Where were you in 1997? If you were an older Millennial, like me, there's a good chance you were listening to (or heard, in passing) the Backstreet Boys. One of the most notable quintets to come out of Orlando, Florida in the '90s (can't forget about *NSYNC) was absolutely everywhere at the twilight of the decade. One of their most famous songs from this time was an intriguingly repetitive yet oh-so catchy song off their second album, a song titled "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)." While the monster-themed music video became instantly iconic, it's the lyrics of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" that remain mysterious after all these years.
The lyrics are deceptively simple and repetitive — for example, there's four whole verses that essentially repeat "Everybody/Rock your body/Backstreet's back/Alright!" So sure, it's easy to write off this pop song as just another cheeky, energetic hit for the Backstreet Boys. But these lyrics are as confusing as they are mysterious, as complex is their intention as they are repetitive.
The lyrics of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" are just a total trip back into the '90s because the are so emblematic of their time: silly, sexy, and cocky as hell. Now, they deserve to not only be parsed, but appreciated. And maybe made fun of, just a little, because nostalgia makes everything seem a bit sillier.
Let's go broad for a second. This song acts like an announcement for the Backstreet Boys, who in 1997 are return to the public eye after a European tour and making a bid for topping the charts once again. It scans with the vibe of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" as the lead single off their second album; you would want to maintain your foothold. That's where the intro (which become a kind of calling card and call to arms later in the song as the verse repeats) comes in hot, with Brian Littrell's throaty vocals coming in the hottest when you listen:
But from here, things get strange. The lyrics are all teases and questions and it's like, guys, what exactly do you want from me? I want to celebrate your return but do I have to shower you with compliments, really? The mixed signals in the next two verses are really something.
The first verse is a really unusual one. Half announcement, half teaser, it's easy to wonder where this song is going. Like, if the Backstreet Boys are back, what are they here to do exactly? If you recall in the song, this verse belongs to AJ McLean, who is announcing the return of the Backstreet Boys — and doing it with a significant amount of brooding sex appeal infused into this verse.
It's interesting this this request in the first verse is full of sexiness, if only because the idea of McLean wooing us with words without actually stating his intentions for us is a bit unusual.
The only real question I have is: what kind of flavor are the Backstreet Boys bringing exactly? Am I going to like this flavor? Or am I going to be too busy noticing the flavor to keep singing excited because the Backstreet Boys have indeed returned, as McLean instructed first?
Things only get weirder from here, as the guys ask us a series of vain questions that are frankly, pretty tough to answer. You want me to tell you which guy is original? Which one is the most sexual? I don't know your life, dude, and I'm not about to make snap judgements.
However, I can acquiesce your request to rock my body to this song because this song is the cat's pajamas and the bees knees.
The song then goes from the boys singing about their need for compliments and affirmations about their sexiness to a straight-up party song. Like "The Electric Slide" or maybe the one person at a party designated to call out Twister instructions to the group, the Backstreet Boys just start calling out dance moves. Is this really how you want to spend your comeback time, guys? Sing-instructing us on how to dance?
I mean, you guys do have it goin' on, but at what cost? At. What. Cost.
And the questions have returned. At this point, considering they've asked twice for us to confirm that they original and sexy, it's only polite to answer. My answer, by the way, is yes to all of the above. The Backstreet Boys are original, sexual, everything I need. Please rock my body, guys... if you must.
From there, the guys repeat the intro verse, continuing to tell us that they're back and they just want to make us dance. Noble intentions, really, and I applaud their efforts.
So, what do the lyrics tell us, after spending 20 years lodged in our brains with no signs of them going away? If anything, the song proves that the Backstreet Boys are amazing at crafting a simple yet super-catchy song. But also, these guys really know how to make us feel a whole lot of feelings in the span of five minutes, which is a totally great thing for a song to do.