The ballad came to the attention of Christina Aguilera after it was used by Amy Yakima on So You Think You Can Dance in September 2013. The songstress was so impressed with the song that she asked to be included on a revised version for the duo's debut album, Is There Anybody Out There? Within a week Vaccarino and Axel found themselves in a LA studio with the pop icon, where the trio re-recorded the tune in a couple of hours. Aguilera also took to the stage with the pair to perform the song live on the November 5th episode of The Voice.
This ballad is a stark contrast to many of the EDM-flavored hits of the time. It relies on compelling lyrics, using a piano throughout as the lead instrument.
The piano intro lasts 15 seconds before the vocals come in, and when they do, it's with the chorus, which includes the hook line of the song, "Say something, I'm giving up on you." This adds intrigue to the song, as we wonder who this couple is and how they arrived at this crossroads in their relationship.
The chorus repeats two more times, with the second line changing from "I'll be the one, if you want me to" to
"I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you." The final chorus is extended, as the song closes with the title.
Aguilera was clearly inspired by the song, reaching out to Vaccarino and Axel herself and asking them to duet. "We got this beautiful email from Christina saying how she didn't want to take over the song at all," Vaccarino revealed to MTV News. "She wanted to let it be in the space that it was already in; she just wanted to add this texture."
This nearly didn't make it onto Is There Anybody Out There?
"We almost didn't put 'Say Something' on the album, wanting to switch another ballad in place of it," Vaccarino told The Huffington Post
. "But then Epic put it out as a radio single, which we were totally against at first. Most of the music on the album is really upbeat, and we just didn't think it was going to fit in."
The song was written during a dark time for the pair, when they were in difficult places even outside of relationships. "Writing this helped us to heal and find closure," Axel told The Huffington Post. "We had never had a more powerful experience writing a song. It was 'religious' in a way. It's funny ... sometimes we joke around and say that we're both the same person. The fact that we were having similar experiences at the same time and were able to write about it was very special."
"It was the only song we had written in a year's time, but I needed to write it right that second," Axel added. "Whatever spare time I had, I couldn't stop writing it. It came out so fast, and I think we found closure in the song. It isn't about hanging on in the end."
This song was a great big worldwide hit, topping the singles charts of several countries including Australia and Canada.
It was written at a time when both members of A Great Big World, Chad Vaccarino and Ian Axel, were experiencing individual heartbreak. Axel told Billboard magazine that writing the tune was part of the healing process, but they have had to get used to its public exposure. "We're both in a different place since we wrote the song, and have a totally different perspective on it," he said "Whenever we perform it, it's like revisiting the scar. It's always a part of me, and I can always go there and feel it."
This won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2015 ceremony.