"Somebody That I Used to Know" is a song written and recorded by Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter Gotye, featuring New Zealand singer/guitarist Kimbra. In 2013, the song won two Grammy Awards for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Record of the Year. The song topped Billboard Magazine's Hot 100 chart as the biggest selling song of 2012 in the US. To date it has sold in excess of 13 million copies.
The song was released in Australia and New Zealand by Eleven Music on 5 July 2011 as the second single from Gotye's third studio album, Making Mirrors (2011). It was later released by Universal Music in December 2011 in the United Kingdom, and in January 2012 in the United States and Ireland. "Somebody That I Used To Know" was written and recorded by Gotye at his parents' house on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and is lyrically related to the experiences he has had with relationships.
"Somebody That I Used to Know" is a mid-tempo, indie pop ballad. It samples Luiz Bonfá's song "Seville" from his 1967 album Luiz Bonfa Plays Great Songs. The song received a positive reception from critics, who noted the similarities between the song and works by Sting, Peter Gabriel and American folk band Bon Iver. In Gotye's native Australia, the song won the Triple J Hottest 100 poll at the end of 2011, as well as ARIA Awards for song of the year and best video, while Kimbra was voted best female artist and Gotye was named best male artist and producer of the year. The song came ninth in the Triple J Hottest 100 of the Past 20 Years, 2013.
"Somebody That I Used To Know" has been performed several times live on shows such as The Voice, American Idol and Saturday Night Live. It was covered by Canadian indie rock group Walk off the Earth using a single guitar played simultaneously by all five band members. The original single's accompanying music video was directed by Natasha Pincus. The video, which is approching half a billion views on You Tube, premiered on 30 July 2011. It shows Gotye and Kimbra naked against a white backdrop. While they sing, a pattern of paint gradually covers their skin and the backdrop via stop motion animation.
Gotye discussed writing "Somebody That I Used to Know" in an interview with Sound on Sound:
"Writing 'Somebody' was a gradual and linear process. I started with the Luiz Bonfa sample, then I found the drums, and after that I started working on the lyric and the melody, and added the wobbly guitar-sample melody. After that, I took a break, and a few weeks later I came back to the session and decided on the chorus chord progression, wrote the chorus melody, and combined that with sounds like the Latin loop and some of the percussion and the flute sounds that further filled the space. At that point I hit a brick wall. I was thinking: 'This is pretty good, how can I get to the end really quickly?' and I was trying to take lazy decisions to finish the song. I considered repeating the chorus, an instrumental bridge, a change in tempo or key, I even considered finishing the song after the first chorus. But nothing felt like it was strong enough. So the third session was all about writing the female part and changing the perspective. The arrangement of 'Somebody' is reflective of me moving towards using sounds that provide me with inspiration for a texture or a platform for an idea, and then through sonic manipulation and coming up with original melodies and harmonic ideas to make it my own. I guess the balance of sounds taken from records and samples I created myself is perhaps 50-50."
"Somebody That I Used to Know" is an indie pop song that is four minutes and five seconds long. Gotye uses a sample of Brazilian jazz guitarist Luiz Bonfá's 1967 instrumental song "Seville", with additional instrumentations of beats and a xylophone. It was written and produced by Gotye himself, while in his parents' barn on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. Gotye commented that he wrote the song "in quite a linear way", explaining that "I wrote the first verse, the second verse and I'd got to the end of the first chorus and for the first time ever I thought, 'There's no interesting way to add to this guy's story'. It felt weak".
The track was recorded between January and May 2011 with Gotye struggling to find a suitable female vocalist, as a "'high profile' female vocalist" cancelled the collaboration at the last minute, and Kimbra "lucked out as the replacement". He tested his girlfriend, Tash Parker, but "somehow their happiness meant that it didn't work out" so he followed the recommendation of the song's mixer and used Kimbra's vocals. Martin Davies from Click Music considered the song "instantly captivating", and named Kimbra's voice "clean and sugar-soaked", further commenting that it bears an "uncanny resemblance" to singer Katy Perry.
Gotye stated that the song was "definitely drawn from various experiences I've had in relationships breaking up, and in the parts of the more reflective parts of the song, in the aftermath and the memory of those different relationships and what they were and how they broke up and what's going on in everyone's minds. Yeah, so it's an amalgam of different feelings but not completely made up as such". In an interview with Rolling Stone (Australia), he described the song as "a curated reflection of multiple past relationships".
The song received generally positive reviews, winning the Grammy for Record of the Year. Take 40 Australia elaborated on the audience's reception at the July 2011 Splendour in the Grass festival, "Gotye's latest song featuring Kimbra 'Somebody That I Used To Know' had become somewhat of an unofficial anthem for the festival ... every car was cranking it over their speakers all day, every day ... and the question on everyone's lips was whether or not Kimbra would join him on the track. Fortunately, dreams came true ... he smashed out an incredible set climaxing with a version of the song with Kimbra on co-lead vocals that people couldn't stop talking about all weekend long".Allmusic's Jon O'Brien felt the track was an "unexpected chart-topper ... [it] is an oddball break-up song whose stuttering rhythms, reggae hooks, and hushed vocals sound like The Police as remixed by the XX".
Writing for Digital Spy, Lewis Corner rated the song four stars out of five and described it as "a Bon Iver-styled ballad for the music-buying masses". Martin Davies from Click Music gave the song five stars out of five and stated that the song is "that rare example of a track that hits you squarely between the eyes". Todd Nathanson of That Guy with the Glasses called the song an "instant classic".
