Backstreet Boys singer AJ McLean lovingly refers to the band’s hit “I Want It That Way” as “the song that makes no sense” — but he admits the group fought their label to keep the version we know today.
McLean, 45, exclusively opens up to Us Weekly about the 1999 hit single in the latest episode of “Anatomy of a Song,” revealing, “The record label actually fought us on the original version because they felt that because of the lyrics it didn’t make sense. They had us go in and rerecord the chorus.”
According to McLean, the label’s alternative chorus went: “No goodbyes / No more lies / I love it when I hear you say / I want it that way.”
While the band did record the label’s version, they had a different vision for the song. “It just didn’t feel right,” says McLean. “We went with our gut and we fought the label on it tooth and nail.”
The Backstreet Boys followed their instincts and went forward with the version fans now know and love — which includes the iconic “Tell me why” lyric. “By the grace of God, we made the right decision,” McLean tells Us.
“I Want It That Way” ultimately became the Backstreet Boys’ signature song and still remains wildly popular decades later. It peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 after its release and was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 2000, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
The song’s memorable music video, which takes place at the Tom Bradley Terminal of Los Angeles International Airport, also has a fascinating history. Filmed in April 1999, it was the second — and last — time a video was set at the terminal before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September 2001. Since then, restrictions have been put in place preventing anyone from filming videos at the airport.
“It was a really, really cool experience,” McLean tells Us, going on to recall the parody video made by Blink-182 in response to the success of the song. “That’s the biggest form of flattery, and those guys are awesome. They’ve become friends over the years.”
Regardless of its history, McLean is proud of “I Want It That Way” and knows the band made the right choice lyrically. “It was a moment,” says McLean. “That song will forever go down in history as the song that makes no sense.”
To hear more from AJ McLean about the unexpected history of the Backstreet Boys’ biggest hit, watch the exclusive video above.