Belgian-Australian musician Wally de Backer, aka Gotye, is the brains and voice behind the catchy pop ditty, “Somebody That I Used to Know”. The single was first released in July of 2011, is part of Gotye’s album fourth album, Making Mirrors, and currently holds the #1 place on the Billboard Hot 100 List. It’s a haunting and playful number about a failed relationship; but it also has an eerily carnival-like tone. Which I guess isn’t weird when you consider how scary a carnival (or a breakup) can actually be.
From the gentle fade in on the sampling from Luiz Bonfá’s “Seville”, to the trickling sound of the xylophone, to Gotye’s exploding Sting-like voice in the chorus, to the dropping in of the New Zealand R&B singer Kimbra expressing the female voice in the story, it all adds up to a number that is both quirky and compelling.
The song tells the intimate story of a breakup. I know: admittedly, that theme is nothing new to music, art, or life. But the thing that makes this song so winning is that it doesn’t distill the complexities of a relationship into a soundbite for easy post-mortem digestion (“she cheated!”, “he’s an asshole!”, “tramp!”, “douche-bag!”, “I’m a dog person and they’re a cat person!”). Also, it lends weight to both parties in the relationship without encouraging the listener to pick a side. Perhaps that is exactly what keeps this song from being of the over-indulgent, hyperbolic, emo variety. And I think we all know the world has enough of those.