The first thing you hear on the Backstreet Boys' "Don't Want You Back" is the sound of a robot barking out the song's title. Then, there’s a noise like someone pounding on a door. No, a heavy, wooden gate. Then, there’s the plinking of a piano, some breathy ad-libs, and some drums. This goes on for about 20 seconds. And then, the first verse arrives: “You hit me faster than a shark attack/You saw my picture on the Backstreet's back, alright.” That line hits your ears like a sonic shark attack. You're only 30 seconds in, and "Don't Want You Back" by the Backstreet Boys has already sent you on a journey. And you can't escape it, but that's OK. You don't want this dramatic robo-shark journey to end.
As the pounding continues, you wonder why this particular BSB tune wasn't a bigger deal in 1999. As Brian Littrell and AJ McLean's voices do figure eights all over the track, you wonder why "Don't Want You Back" isn't a karaoke bar staple. As the chorus explodes with the force of a thousand harmonies, you wonder why it wasn't one of Millennium's singles.
Around the 2:16 mark, the pounding on the gates relents. You think the song's about to chill out. But as you take deep breath, the bridge happens, and, like a battering ram made out of pop hooks and powerhouse vocals, the bridge knocks the gates wide open to release the final chorus. It's the moment you've been waiting for, and it delivers and then some. For the next minute, the Boys of Backstreet deliver the most intense iteration of the chorus yet, and you hold onto the closest piece of furniture for support. Just as you realize you're sweating, the song ends. You wipe your forehead and start the song from the top again.
“Don’t Want You Back” has a lot working in its favor: It was written by pop music mastermind Max Martin, it was produced by Martin and Rami Yacoub (aka the same brilliant duo behind “…Baby One More Time”), and it was performed by BSB. The result is a banger of an unforgiving kiss-off, a slinky final message to an ex-lover who can’t seem to take a hint. But it never got the chance to dominate the radio airwaves or the TRL charts, and it’s all Nick Carter’s fault (just kidding, love you forever, Nick).
When it was time to select Millennium’s fourth single, the band let fans vote between “The One” and “Don’t Want You Back.” As the group explained on The View in 2001, most of BSB was rooting for “Don’t Want You Back,” but then Carter went and called into TRL and cast a vote for “The One.” Naturally, the fans followed suit. “Don’t Want You Back” would remain an album deep cut forever.
Put it on all of your summer mix tapes. Play it on your neighborhood bar's jukebox. Listen to it on your car stereo at a window-shaking volume. Memorize every lyric, every ad-lib, and every vocal run. Let McLean's favorite BSB song soar like the winged robo-shark that it is.