In November 2011, music blog This Must Be Pop predicted the song as a post-Christmas UK hit. John Watson, who co-manages Gotye with Danny Rogers, said of the single's success: "We've never seen any song make a deeper or more immediate connection with so many people. It's a really special recording and video". Talking about the overwhelming reception and the amount of coverage received, Gotye commented that "I don't really feel like it [the song] belongs to me anymore." He further explained that "sometimes I feel like I'm a bit sick of it. My inbox, on any given day, has at least five covers or parodies or remixes of it and there's only so many times you can listen to the one song."
In the week commencing 18 July 2011, "Somebody That I Used To Know" debuted at number 27 on the ARIA Singles Chart. It was released on 5 July 2011 in Australia and New Zealand by Eleven Music as the second single from his third studio album, Making Mirrors (2011). Despite an initial lack of airplay on major radio stations, the song reached number 1 in the week ending 15 August, becoming the first single by either artist to do so and their most successful single. The song subsequently became the second-longest-running Australian number-one song ever with eight weeks at the top, tied with Savage Garden's 1997 song "Truly Madly Deeply", and behind Daddy Cool's 1971 hit "Eagle Rock", which stayed there for ten weeks. On August 2011 the song was released in Belgium and the Netherlands. After a few weeks in the charts, it reached number 1 in both countries, topping the Belgian Singles Chart for 12 weeks. Also in August, "Somebody That I Used To Know" debuted at number 4 in New Zealand on the RIANZ Singles Chart, reaching number 1 three weeks later, thus making Gotye the first Australian artist to reach number 1 since Guy Sebastian did so in February 2011 with "Who's That Girl". The song debuted on the Irish Singles Chart on 13 January 2012 at number 47, later reaching number 1 position. In the United Kingdom, "Somebody That I Used To Know" spent five non-consecutive weeks at number 1.
"Somebody That I Used To Know" reached number one in more than 23 national charts and charted inside the top ten in more than 30 countries around the world. By the end of 2012, the song became the best-selling song of that year with 11.8 million copies sold, ranking among the best-selling digital singles of all time. As of April 2012, it is the most downloaded song ever in Belgium, as well as being the third best-selling digital single in Germany with sales between 500,000 and 600,000 copies, and the most successful song in the history of the Dutch charts. As of January 2013 it has received eleven Platinum certifications in Australia, accounting for shipments exceeding 770,000 units. In New Zealand, it was certified four times Platinum. The song was the best-selling single of 2012 in the UK with 1,318,000 copies sold.
Gotye and Kimbra sing while painted to blend with the background.
The music video for "Somebody That I Used To Know", which was directed and produced by Natasha Pincus, shows both Gotye and Kimbra naked throughout the clip, and as they sing, his skin is gradually painted into the backdrop via stop motion animation. In the director's cut, it features nudity. The director's cut was never posted. The painting used in the video's background, painted by Howard Clark, is based on a 1980s artwork created by Gotye's father, Frank de Backer, who also designed the cover art for the related album, Making Mirrors.Emma Hack, an Australian artist and skin illustrator based in Adelaide, was hired by Pincus to work on the body paintings for Gotye and Kimbra. Melbourne Scenic Artist Howard Clark painted the backdrop. According to Hack, it took more than 23 hours to paint both Gotye and Kimbra to fit with Howard's background. Their painting symbolises their combined relationship.
Before its official premiere, the music video was leaked on Take 40 Australia's website. According to Pincus, "It was stolen out of our system. I guess it's always wanted to get out there. Within five minutes it was everywhere". On 30 July 2011 it was officially premiered on YouTube and on the Australian music show Rage. The music video was well received for its artistic style, picking up 200,000 views in its first two weeks, as well as receiving promotion on Twitter by actor Ashton Kutcher and Katy Perry. As of May 2013, the video has over 400 million views on YouTube. The video for "Somebody That I Used to Know" was voted number 1 in the annual Rage Fifty countdown.Andy Samberg and Taran Killam parodied the video in a Saturday Night Live "digital short" that coincided with Gotye's 14 April 2012 performance on the show. The video was nominated for Video of the Year and Best Editing in a Video at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards.
Kelly Clarkson tackled the song during a concert in August 2012. Dutch symphonic rockers, Within Temptation also covered the song as part of Belgium radio station, Q-Music's Within Temptation Fridays, a program leading up to the band's 15th anniversary. The song was covered in the Glee episode "Big Brother" and performed by Darren Criss (as Blaine Anderson) and Matt Bomer (as Cooper Anderson). It sold 152,000 digital downloads in its first week of release and debuted on the Digital Songs chart at number 10 and the Hot 100 at number 26.
Gotye paid tribute to the overwhelming number of cover versions of the song by personally creating a video remix, released in August 2012, using segments from hundreds of online covers to create a new, unique version of the track, titled "Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra". Gotye states the concept "was directly inspired here by Kutiman's Thru-You project", released in March 2009, which edited numerous You Tube videos to create a new cohesive song. A similar mixing style is seen in the performance of "Since U Been Gone" in the September 2012 film release Pitch Perfect.
In January 2012, Canadian indie rock group Walk off the Earth uploaded a cover of "Somebody That I Used To Know" to YouTube. Their version uses a single guitar played simultaneously by all five band members. As of April 2012, the song had sold 187,000 units in the United States.
^ abNimmervoll, Ed. "Gotye". Howlspace – The Living History of Our Music (Ed Nimmervoll). White Room Electronic Publishing Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
^ abWallace, Ian (6 June 2006). "The ARIA Report: Chartifacts" (PDF) (1116). ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association). p. 2. Retrieved 1 June 2012. Note: A free, open-source original online document for this reference does not exist. In this case, the original is from Pandora Archive and was preserved there on 30 July 2011.