The xylophone-plinking opening, the you-did-me-wrong cry of a chorus and the he said/she said views of a break-up: we’re certain the song is on auto-repeat in your brain right now. ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ is the inescapable earworm of the year. As the man behind the tune – Goyte, aka 32-year-old Wouter ‘Wally’ De Backer – prepares to bring that song, and his three albums, to Dubai for the first time, Time Out’s Novid Parsi grabbed him at his home in Melbourne.
Thanks for the song – we can’t get it out of our heads.
[Laughs] Is that a good or bad thing?
A good thing, we think.
You’ve said ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ appeals to people who have very confused, broken relationship experiences. Were you speaking from personal experience?
Partly, yeah. The song is so much about musing on the different feelings that can bubble up when reflecting on many years of different relationships.
The lines about the ex-girlfriend who has her friends collect her records and then changes her number are so specific…
Actually, you picked the two lines in the song that are the most fictionalised or pure fiction. Other ones for me relate to specific memories.
Along with the euphoria of having a global hit, is there also a sense of, ‘Wait, I have all these other songs as well?’
I’m resigned to the fact that this song has worked its own way into the pop world, which isn’t a world I ever expected to operate in. The pop audience are happy to be fed stuff by the music media; it’s unlikely that the more interesting, left-of-centre and experimental things I do will actually find their way through. There are previous albums that have some stuff that’s worth listening to, possibly stuff that’s better than ‘Somebody That I Used to Know.’ But that song is maybe the one that will have the broadest appeal, and I’m okay with that. The people for whom the phrase ‘one-hit wonder’ means anything and consider it a slightly condescending phrase, they’re not the people I’m making music for.
So it’s okay if they want to call you a one-hit wonder?
I guess I don’t really care, yeah. Commercial success in that ultra-scrutinised public pop sphere is often antithetical to actually making interesting and good music.
Gotye performs on Friday November 23, doors open 7pm, show starts 9pm. Tickets Dhs250-750. Dubai World Trade Centre, www.timeouttickets.com.
Anatomy of a hit
‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ has sold more than ten million copies worldwide, topping the charts in 23 countries; it’s one of the most successful pop songs of recent years. But why? Rob Garratt dissects the track to take a closer look.
The music The childlike simplicity of the hook (eerily recalling nursery rhyme ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’) make it instantly recognisable to audiences on a second listen – the rule of any hit. But the recording’s true permanence lies in its inventive arrangement; the repeating two note pattern that drives the verses is a sample from Brazilian jazz guitarist Luiz Bonfá’s 1967 instrumental ‘Seville’, lending ‘Somebody…’ a warm, pastoral feel that stands out against most electronically produced pop music. Interestingly, there’s no drum kit or prominent percussive track, although it’s worth noting the huge slew of house remixes by the likes of Tiësto.
The voice In contrast to the omnipresence of Auto-Tune, Gotye’s vocal performance is highly emotive and immediate, switching between a moody, conversational baritone in the verses, and a desperate, anguished falsetto in the verse. The effect is to create a confessional intimacy with the listener, which heightens the catharsis when the chorus hits. Meanwhile, guest vocalist Kimbra provides the female voice in the song’s narrative, showing there are two sides to every break-up.
The lyrics The universal nature of the theme is a key component of the song’s success: nearly all mature listeners will have experienced some kind of relationship breakdown in their lives. However Gotye’s work excels beyond your average break-up song with a careful balance of the general and the particular: while anyone can relate to the chorus, this declaration only carries such weight when it follows seemingly specific (but far from uncommon) personal details, such as ‘have your friends collect your records and then change your number’. Significantly, Gotye says it was never about one person (see interview, left), which suggests the song was a carefully constructed hit, rather than the heartfelt confession it appears to be.
Gotye v J-Lo
The day before Gotye brings his hit to Dubai, established hitmaker Jennifer Lopez is visiting our neighbouring city to give him some competition.
Origins Jenny is from the block – specifically, the Castle Hill area of the Bronx in NYC. Her first break was as a dancer on early ’90s Fox network TV comedy In Living Color. Yet it wasn’t until 1999 that she released her debut album, On the 6, named after the subway line she used to ride into Manhattan.
Significance J-Lo is playing Dubai as part of her greatest hits tour, celebrating 14 years of perky, Latin-inflected dance pop. In that time, her generous posterior has developed a celebrity of its own, but it’s her shrewd business sense that has kept her on top. Lopez’s best-selling perfume range, L’Oréal advertising deal and role as an American Idol judge helped her reach the number one spot on Forbes’ celebrity power list this year.
High point Wearing that gown to the Grammys in 2000 – a green Versace dress that fitted like a pair of inexpertly closed curtains.
Low point ‘Dear Ben’ (2002) – a sickeningly sweet ode to then-fiancé Ben Affleck, which includes the lyrics, ‘My lust, my love, my man, my child, my friend and my king.’ They split in 2003.
Legacy J-Lo was the forerunner of the abbreviated celebrity name. We’ve got RiRi and R-Patz to thank her for.
J-Lo plays on Thursday November 22; doors open 6pm, show starts 9pm. Dhs295-1,495. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, www.timeouttickets.com.