As we’re dusting off Gotye’s absolute hit with my acapella choir, I cannot help but think about how it is that this song made it to our hearts and our brains, and stayed there fresh for over 10 years (yes my dears, it was released in 2011!)?

What’s the secret behind goosebumps-inducing “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra?

Let’s take a closer look!

Although I’m sure that you can almost instantly hear the joyful and childish sound of the xylophone intro in your head (what a contrast to the tragic topic of the song), we’ll be focusing mainly on the lyrics here. (Only because I am the “lyrics-first” kind of person – it’s my occupation, my passion, and my never-ending interest.)

Just a few facts for starters: the song instantly went viral, became the best-selling song, topping the charts all over the world, won several awards (including Grammys), sold more than 13 million copies, and currently has 2 billion views on YouTube. That’s what one great and truthful song can do – even if it’s recorded at your parents’ house and comes with a lower-budget music video.

Why is the song so mesmerizing?

The lyrics are simple yet genius, capturing the bittersweet reality of lingering at the edge of a toxic relationship, wanting to both get out and never leave:

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end

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 it was over

Describing the cognitive dissonance of it all:

Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company

…And the painful desire to be recognized by someone
whose attention only makes you doubt your self-worth:

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger, and that feels so rough

Gotye describes—with quite simple words—a difficult experience most of us sadly recognize all too painfully well… at least from one point in our life.

The hit song cookbook

I guess the secret to a hit of this kind might very well be:

“Write something that is so common experience
that almost everyone can find themselves in it,
but make it very, very personal with your own story.”

Gotye himself explained in an interview that the song was drawn from various experiences Ive had in relationships breaking up, (…) the memory of those different relationships and what they were and how they broke up and whats going on in everyones minds. Yeah, so its an amalgam of different feelings but not completely made up as such.

So… pretty easy, right? laughing

No–a song like that must be lived first before it can get a life of its own. So, get a life, grab a pen, and write about it. And if you’re lost for words, let us figure them out together. Maybe we’ll write the next hit!

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