In Which I Am Impossibly Dense: Gotye Edition


Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    Thank you so much for making me listen to this song again! I was hoping it would remain just a song I used to hear.

    (Also, Kimbra really does eviscerate him.)

    I actually think I understand where he’s coming from. He was a jerk in the relationship, perhaps because it was never really what he wanted (this happens all the time, of course). He put his dissatisfaction all on her shoulders and, if he’s anything like people I know, her actions, but wanted to still be friends, because he has a hard time letting go.

    She wanted to be friends until going through the breakup process, which was probably nasty, and now wants nothing to do with him. He’s still an insensitive jerk and doesn’t understand why.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      “He’s still an insensitive jerk and doesn’t understand why.” Communicating that fact, while still speaking with an authentic-sounding voice, is a pretty remarkable feat of songwriting when you think about it. So as annoying as this song can be, it does have at least that much going for it.

      That and Kimbra’s voice is silky and lovely. (FWIW, I interpret the implication of her “We can still be friends” remark during the breakup as something she felt impelled to say to deflect some of his anger and clinginess, and not something that she meant sincerely even when she said it.)Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I actually saw Kimbra do an outdoor set at SXSW a few years ago. She played with a loop station, and nothing else, so it was just Kimbra’s voice over looped Kimbra’s voice, and it was mesmerizing.

        Oh hey, there’s video:


    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      So he’s going to spend the next 50 years of his life making the same mistakes over and over again, and drinking heavily because of it, but never taking any steps to fix the broken thing, which is himself, – and at the end of his life the other bookend will be “Hurt”?Report

  2. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    I think you’re probably right, that Gotye’s voice is supposed to be the unreliable narrator, and Kimbra’s the one that has a proper perspective on things.

    I share your difficulty figuring out what lyrics are about, and also generally have a difficulty hearing what the lyrics even are – things others easily sing along to after hearing them a handful of times, I still hear as

    mumble wumble yeah fnoo
    wiz bizibizi mumble chewww

    (probably the chorus)

    (lyrics may or may not continue during guitar solo)

    Barely relatedly, does anyone else think it’s pretty clear we’re supposed to think Billy Jean is in fact the lover of the voice of the song, her child is in fact his, and the whole thing should be read as a shabby attempt to dissemble before his wife and gaslight his mistress – which makes the song just perfect for wedding dances, apparently?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I think that is the canonical interpretation of Billie Jean, yes. After all, when she displays a photograph of her baby, the narrator is compelled to admit that “his eyes were like mine,” which we in the audience can quite reasonably take as evidence that Billie Jean is accurate when she says the narrator is “the one.”

      Why this subject matter should be deemed appropriate for a wedding remains beyond me, but the song does have a rather catchy dance rythym.Report

    • Avatar Aaron W says:

      I have since given up on figuring out why certain songs are appropriate for weddings. Case in point: YMCA. Why is a song about gay men hooking up at the gym appropriate for a straight wedding? It’s too camp even for a gay wedding.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Where do you do the chicken dance but at weddings?

        Where do you do the YMCA dance but at wedding?

        In 20 years, do you know what people will *STILL* be doing at weddings?

        The chicken dance and YMCA.

        But they will also be doing that “Whip/Nae Nae” song.Report

  3. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    Ooh, also, I really like the Walk Off The Earth 5 musician / 1 instrument cover of the song.


  4. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Ok, gang, this is really important. If you want a relationship to succeed, both parties (and genders don’t matter one iota here) really need to take the attitude that “there’s this thing, this pattern, this habit, that we get into that isn’t good and if we’re going to beat it, we’re going to have to team up”.

    Instead of, you know, taking the moral high ground and insisting that they are the bad actor. Not me. Never me.

    This song perfectly activates the second reaction in people. I’m pretty sure “Gotye”‘s pain was real, even if he wasn’t so good at articulating it. The posturing of “I’m glad it’s over” when he’s obviously trashed by it being over is classic. And of course, we all too often buy into the notion that men should not admit to feeling pain. Boys don’t cry, don’t you know?Report

  5. I share your difficulty with knowing lyrics, which is one reason I really like being able to google them now.

    I also share your interpretation of that song, with one reservation. We don’t really know exactly what happened in the relationship. Each of the characters is unreliable. While Kimbra’s perspective gives us the information we need to know, and while we can balance that with the fact that Gotye actually does most of the talking, which makes me, at least, think something is up about how the relationship is of the “he talks, she listens” variety, at the end of the day, we don’t know how much the Gotye character has crossed the line into being an insensitive, gaslighting jerk or is just someone who’s clueless about his own responsibility for things.

    That’s a spectrum, I believe, and not an either/or. Gotye’s not necessarily a bad guy, or isn’t only a bad guy. And Kimbra isn’t necessarily wholly in the right–although I think we can see she has a strong point.Report

  6. I’ve always like the reveal in Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”:

    No it ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
    Like you never done before

    He’s trying to win a break-up, when she’s barely enough noticed he lives in the same town.Report

  7. Avatar Pinky says:

    So much of the song’s meaning is conveyed through its construction. We hear one interpretation, then another, so we’re meant to believe the second one. The form is a question and an answer, a problem and a resolution. We don’t expect to hear the truth, then a lie. Why would you write a song where one person tells the truth, and then another person jumps in and gives you falsities? No, if two people disagree in a song, the truth comes at the end. That’s more consoling. We like to believe that we gain knowledge over time, that the facts will finally come out. We forgive being lied to in the first half because we heard the truth in the second.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky says:

    I just watched the video, and it definitely supports your reading of the lyrics. Also, visually interesting.

    Then I watched the parody video, What Happened To The Star Wars I Used To Know. Strong recommendation.Report