O.K., so I wanted to feature this one partly because it gives me a chance to share the marvellous clip from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which must stand as one of the great comedic moments in sitcom history, almost on a par with Mary Tyler Moore stifling paroxysms of laughter at the funeral of dear departed Chuckles the Clown (almost – nothing quite ascends to that level). It’s hilarious, the way everybody in the lineup can, at the drop of a hat, sing his part in the Backstreet Boys’ megahit, but it wouldn’t resonate if all of us out here in TV land weren’t reflexively singing along too, having likewise committed this infinitely infectious pop tune to permanent memory.
Never mind that it’s the frigging Backstreet Boys, I Want it That Way has no more to do with them than all those great songs coming out of Phil Spector’s production machine by way of the Brill Building had to do with the girl groups of the early Sixties. It’s a calculated piece of professional songwriting, cunningly designed to tickle our musical funny bones by arch pop tunesmith Karl Martin Sandberg, AKA Max Martin, with an assist from fellow songwriter Andreas Carlsson. Between them, these guys have written about half of everything that’s shown up in the top 40 over the past two decades; Carlsson has “co-written” hits for the likes of ‘N Sync, Celine Dion and Katy Perry, and Martin, well, Martin has his name on 25 Billboard number-one songs, third on the all time list, behind only Messrs. Lennon (26) and McCartney (32). He’s the go-to for Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, ‘N Sync, the lot, and has been named ASCAP’s songwriter of the year fully eleven times. These guys, in short, know how to write an ear-worm, even if it does sometimes sound like their output is the product of an algorithm, and I’d argue they never did it better than with today’s selection. I actually like I Want it That Way, and what’s not to like?
Songs of the Day is dedicated to the proposition that a sparkling pop tune is a sparkling pop tune, no matter where it comes from. Yes, there are levels, and endless quibbles to be had about which song belongs where in the hierarchy. I’m not here to tell you that something like I Want it That Way should be thought of in the same way as, say, Waterloo Sunset, and I don’t care how many number-ones Martin eventually racks up; when you get right down to it, if we’re dealing in absolutes, he’s just barely fit to shine McCartney’s shoes. There’s art, and then there’s craft, sure enough. May we never aspire to the sort of snobbery that disdains the work of a fine craftsman.
Since I cited it above, here’s that great scene from MTM.