Gotye says “Somebody I That I Used To Know” almost didn’t happenBy Ricardo Baca | August 22nd, 2012 | No Comments »
I’m thinking of a song. You’ve surely heard it, and you’ve possibly sung along with its ubiquitous chorus: “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”
Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” has become the biggest song of 2012, and its infectious bounce and memorable melody has taken over our collective short-term memory as much as it has dominated the airwaves.
Yes, radio has loved the hit song since its January release here in the U.S. — a little too much, even aficionados will agree. Fans need hear only one of those tuneful plucks or snippets of his signature vocals — which sail along like a youthful Peter Gabriel, a post-Police Sting — and they’re prepped to sing along. The single is utter pop bliss, and its bitter lyrics are as love-stung as they are hurt, vengeful.
And to think Gotye, a.k.a. Wally De Backer — who headlines Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday — almost didn’t include the song on his 2011 release “Making Mirrors.”
” ‘Eyes Wide Open’ was already the lead single in Australia,” De Backer said last week from his home outside of Melbourne. “I already had ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ written. I felt that it had some kind of spark to it. I didn’t feel that it would be a crossover pop song.
“If anything, while I was writing it, I was conscious that existing fans of my music would think I was repeating some of the material I had covered in ‘Hearts a Mess.’ ”
Sure enough, his 2007 song “Hearts a Mess” was a massive hit in Australia — and its moody, mixed-up music paired with lovesick ruminations bears striking resemblance to the international hit that followed, “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
“Those songs are connected, in that they’re the more melancholic and melodramatic stuff that I do,” De Backer said. “But they’re also very different songs, in their tone. And it was on my mind: ‘Should I let myself write this song? Am I trying hard enough?’ And that’s why it was a great to have another perspective in the song.”
The other perspective, of course, is Kimbra, who gives the song its feminine voice. The male-female back-and-forth connected with plenty of fans the world over, and even though De Backer has been celebrating the song’s success abroad for a while now, the ride is hardly over.
“I feel like I’m living very much in the moment, even though at the moment my calendar is planned for at least the next seven months,” De Backer said. “Mainly it’s this record, and that’s touring — travel, shows, promo, soundchecks, the odd meet-and- greet, keeping track of my e-mails and attempting to do something on social networks.
De Backer’s latest project is “Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra,” a mash-up of the many tribute videos people made for “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
“Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ seemingly taking over their own area of the Internet,” De Backer offers in the YouTube description, “I couldn’t resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered.”
Not only does the mash-up cover everything from metal to new age, a cappella to classical, instructional to soul, but it also touches poignantly on the undeniable impact the song has had on our collective conscious.
Overplayed by radio deejays or not, this song captured our attention and inspired us and helped us through hard times. Its striking, artful video is one of the most successful in YouTube history with more than 300 million views. And the sales and airplay have followed, setting other milestones . Gotye’s own mash-up debuted Monday morning and captured 2 million views in its first three days.
As the song has blown up and been played out — and sold millions of downloads — something has been lost in the process for De Backer.
“As amazing as a success as ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ has been, and as fantastic as it is, the positive response to the song creatively and financially and the things it will bring and the potential for making more music is fantastic,” De Becker said. “But the song got so big that there’s a certain sheen of specialness that you have to let go of.”
In fact, the success has forced De Backer to question the quality of his hit song.
“The single and album have enjoyed more commercial success than I could have ever imagined or hoped for,” he said. “I’m happy. It’s an interesting realm. It all seems relative. Some of the most amazing music that I hold dear that is very deserving of a large audience sells nothing, and meanwhile the mediocre, terrible stuff sells millions.
“Now that I’ve sold millions, where do I lie? I don’t know. I guess I’m happy with the fact that I’ve made music that I never intended to crossover commercially. But mostly on its own terms, it’s done really well and given me the ability to do what I need to do creatively.”