“I Want It That Way” — The Backstreet Boys

20 years ago, nobody had heard of Max Martin. Even today, his name isn’t exactly on everyone’s lips. But the unbelievably catchy, sing-along anthems he’s written and produced are definitely on your lips every time you hear one of them on the radio.

Max Martin has written or co-written 22 Billboard Number One records, behind only John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the songwriting Number One stakes. Fittingly, his 20 Billboard Number Ones as a producer is behind only Fab Four producer George Martin’s record of 23.

This remarkable run of hits started with “…Baby One More Time”, a massive worldwide hit for a young Britney Spears back in 1998 — one of the most perfectly-crafted pop songs of all time.

And it’s continued right up to date — artists like Katy Perry (“I Kissed A Girl”), Pink (“So What”) and Taylor Swift (“Shake It Off”), The Weeknd (“Can’t Feel My Face”), Justin Timberlake (“Can’t Stop The Feeling”) and many more, all owe their biggest chart hits to the same slightly reclusive songwriter and producer from Stockholm.

Some critics and industry figures are a bit sniffy about Max Martin’s work, but he’s been undeniably successful. In 2015 he even picked up a Grammy when the music industry eventually got round to acknowledging the genius in their midst after 20 years of hit-making.

By then Max Martin had notched up 54 Top 10 songs, twenty more than the Beatles managed during their illustrious career.

The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” was one of Max Martin’s early hits. It’s a phenomenally catchy song even 20-odd years later and the production on it is so smooth and well-crafted, it could have been recorded yesterday. “I Want It That Way” showcases a master at work.

I’d be lying if I said I knew for sure what the song was about. It’s obviously about some romantic difference of opinion, but beyond that it gets a little hazy. But when a song’s this good, it doesn’t really matter…

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

But does she feel the way you feel? The only way to be sure is to ask her…

Am I your fire?
Your one desire
Yes I know it’s too late
But I want it that way

Maybe it’s gone too far. Maybe the time for words is over…

Tell me why
Ain’t nothing but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothing but a mistake
Tell me why
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way

When I first heard “I Want It That Way”, I assumed it was about two people who had split up each confirming that “they preferred it that way”. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am that’s what it’s about after all.

But sometimes we can be too analytical. “I Want It That Way” is a song that makes your heart happy and lifts your spirits every time you hear it.

When something talks to your heart like this, it makes sense in a way that an intellectually-satisfying discourse with your brain never could.

And in this day and age, our hearts aren’t spoken to nearly enough. Everything is algorithms, software and computer logic.

For that reason alone, we should celebrate people like Max Martin whose work just makes us feel good, even if we can’t quite explain why. It just shows there’s a much deeper process at work than we’re able to comprehend.

I enjoy giving my intellect a work-out from time to time. But give me a choice between something that appeals only to my intellect and something that appeals to my heart and unfailingly lifts my spirits every time I hear it, and I’ll say “I want it that way” every time.

Here’s the Backstreet Boys to demonstrate the under-appreciated genius of Max Martin…

PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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