But you didn't have to cut me off
Make it like it never happened
And that we were nothing
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(thanks, James Sann)
"[The song] was definitely drawn from various experiences I've had in relationships breaking up... so it's an amalgam of different feelings but not completely made up as such," says Belgian-born Australian songwriter Wouter “Gotye” de Backer of his hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Written and produced in his parent's home on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, “Somebody that I used to know” has launched Gotye from relative obscurity into the international limelight.
Located southeast of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula is home to some 130,000 year-rounders, with that number swelling to 250,000 during the summer months. Originally home to oak forests and the Mayon-bulluk clan, Mornington Peninsula was cleared for firewood when the first European settlers made Melbourne their home. The peninsula then became a military outpost in the late 19th Century, and in 1967 the peninsula became the focus of a macabre mystery. The then-Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, went swimming at Cheviot Beach, disappeared beneath the waves and was never seen again. He was presumed dead two days later, although they never found his body. Today, that incident seems forgotten as the peninsula is a major tourist attraction, thanks to scenic views, over 190km of coastline, including pristine beaches, a variety of wineries and an abundance of water sports. Although largely agricultural, villas and beach homes dot the rugged coastline in what could be dubbed the Australian Hamptons. These idyllic surrounds could only be inspiring, so it's no wonder that the sea and mountains of Mornington Peninsula encouraged Gotye to compose and record his hit song.
Elephant Rock in Mornington Peninsula State Park
After the success of his album Like Drawing Blood
, Gotye established a permanent home and recording studio in his parents' peninsula house where he set about recording Making Mirrors
. The album was released in August 2011 after the success of the single, “Eyes Wide Open.” The album debuted at the Sydney Opera House with Gotye accompanied by animators and a ten-piece orchestra. Heralded as a new Peter Gabriel, Gotye had some gigantic shoes to fill and did just that. “Somebody That I Used to Know” was released as a follow-up single in July 2011 in Australia and New Zealand, but only found a US audience in January 2012. The song, featuring New Zealand female singer Kimbra, claimed ARIA awards for song of the year and best video in 2011, all the while climbing up international charts to become the first Australian single to top the Hot 100 chart since Savage Garden's “I Knew I Loved You” in 2000. Gotye's song has since made several appearances on shows such as The Voice and American Idol with perhaps the most famous cover being by the Canadian band Walk Off the Earth whose performance includes five people playing one guitar.
The indie-pop ballad has received not only fame but also critical acclaim, impressing some of the toughest music reviewers with comparisons been drawn between Gotye and Human League, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bon Iver. As of June 6, 2012, “Somebody That I Used to Know” has remained No. 1 in the charts, surpassing Bruno Mars' “Grenade” as well as Eminem and Rihanna's “Love the Way You Lie.” Having sold more than seven million copies worldwide, “Somebody That I Used to Know” has become the biggest selling single of 2012 and one of the best selling digital singles of all time, courtesy of the girl who broke Gotye's heart.
Mornington Peninsula Freeway
The song itself is a mid-tempo ballad featuring a sampled track from Luiz Bonfa's 1997 instrumental song “Seville.” Upon completion, Gotye said, “There's no interesting way to add to this guy's story. It felt weak.” For this reason, Gotye invited Kimbra to join him for a verse, giving a momentary female perspective on the break-up. While the verses are an amalgam of Gotye's experiences in relationships, the chorus is specific to just one ex-girlfriend. “It wasn't a nasty break-up, but it was messy in the sense that we hurt each other more than we needed to because it wasn’t a clean break... We both realised we had to move on and we haven’t seen each other since,” Gotye revealed earlier this year.
The songwriter certainly has put heartbreak to good use, and perhaps he owes his ex a word of thanks. If their relationship been plain sailing, the world would never have heard this song, and Gotye would perhaps remain Down Under in relative obscurity.
~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and
The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
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