Backstreet boys

What is “I want it this way” about?

Tokyo Vice presented a funny moment involving a bad rendition of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” It’s a meta-reference to the song’s origins.

Deputy TokyoThe latest episode of included some confusion over the meaning of the Backstreet Boys song I want it this way humorously highlighting the cultural differences between the characters. Deputy Tokyo is the latest original show from HBO Max and stars Ansel Elgort as Jake Adelstein, an American journalist in Japan in the late 90s. Adelstein works for the world’s largest newspaper and is drawn into the underworld of Yakuza during his investigations. Freely based on memories Tokyo Vice: an American journalist on the rhythm of the police in Japan by the real Adelstein, the show’s co-stars Ken Watanabe, Rachel Keller, Rinko Kikuchi, Shô Kasamatsu, Ella Rumpf, Shun Sugata and Ayumi Tanida.


Deputy Tokyo delves deep into the cultural differences between Adelstein and his Japanese colleagues, set in a time before smartphones or social media and when the Yakuza’s influence and reach were much deeper than they are today. The show also addresses the various societal archetypes, including the subordinate roles imposed on women and the issue of suicide. At the same time, it explores several Deputy Tokyo expatriate characters trying to fit into the Japanese way of life, including Elgort’s Adelstein and Keller’s Samantha Porter, who strive and struggle to live and work there as Americans.

Related: Tokyo Vice Yakuza Explained: History, Rituals & Real Life Comparison

In the latest episode of Deputy Tokyo season 1, episode 4, I want it this way the show further highlights cultural differences, including the rendition of a famous Backstreet Boys song. Returning from an encounter with a Yakuza oyabun, Sato (Kasamatsu) begins to sing along with I want it this way by the Backstreet Boys, saying that no other band would have “the courage to make a song about a man and a woman who that. Sato emphasizes “that” of the song, implying it’s about sex, at which Adelstein laughs, saying the song isn’t about that. Later, Ansel Elgort’s Adelstein asks his Japanese journalist friends what they think the song is about, and they believe the same as Sato. Adelstein relents, shaking his head, but accepting that there is no way to convince them otherwise.

What “I Want It That Way” Is Really About

backstreet boys tokyo vice i want it like this

The real meaning of I want it this way has always been a source of confusion, even in the United States. The lyrics were repeatedly analyzed and the Backstreet Boys themselves said the song didn’t make much sense. The funny reason is that it was written by Swedish songwriter Max Martin, who barely spoke English at the time. Martin has written many hit songs, including “…Baby One More Time” by star Britney Spears. “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd and the Backstreet Boys’ other big hit, “Everybody”. These songs, however, weren’t hits because of the lyrics, as much as the beats and vocals behind them. Interestingly, “I Want It That Way” was rewritten and remade to make more sense, but the band ultimately decided to go with the more confusing version because it just sounded better.

The Backstreet Boys’ alternate version of the song (via YouTube) makes much more sense and clarifies that it’s ultimately about a couple in love working through their issues of distance and lies in their relationship that the singer wants to hear her significant other saying they want the same thing in their relationship, rather than heartbreak and mistakes. Even this explanation can be somewhat confusing, but it makes more sense than the original version, which is ultimately really well-executed nonsense. That said, neither version makes any connection to gender or “want it so” by way of allusion, as the character of Ansel Elgort tries to explain. Since Americans are confused by the lyrics, it’s not hard to imagine that a Japanese listener might misinterpret the song as being about sex. Its entire construction is a perfect example of being lost in translation, reflecting the themes of Deputy Tokyo perfectly, making the funny moment a bigger commentary on the language barrier presented in the show.

Next: Tokyo Vice True Story Explained (& What The TV Show Changes)

New episodes of Deputy Tokyo airs Thursdays on HBO Max.

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