Wouter De Backer is not a household name in North America. Neither is this Beligian-born, Australian-raised singer-songwriter’s stage name, Gotye (pronounced Go-tee-ay, the French transliteration of his first name).
Americans are just getting their first taste of this talented 31-year-old multi-instrumentalist. But it turns out we’re quite a ways down the list in terms of discovering Gotye. His first big Stateside hit, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” has already topped the Australian pop chart for eight weeks. It spent 18 weeks (a record) reigning in Poland, while hitting No. 1 in Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand as well.
You don’t have to listen long to notice what so many people in so many countries have found so compelling. This haunting, spare tune (which melds a trippy combination of Jack White-approved acoustic bass and guitar, muffled drums and ’60s-esque xylophone fills) writes the obituary of a romantic relationship. And by the time Gotye gets to the chorus, it’s impossible not to recall two other famously emotive European singers: Sting and Peter Gabriel. Simultaneously, the song’s palpable bitterness echoes just a bit of the vibe that Adele has been mining for pop gold as of late.
With a piercing, plaintive tenor, Gotye struggles to unpack where a relationship that once meant so much went so far wrong, that a once-beloved woman is now merely “Somebody That I Used to Know.” “Now and then I think of when we were together,” he begins. “Like when you said you felt so happy you could die.” Alas, happiness gives way to the realization that their love no longer bridges the growing gap between them: “So when we found that we could not make sense/Well, you said that we would still be friends/But I’ll admit that I was glad that it was over.”
That friendship thing she’s talked about? It never happens: “But you didn’t have to cut me off/Make it like it never happened and that we were nothing/ … You treat me like a stranger/And that feels so rough/ … Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”
The video—already viewed more than 123 million times on YouTube at the time of this review—seeks to capture both dissolution and vulnerability. And it does so in dramatic, artistic fashion—if not in a completely decorous manner. It begins with a camera shot that pans up a naked Gotye’s leg, outer thigh and chest before settling on his face. As he sings, paintings of fragmented triangles and shapes emerge behind him. Eventually, the shapes are painted onto him (including several on his torso) as he functionally disappears into the canvas.
When featured New Zealand musician Kimbra begins her verse, the same kind of painting has already rendered her nude form similarly camouflaged (with her back to the camera). Then the paint gradually disappears from her back, giving fans a “better” look at her body (from the waist up).
The effect is both disarmingly emotional and sensual.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.