Monday, February 11, 2013

Video of the Week: "Somebody That I Used To Know" (Gotye feat. Kimbra)

Today, I'm beginning a new feature on The Freedom Trombone blog, the Video of the Week. I was just starting school when MTV came on the air and music videos became popular, so I've long been fascinated by the medium. For a time last year, I posted videos on my Facebook page with trivia and commentary and I've decided to carry that idea over to this blog. In fact, I will be posting some of those in the future, but today I'll start with "Somebody That I Used To Know," which was the most-played song on the radio in the United States in 2012 and just last night won Grammy awards for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Record of the Year. (And just in case there is any confusion, Record of the Year is awarded for the quality of the recorded performance; Song of the Year is awarded to the songwriter(s).) This song was written and produced by Wally de Backer, who was born in Belgium but has lived most of his life in Australia. He took the stage name Gotye as a re-spelling of Gauthier, the French form of his given name Walter. The song and its video have been the subject of relentless parodies, covers, and tributes, and it has become a major cultural touchstone of the past year, along with that other viral foreign video that will probably not be the subject of one of these least for a very long while.

 I guess it is a bit ironic to have this video posted on the week of Valentine's Day, especially since I am not personally dealing with a break-up at the moment. But a lot of people, myself included, can identify with the song's story, a couple dealing with a post-romance relationship: they both knew that the romance was doomed, but he wants to continue being platonic friends while she wants nothing to do with him.

 The music is an odd conglomeration of a brief sampled guitar lick by Luiz Bonfa along with a distinctive repeated figure played on a xylophone. Feeling that the song lacked drama after the first two verses and chorus, Gotye searched for a female singer to tell the other side of the break-up story. He ended up with New Zealand pop singer Kimbra, and the pairing catapulted them both to international fame. (Humorously, Gotye initially tried recording the song with his actual girlfriend, but decided that their romantic feelings did not match the emotional content of the song.) 

 The video, directed by Natasha Pincus, is notable for its use of abstract imagery, with the random geometric shapes symbolizing the fractured nature of the relationship. Reportedly, it took nearly a full day of work to execute the stop-motion photography that is used to blend Gotye into the painting (and remove Kimbra from it). I presume that her "removal" is really just her being painted but shown in reverse. The style of the artwork is inspired by his father's artwork, but the actual painting was done by Australian artist and skin illustrator Emma Hack. For a great cover version that has also received a lot of attention, click here to see Canadian group Walk off the Earth perform the song on a single guitar.

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