It was a year ago this week that Gotye released ‘Making Mirrors‘ in the UK, the album that unleashed upon us one of the catchiest tunes to ever spread its viral wings over the internet: “Somebody that I Used to Know.” In the UK it gained momentum through word of mouth and social media shares, but by the time it hit the US and went to number 1 in April 2012 (thanks Glee), it had already been glorified, parodied, and meme-ified for months over here. Thanks to the intercontinental split in my social media connections, I got hit by the wave of shares twice. While the US was spanking itself over the head with that amazing video, my Facebook wall (sorry, ‘Timeline‘) was already blowing up with “Some Rabbi that I Used to Know.” And that group of people who all wanted to cover Gotye but only had that one guitar.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not totally psyched about all this; I am more than anything amazed that me and popular music have for once agreed upon a great song, probably one of the best of the year. I also might be one of the few remaining humans with ears who can listen to that song without cringing, as I hear from both continents that over-playing has crushed its initial novelty charm. Have over-zealous DJs the world over ruined Gotye for posterity? I (admitted fangirl) have faith that the almost extreme diversity and versatility of his songbook can carry him through the threatening waters of one-hit wonderland, but only time will tell.
I think, at least, that we don’t need to worry that fame and success have gone to Wally de Backer‘s shaggy head. When “Somebody that I Used to Know” became viral, I inwardly worried that it would turn into the next “Sex on Fire,” the song that catapulted Kings of Leon to enormous fame and success, while simultaneously revealing them to be an ungrateful and snobbish pack of backwoods hipsters who distinguish between ‘real‘ fans (pre-‘Only by the Night‘, of course) and ‘mainstream‘ fans, and still find time to scoff dismissively at their own hit song.
But happily Wally seems as down to earth as ever, and you can imagine that the success of this one virally massive tune won’t change much about his recording digs (a barn) and production process (he records and produces primarily by himself). It should also be noted that ‘Making Mirrors‘ was not his first big album if you’re talking about Australia or Belgium, and “Hearts a Mess” was a hit single in those countries (thanks in part to another amazing video) long before stop frame animation body paint was blowing up YouTube.
Gotye himself recently released a YouTube remix called “Somebodies: The YouTube Orchestra.” The act itself is irresistibly apropos; the remix video is assembled from clips of covers, instructional videos, and parodies posted to YouTube by others. The process seems apt because this practice of layering samples and borrowed cuts is how de Backer originally constructed the song. But the video also feels like a nod of notice, appreciation, and perhaps even gratitude to the medium and participants who boosted a small Australian success story into a worldwide musical phenom with the click of a button.