Gotye’s worldwide breakthrough came with his 3rd album, Making Mirrors. Originally born in Belgium, he moved to Australia with his family at the age of 2, where he independently released albums in 2003 and 2006, respectively, to moderate chart success. Somebody That I Used to Know still maintains that do-it-yourself attitude, being a self-written, self-produced and partially self-performed track.
The song samples Brazilian jazz guitarist Loiz Bonfa’s 1967 instrumental Seville. In an interview with Sound on Sound, Gotyle himself explained how the song started with that sample and then came to be: “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.” In another interview, he stated that the meaning behind the lyrics 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.”
Singer and song-writer Kimbra is featured on one of the verses, which The Guardian characterized as “delivered in a near-whisper” and “quietly devastating”. They also added that “the way her voice rises to a shout on the title phrase as ominous military drums appear brilliantly captures the dynamics of an argument.” The whole song was generally praised by the critics. Time singled out three elements as responsible for its success, namely “lyrics that speak to the universality of heartbreak, while steering clear of the cliché”, “production that conveys what words can’t” and “an epic chorus of catharsis and vindication”. On top of it all, Somebody That I Used to Know won 2 Grammy Awards, for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
Somebody That I Used to Know spent 8 consecutive weeks at number one in Billboard Top 100, before being dethroned by Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe.