Tag Archives: creepy stalker

How The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” Became Less Romantic Over Time

Some love songs are just assumed to be romantic, regardless of what the lyrics say or how the song was inspired. You hear it on the radio. You see the music video. Like a reflex, you think love. It might be the cheesiest kind of romance there is, but it’s still romance none-the-less.

It has its place in pop music. I certainly appreciate music like that to some degree, but it only works if you don’t think too hard about it. To really enjoy it, you just have to turn off your brain and let it feel like it’s in a bad romantic comedy. This was, to a large degree, a part of what made boy bands so popular in the late 90s and early 2000s.

I remember that era. I was still young at the time. I heard all those cheesy love songs and the fanatical girls who squealed with incoherent joy whenever they heard them. I wasn’t a big fan, but I didn’t hate boy bands. I see their music like overly processed cheese. It’s good, but you can taste how bland and superficial it is.

To me, the absolute apex of the boy band era came with the Backstreet Boys and their sappy super-hit, “I want it that way.” It’s hard to overstate how big this song was in 1999. You could turn on any radio, find a random station, and hear it at some point. It was played on a loop at proms and middle school dances. I imagine more than one teenager lost their virginity because of this song.

It is, by far, the quintessential boy band song. It’s cute hot guys singing about love. You can’t get much more basic than that. Just listen to the music video that MTV played at least once an hour from that era. Even if you weren’t alive during that era, the romantic undertones are overt.

All that said, I doubt anyone who was alive in the late 90s or ever really scrutinized the lyrics. Even though the pace of the song is slow and every word is understandable, I don’t think anyone takes the time to read them in their entirety. The tune and the backdrop is just so romantic that the ambiance overshadows the actual words, but when taken as a whole, those words undermine that romantic intent.

I started noticing this years after the boy band crazed die down. Being a romance lover, I have a tendency to scrutinize all things romantic more than most. I’ve already shared some of my favorite love songs and at one point, this song was on that list. However, over the years, as I’ve listened closer to the lyrics, the song just got less and less romantic.

For reference, here are the lyrics without the backdrop of an attractive boy band and a soothing overtone. Read it closely. Really think about what they’re saying.

Yeah
You are my fire
The one desire
Believe when I say
I want it that way
But we are two worlds apart
Can’t reach to your heart
When you say
That I want it that way
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way
Am I, your fire?
Your one, desire
Yes I know, it’s too late
But I want it that way
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why,
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way
Now I can see that we’ve fallen apart
From the way that it used to be, yeah
No matter the distance
I want you to know
That deep down inside of me
You are my fire
The one desire
You are (you are, you are, you are)
Don’t want to hear you say
Ain’t nothin’…

Parts of it are romantic. I don’t doubt that. When taken in their totality, though, it walks a fine line between love and obsession. I won’t say that it echoes with the sentiments of a stalker or someone with a creepy obsession, but it does walk the line. I would argue it’s way too close to the line.

Those first few lines about someone being their one singular desire are sweet, but more than a little obsessive. Making someone your deep, loving desire is one thing. Making them your only desire is a little unhealthy.

Then, there are the parts about heartache, being apart, and drifting away. Those are concepts inherent in many great love songs, but it doesn’t quite work here. Again, look at that first line. It’s telling someone they don’t want to hear them say they want something a certain way. It sends the message that what someone else wants is wrong. That’s not really romantic. That’s an accusation of a thought crime.

Wanting someone to love you is one thing.

Wanting them to not want something is very different. It also has some disturbing implications.

The lyrics alone tell a story of two people drifting apart and separated by distance. One person wants it that way. The other person doesn’t. On top of that, the other person has a singular focus on the other and doesn’t want them to feel that way. Is that sentiment love? Is it even romantic?

You can twist the meaning through music and context. You can make the song about longing for someone over a distance, but it requires a hell of a stretch with the words. Anything that requires that much of a stretch shows just how lacking the romance is.

I’m not saying this song isn’t a great song. I think it is. It’s popularity and staying power is proof of that. As a love song, though, it’s one of those songs that gets less and less romantic the more you scrutinize it. For any song that’s supposed to convey a romantic sentiment, why would you ever want it that way?

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, political correctness, romance, sexuality

A Simple Thought Experiment On Romance Vs. Stalking

At what point does love become obsession?

At what point does infatuation become unhealthy?

At what point does a romantic gesture become creepy?

These are all relevant questions that don’t have clear answers. Those who unlucky enough to have dealt with a stalker probably have different answers compared to those who’ve never had that experience. I haven’t, so I won’t try to speak for those who have.

Even without that experience, I think those questions are still worth contemplating. They help put our understanding of love, romance, and relationships into perspective. We may think we know what it means to be romantic, in love, and in a relationship, but tend to forget that this entire perspective has been shaped by our circumstances.

What constitutes romance today is not the same as it was 50, 100, or 500 years ago. It’s easy to forget that the concept of marrying for love is relatively new, historically speaking. The idea that you seek a partner, go out on dates with multiple individuals, and eventually settle on the one you fall in love with is downright radical compared to how society went about sanctioning intimate relationships.

It’s something I’ve mentioned before, but now I’d like to take it a step further. Take a moment to think about all the ways you were romantic with a current or previous partner. Then, try to take a step back and ask whether this same gesture could be done by a stalker for the same reason. How does that affect your perception of the gesture? What does it reveal about your concept of romance?

As an example, consider the following romantic gesture, but through the eyes of a stalker.

I love you. I love you so much that I want to spend the rest of my life being with you. My love for you is so intense that I want the law to sanction it in a contract that will legally bind our love. I also want to put this ring with a shiny stone on your finger and have you wear it every day to let the world that you love only me. Nobody else is allowed to love you. Only I can love you.

What I just described is a gross perversion of a marriage proposal. In one context, it’s the ultimate romantic gesture. In another, it’s an incredibly disturbing rambling by a stalker who desperately wants to secure the love of another.

Here’s another example, but from the eyes of a romantic.

I love you. I love you so much that I want to live with you, share my life with you, and bear part of your burdens. I want to be close to you constantly. I want us to be under the same roof and share the same responsibilities. I want our love to be the basis with which to share our lives.

It’s another sweet gesture. It highlights that critical step when a romance goes from just sharing affection and intimacy to sharing lives and building something together. At the same time, it also sounds like something a stalker would suggest.

With those two examples in mind, take a moment to contemplate the implications.

What is it about these actions make them romantic?

Why do we go about romance in this particular manner?

What do these gestures and rituals imply about our perspectives on romance?

I don’t present this experiment as a way to undermine the way we go about romance. I’m a genuine fan of romance, in general. The novels I write and the sexy short stories I tell reflect that. However, I think it’s helpful and somewhat necessary to scrutinize certain concepts, especially if they’re important to you. You may be surprised by what they reveal.

Please try this thought experiment on your own time when you get a chance. If you have any insights you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

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Filed under romance, Thought Experiment