Belgian-born Wally De Backer is an indie rock singer-songwriter who records under the name of Gotye. He moved with his family to Australia at the age of 2 and has been releasing music there since 2001. De Backer achieved a breakthrough with his second album Like Drawing Blood, which was voted # in the Triple J listeners poll of the Best Album of 2006. This is the second single from De Backer's third album, Making Mirrors. The LP was released in the summer of 2011 and went to #1 in Australia.
The song features New Zealand singer-songwriter Kimbra, who won her country's Critics' Choice awards in 2011; the award is intended to recognize and nurture up-coming talent. Gotye didn't begin writing this song as a duet, but after he finished the first verse, he realized he had nowhere to go with the character he was writing about, and needed to introduce another voice.
"Somebody" was both produced and written by Gotye in his parents' barn on the Mornington Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne. It finds Gotye addressing a past lover, reminiscing about their relationship and break-up. The song draws from the aftermath and memory of several relationships, but he told Rolling Stone Australia that one does resound louder than the others. "There is an ex-girlfriend I know." he admitted. "It was five-six years ago. It wasn't a nasty breakup, but it was messy in the sense that we hurt each other more than we needed to because it wasn't a clean break. I guess it's closest to what the chorus is about. We both realized we had to move on and we haven't seen each other since."
The song samples the guitar break from Brazilian musician Luiz Bonfá's track "Seville." The classical guitarist died in 2001 but was generously given a co-writing credit by Gotye. According to Australia's Courier Mail, Bonfá also inspired the song's first few lyrics; Gotye inked an early deal awarding 45% of the song's royalties to the Brazilian's estate.
"Somebody" was a commercial success, topping the charts in a number of countries including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was the second best selling single of 2011 in Australia.
Gotye made his US television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live on February 1, 2012 when he performed this song.
The Canadian indie band, Walk Off the Earth, recorded an unusual cover of the song. The only instrumentation on their version is a single guitar, played simultaneously by five people using different strings and surfaces. Like Gotye's original, it became a YouTube sensation, viewed well over a million times and becoming the most popular cover song ever posted on YouTube.
This version of the song was most likely produced in a studio and mimed for the video, as the microphones are too far away to capture such a clean vocal sound. WOTE did perform the song live on the show Ellen, and this version sounded significantly rougher than the version in the famous video. Despite the likely lip-synching, the video is quite compelling and very clever.
American Songwriter magazine asked Gotye why he thought the song has proved so successful? He replied: "I think it's the kind of slow build and drama that it has, the two-part story, and the multiple perspective aspect that has struck people. It's written openly enough that it expresses that confusion you can have after a broken relationship, and the way you can feel emotionally quite up and down.
You can feel nostalgic and rosily melancholy, in a way. But sometimes we often feel quite bitter about things, when you have nothing to do with that relationship or maybe with that person anymore, at least not actively. It can be quite a confusing feeling. So maybe the way the song expresses those feelings appears to strike people as quite true, and quite relevant with their experiences."
So, how do you pronounce "Gotye"? "Got ya"? Nope, apparently it's "Go-tee-yay" like fashion designer Gaultier.
The song's music video was directed, produced and edited by Natasha Pincus and features Gotye and Kimbra without clothing, but with body paint. Gotye told MTV News the clip presented some challenges, even after the filming had finished for the day. "We shot it over two very full days ... I quite clearly remember driving home at 9 a.m., after shooting all day, in a bathrobe, with bodypaint all over my face, and going through McDonald's drive-thru," he recalled. "I ordered a coffee to make sure I didn't crash on the way home. And the girl working there, she didn't even bat an eyelid. I guess it's a regular thing down in Hastings [Australia] McDonald's."
Kimbra was not Gotye's initial choice to provide the female vocals on this song. "There was a vocalist who was quite high profile in Australia who was all set to do it and then canceled the night before we were going to do the vocal session," the Belgian-Australian divulged to Jam! Music
. "In fact, we met at a festival months later and she was just like, 'Maybe that was a mistake,'" he added with a laugh.
Gotye spent five months looking for the right voice for the song, even trying his girlfriend, Australian singer-songwriter Tash Parker, but her voice wasn't right for the tune. Eventually, Kimbra was recommended by the song's mixer after he'd produced her debut album Vows
. "Kimbra has so much she can do with her voice," said Gotye to Jam! Music. "On the one hand I feel like she's able to channel all these great jazz vocalists but then with 'Somebody That I Used To Know' what I was really looking for, I just wanted it to be raw and direct. I wanted to hear singing sort of trying to tap into the feeling of it and she did that."
