Old School Storytelling–Gotye’s Song


Gotye’s song Somebody That I Used to Know has blown up. I have a theory about why.

The lyrics harken back to the origins of songs as tools of storytelling. This song gives us clear insight into the male and female characters. We learn about their relationship. How it collapsed. Their takes on what went wrong and the fallout.

I can see the events play out in my mind when I hear this song.

And therein lies the brilliance. Music as a form of storytelling. I feel like I read a short story when I read the lyrics.

Such clear character development and plot. There is a beginning, a middle and an end to their story.

What do you think? Am I on to something? Or is it something else?

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34 Responses to Old School Storytelling–Gotye’s Song

  1. stuartart says:

    I agree – the line ‘Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.’ really resonated with me when I first heard it. So insightful. This is why we revere song writers so much, they articulate in words what we are feeling. When we hear those words it’s like someone touched a private place in our heart that we thought only we were aware of.

    • Me too! It reminded me of painful breakups of the past. ๐Ÿ™‚ It is like they see inside us and speak of the things we don’t or won’t. ๐Ÿ™‚ “When we hear those words itโ€™s like someone touched a private place in our heart that we thought only we were aware of.”–Beautifully said Stuart!

  2. La La says:

    I agree completely and it isn’t a story often given in songs. It’s original sounding as well.

    • La La, very true. The story is one of our hidden truths about breaking up. It’s what really happens inside each person. What neither ever says to the other. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I like your theory, but I haven’t thought about it. All I know is that it reminds me of my ex and it makes me want to stab him all over again.

  4. Love the song, it’s been on repeat for me for a while. It’s a great story!

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I think you’re on to something. Many oral traditions are passed down through songs. Even if they’re incredibly long, it’s often easier to memorize words set to a rthymic tune. And for all our technology, humans still resonate to stories and music. Put the two together, and you trigger a powerful emotional response.

    • JM, excellent points! My imagination took over and I pictured Gotye as a traveling minstrel singing around a warrior’s campfire.:) But you are so right. Music and stories still get inside us and stir things up.

  6. crubin says:

    Love that song! I agree, it tells a story, but the nice thing about songs is that the story is often vague enough that each person listening to it can relate it to themselves on a personal level. I also love the melody. And I love hearing my husband try to pronounce Gotye…

    • Very true. Though the specific details of this break up make them 3-D characters to me. At first I empathized with the guy until I really listened to the girl’s lyrics. Then I realized how complicated their relationship was. I shifted alliances. ๐Ÿ™‚ The melody is gorgeous. I like the tiptoeing jingle that it starts with–so light and playful against such darker emotions and lyrics. LOL. I’m still working on the name. It helps to channel my Hungarian grandmother’s accent on that one. ๐Ÿ˜›

  7. 4amWriter says:

    Oh, absolutely. I think poetry and songwriting are similar in that way. You can learn a whole lifetime in one song, I think. You can also easily love or hate the “protag” or the “antag” of the song, and you never really know if you’ve sided with the right one, lol ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I completely agree Kathryn! Seriously, it’s so hard to know which side is the right one. Even after dozen of listens I see both sides of Gotye’s song. Though I’m more apt to side with the girl. Pretty brilliant job by Gotye actually. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Great song. I think all writers, whether musicians or not, have the power to touch people with their words. I think with songs, though, melody increases the power and can make a greater impression. Melody helps the feeling get into your bloodstream faster than just reading the words would.

    • I have to agree. I wish I could package a soundtrack with my book so that the reader would not just have words but the melodies that enhance them. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • You know, I was just reading a book…Divergent, I think, by Veronica Roth. In the back she had a list of songs that she thought of as the backdrop to her story. You could do something like that. Kind of a cool idea, actually!

        • Jeannette, that sounds really cool. I have certain CDs I drafted each book to. It might help enhance the reading experience. I’ll file that away under things to discuss when I get a book contract. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. It's the little things that make life great.berry says:

    I love the singer. So lyrics not in my radar screen. Ill have to listen closer to words. Quirky music for sure.

  10. I agree, Kourtney. I think most songs tell stories, if not through their lyrics, then through melody and rhythm. Country, folk and even rap music are hugely lyric and story-based. Some of the latest I’ve heard on Top 40 stations, on the other hand… Hmm… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • I’m not a musically gifted person, but melodies and rhythms certainly arouse my emotions. Maybe it’s the usual Top 40 that has such a dearth of story-based music? I love country and I guess I take it for granted that there is storytelling there. Usually Top 40 is about wanting to have sex, having sex, getting more sex. When Gotye broke through it was such an amazing freshness and unexpected richness. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. showard76 says:

    I love this song, it resonates with me so much, and many others who have had relationships break down I’m sure! I think you are right about why it has been so popular! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting! At first it hit too close to the old pain of past breakups, but then I just realized how brilliantly done the song was and appreciated it. Thanks, I think those storytelling lyrics definitely contributed to its success. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. mj monaghan says:

    You are dead-on, Kourney! This is definitely a big reason for the popularity of this song. The male-female dynamic and video certainly help it as well. Very insightful, my friend.

    • Thanks MJ! I think so many songs that are popular focus on an emotion or an experience. It’s rare to hear an actual story in the lyrics. I felt like I’d finished a novel about their entire relationship in 3 very satisfying minutes. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Samir says:

    I have to agree with you Kourteny. I really enjoy this song even when my girlfriend plays five times in a row. It’s rare for me not to go nuts when this happens ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I also came to the realization of its story-telling quality, which is what I love in good music. And of course, the musical arrangement is brilliant.

    • Thanks Samir. LOL. I do the same thing when I love a song–put it on repeat for a bit too long. ๐Ÿ™‚ It truly felt like a novel unfolding before my eyes with the lyrics. The music is such a teasing contrast too. Playful and light when the lyrics are not. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. I think your analysis is on target. People do love to hear stories – especially if it’s something they can identify with. Good pairing of lyrics and music. Great review

    • Thanks! I think it takes a few listens to get the story too. It’s intriguing and actually requires a tad of thought. So different from most of the stuff on the radio. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Maybe you are onto something! i think too it’s the raw emotion – who hasn’t felt that way (well not me, cause when I break up I either happily make friends or never want to see him again). But most people have. Plus it’s REALLY tuneful. Lots of songs have absolutely no tune, there’s no way you’d hum them in the car.

    • Definitely agree–the raw emotion we feel but can’t articulate is so well articulated here. ๐Ÿ™‚ It is quite hummable. And it’s catchy. It gets inside your head. ๐Ÿ™‚

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