrissy Teigen, the chorus is where things start to get confusing.


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According to the band, the chorus means one person in the relationship doesn’t “wanna hear you say that you want heartaches and mistakes,” nor do they want to be “two worlds apart.” 

“We don’t want you to want ‘it’ that way,” the band’s official Twitter account explained. “That’s the way we want it… for you to not want it that way.”

Another version of ‘I Want It That Way’ exists and the lyrics make more sense

Shockingly, another version of “I Want It That Way” exists with lyrics altered by the Backstreet Boys themselves. The words to the second version are entirely different and therefore change the meaning of the song. They also make more sense.

I’m yours completely 
I feel so deeply 
You’re my first thought every day 
And I want it that way

My life is for you 
And I adore you
I love you more everyday 
And I want it that way 

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 

According to an interview with Huff Post in 2016, executives at JIVE Records wanted the band to alter the lyrics to Martin’s version. “[They wanted to change the lyrics] to make the song make more sense,” Richardson explained. 

Ultimately, the group voted on which version of the song they liked better and wanted to release. And we all know how that turned out.