The poignant break-up song was performed in a different context during the "Big Brother" episode of Glee
where it was sung as a duet by Darren Criss, who plays Blaine Anderson, and guest star Matt Bomer as his onscreen older brother. Bomer told TVLine
that his role in the show came about after suggesting 'Somebody That…' for Glee
: "I had heard the Gotye song and I asked [series co-creator] Ryan [Murphy] if he ever thought of using that as a duet on the show," he recalled. "And he said he had. And then a week later I got a text from him asking me if I wanted to come on the show to sing it. And I said, 'Absolutely!'"
Gotye blasted Criss and Bomer's cover of the song in an interview with the Sunday Mail
. "They did such a faithful arrangement of the instruments but the vocals were that pop Glee
style, ultra dry, sounded pretty tuned and the rock has no real sense, like it's playing to you from a cardboard box," he said. Gotye later backtracked on his comments, insisting: "I thought it was really clever to transpose the song to two guys... It was a great idea."
The song powered to #1 on the Hot 100 in the week following its performances on both Glee
and Saturday Night Live
. Gotye became the first Belgium-born act to top the Hot 100 since the Singing Nun spent four weeks at #1 with "Dominique
" in 1963. He was also the first Australian-raised act to reach the peak position since Savage Garden reigned for four weeks in 2000 with "I Knew I Loved You
The song replaced Fun's "We Are Young
" at #1. This was the first time that two rock-based tracks had been atop the Hot 100 back-to-back since Matchbox Twenty's "Bent
" succeeded Vertical Horizon's "Everything You Want
" In July 2000.
Kimbra was born on March 27, 1990 and the song's accession to the #1 spot made her the first female artist born in the '90s to top the Hot 100. Until Kimbra's reign, Dev, who was born on July 2, 1989, had been the most recent born woman to reach the summit. She was a featured act on Far East Movement's chart-topper "Like a G6
One of the reasons for the song's huge success is its crossover appeal. It was the first ever tune to top all three of the Hot 100, Dance/Club Play Songs and Alternative Songs since the latter list premiered the week of Sept. 10, 1988.
A lot of people discovered this tune through Shazam. The Hollywood Reporter
recounted in June 2012 that "Somebody" was the first song to rack up one million tags in one week on the musical-recognition mobile app and has been purchased by a huge 8 percent of all Shazam users.
This was the most streamed song of 2012 on the online music service, Spotify, just ahead of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe
." Making Mirrors
was the second most streamed album behind David Guetta's Nothing But The Beat
Making Mirrors won Album of the Year at the 2012 ARIAs, Australia's equivalent of the Grammy Awards. Gotye won three other awards at the same ceremony - Best Male Artist, Best Australian Live Act and Best Pop Release.
This was the biggest-selling single of 2012 in the US after being downloaded 6.8 million times. Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" was second with 6.5 million downloads. The same two songs were also the top sellers in the UK in 2012 with "Somebody..." selling 1.3 million followed by "Call Me Maybe," with sales of 1.1 million.
The song won Record of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Gotye was presented with his prize by Prince, who appeared sporting black sunglasses and a white cane. "A little bit lost for words, to receive an award from the man standing behind us with the cane," said the Australian singer-songwriter on receiving his statue. "Many years listening to this man's music growing up, and a big reason I was inspired to make music. Thank you."
Gotye nabbed two other awards at the same ceremony, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance alongside Kimbra for this song and the Best Alternative Music Album for Making Mirrors.
The "duet where the guy and girl each talk about their side of a troubled relationship" genre has been around for a while - Stevie Nicks and Don Henley had a hit with one in 1981 with "Leather And Lace
" - but they are rarely huge hits. It didn't take long for another one to top the Hot 100, however: Pink and Nate Ruess hit the top spot in 2013 with their he-said, she-said song Just Give Me A Reason
In his introduction on YouTube to "Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra
," Gotye mentions that he was reluctant to add to the growing mountain of re-interpretations of this hit song. However, the temptation to create a meta version that blends together the sound and video of a wide range of YouTube covers was too great. Gotye mentions that Kutiman's "Thru-You" was a direct inspiration. The full list of clips included and links to the originals are on the singer's website.
This was used on the sitcom New Girl in the 2014 episode "Dice."
Gotye is so angered by the breakup, he doesn't even see his ex as a person anymore - at least according to the grammatically incorrect title. Most sources agree it should read "Somebody Whom
I Used To Know" because when the subject is a human being, the correct pronoun is "who" (or "whom"), while "that" is reserved for animals and objects. According to The Writing Site
, however, "that" is acceptable when referring to someone you don't know personally. Or, in Gotye's case, somebody that he used to know.