12 Gotye Cover Wins & Fails (WATCH VIDEO)
Fans have created countless versions of ‘Somebody That I Used to Know.’ Kevin Fallon ranks the hits and misses.
After the song’s valiant fight against “Call Me Maybe” for the title of Song of the Summer, covers of Gotye’s, featuring Kimbra, viral single, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” quickly became as ubiquitous as the track itself. In homage to the numerous copycats, the Australian crooner assembled his own clip package: a mega-mashup of fans’ renditions of ”Somebody,“ edited together and assembled into the ultimate cover.
“Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ seemingly taking over the internet, I couldn’t resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered,” Gotye posted on YouTube. Here, a look at some of the best—and worst—covers that served as fodder for the clever video.
Gotye Fans: WIN
Saxophones, bottles, banjos, chamber choirs. The sheer number of ways Gotye fans interpreted the hit song—and surprising instruments they did it with—are impressive enough. But expertly edited together into a five-and-a-half-minute supercut, the extremely varied fan renditions of “Somebody That I Used to Know” accomplishes the seemingly impossible: making a song that was overplayed and exhausted seem fresh and exciting again.
Obama That I Used to Know: WIN
Hope fades. That’s the message of “Obama That I Used to Know” a parody of the Gotye track that recasts the song’s scorned lovers as disillusioned Democrats who soured on the president. “Now and then I think of that Election Day November/ When you won, I felt so happy I could die,” the song begins, eventually transitioning to far more biting lyrics: “Because you won and then you cut me off/ Now your speeches never soar as high as unemployment.” Bonus points for replacing the abstract mural from Gotye’s original video with Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” campaign poster.
Call Me Maybe Mashup: WIN
What could be more grating than a cover of the summer’s most relentless earworm? A cover of the summer’s two most relentless earworms. Yet Pomplamoose’s mashup of “Somebody That I Used to Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” has the opposite effect, making both songs catchier and more infectious than ever. The accompanying Pandora’s-box-and-government-secrets music video is utterly bizarre, but that doesn’t tarnish the cover’s undeniable charms.
Walk Off the Earth: WIN
Ontario-based band Walk Off the Earth has five members. And they all play one guitar. In their cover of “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the five huddle around one acoustic instrument, each tasked with one aspect of playing. One person strums, one is in charge of the frets, another plucks the strings, one tunes, while the fifth member taps the body to create percussion. Though all 10 hands are occupied playing one instrument, the finished track sounds just as robust as Gotye’s original version.
Two Guys in a Car: WIN
In a parody of the song’s ubiquity, actors Kyle Kaplan and Nick Braun prove that resistance is futile. The comedy clip begins with the duo driving around in a Honda when “Somebody That I Used to Know” comes on the radio. The guys feign disinterest in the track, complain about how tired they are of it, threaten to change the dial, and finally cave in, enthusiastically belting the song’s chorus. Says Gawker’s Neetzan Zimmerman, it’s “a disturbingly accurate portrayal of what happens every time ‘That Gotye Song’ starts playing in the car.”
P.S. 22 Chorus: WIN
They may be too young to sympathize with the themes of bitterness and lost love in “Somebody That I Used to Know,” but they sure are adorable. The renowned chorus from New York’s P.S. 22, whose rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was a highlight of the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony, contributed their own, slightly edited version of the song to the Gotye cover canon. Better yet, the kids earned the original singers’ own stamps of approval. Gotye called the group “the coolest kids on the block” on Facebook, while Kimbra labeled the version a “wonderful cover.”
A cappella wunderkinds Pentatonix won the NBC reality competition The Sing Off in 2011. Judging by their instrument-less version of “Somebody That I Used to Know,” it’s easy to see why. The Texas quintet nails the song’s haunting chords and melody, creating a radio-ready track using only their voices. Though anyone familiar with Pentatonix’s a cappella versions of modern pop tracks like Katy Perry’s “E.T.” and Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” shouldn’t be too surprised by the group’s stellar Gotye cover.
The Voice’s Lindsey Pavao: FAIL
“Somebody That I Used to Know” is an angsty breakup anthem, making contestant Lindsey Pavao’s decision to perform the hit alongside a troop of dancers wearing slightly disturbing Kabuki-like masks all the more baffling. Odd production values aside, Pavao doesn’t have the pipes to reach the song’s soaring high notes, and the stripped-down, somber arrangement render the track almost unrecognizable.
Another example of dissonance between the content and performance, Glee used the breakup song in a 2012 episode, but the characters who belted it are brothers. The track was performed by Darren Criss’s Blaine and his brother, played by White Collar actor Matt Bomer. Leading the chorus of detractors: Gotye himself. “They did such a faithful arrangement of the instrumentals but the vocals were that pop Glee style, ultra-dry, and sounded pretty tuned and the rock has no real sense, like it’s playing to you from a cardboard box,” the singer said in an interview after the episode. “It made it sound dinky and wrong.” He later backed off a bit in his criticism, conceding that the arrangement was “clever.”
Star Wars That I Used to Know: FAIL
As “Obama That I Used to Know” proved, winkingly changing the lyrics to the song can be hilarious. But it’s not a guaranteed formula for success. Production company Teddie Films parodied Gotye’s hit by rewriting the lyrics to reflect Star Wars fans’ heartbreak over George Lucas’s decision to alter parts of the classic movies for Blu-Ray release: “But you didn’t have to change it all/ Make ‘em like they never happened and the fans are nothing.” A former Survivor contestant lip synchs in the video, which also has cameos from Darth Vader and a Lucas lookalike. Rather than take off as the next viral hit, “Star Wars That I Used to Know” landed with a loud, nerdy thud.
Flo Malley: FAIL
The Voice contestants—from all over the world—seem to have a poor track record with “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Flo Malley, who competed in a French version of the reality competition, put an odd, ill-fitting Boyz II Men spin on the track, capping off the absurdity by providing his own percussion—by slapping his body with his hands.
Sam Tsui: FAIL
Done right, an a cappella version of “Somebody That I Used to Know” can be eerie enough to give the listener chills. But Sam Tsui’s admirably ambitious effort is a misfire. Tsui performs the entire song solo and sans instruments, at one point performing nine different vocal parts. But as each layer is piled on—and each tiny head pops up in the accompanying music video—the production becomes excessive and even grating, wringing all the emotional subtlety out of the song. Factor in Tsui’s borderline-frightening facial mugging and the cover is more off-putting than impressive .