The title of this blog alone is enough to re-lodge the jerky melody in your cranium, spinning it over and over until it eats into every cell of your cerebral cortex and each tiny flex of your limbs feels as if it comes with a xylophone accompaniment. Within minutes you’re the physical embodiment of Gotye’s insidious brain-tenant, an animated Latin guitar sample marching towards a sensible doom. Powerful stuff – but does it make you want to buy it?
No, of course not. It makes you want to devise a method to give actual tangible substance to MP3s just so you can smash them up with a claw hammer.
But look, most people don’t feel this way. ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ has shifted more than seven million copies worldwide since it first surfaced last summer, and it’s the UK’s biggest selling single of 2012. These are Adele figures, figures that weren’t even supposed to happen again.
This week it was also revealed ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ has become the most tagged song on Shazam, passing the 10 million mark. That means audiences aren’t just seduced by the quirky video – itself viewed more than 250 million times on YouTube – they’re hearing the plinky refrain and falling over themselves to find out more. It also suggests there are millions out there who somehow don’t know this monster yet, meaning millions more potential sales, meaning the song is going to be in our charts forever. Enjoy the rest of your lives.
To say that Gotye – and the single – sounds like Sting or Peter Gabriel has a horrifying ring of truth, but it doesn’t necessarily explain its success. Yes, those serious-faced champions of world music sold unfeasible amounts of shiny new CDs in the late 80s and cornered the market in “real pop”, but what did we do to invite that wave of earnestness all over again? Unless of course it’s a reaction. It’s a reaction, isn’t it?
Pop has rarely done its job as completely as it does now. From R&B to dance, and the ever-shrinking distance in between, it squarely appeals to youth and alienates the parents. While Gotye’s triumph seems like a fluke, it’s got that New Boring patina of authenticity but also a trace of dance music – that dance-not-dance thing that keeps Four Tet and Caribou in kudos, if not baubles and trinkets. Put it all together and that’s a lot of pockets of people who think they’re buying a pop record that’s “better” than all this flashy ephemera.
And perhaps it is. It’s got a neat conceit – plus an innate answer song in Kimbra’s contribution – and as we all know to our eternal cost it’s an earworm with a drillpiece for a nose. Only ‘Call Me Maybe’ can kill it.