What happened to Gotye? Inside the pop titan's shock disappearance

31 May 2024, 14:03

Gotye had the biggest-selling hit of 2012 with 'Somebody That I Used To Know', but then disappeared. So what happened?
Gotye had the biggest-selling hit of 2012 with 'Somebody That I Used To Know', but then disappeared. So what happened? Picture: Eleven/Universal/V2

By Thomas Edward

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There was a time when his music was everywhere.

Well, specifically one song, and it's a song we've already heard many times no doubt: 'Somebody That I Used To Know'.

In 2011, Belgian-Australian musician Gotye became an international sensation because of this song, which was an outlier to the chart music of the time.

It was an era when either heart-wrenching or raunchy pop music and radio-friendly dance music genre EDM dominated the charts, where artists like David Guetta, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, and Sia felt seemingly everywhere.

But then popped up a song that would top the international charts, becoming one of the first-ever viral hits as well as the best-selling song of 2012.

An unlikely hit, the gentle art-pop stylings of 'Somebody That I Used To Know' - featuring New Zealand singer Kimbra - was a worldwide smash, making Gotye a household name.

However, after his huge success, the musician faded into obscurity and failed to continue the momentum from writing one of the decade's biggest hits. So what happened?

Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra) [Official Music Video]

Gotye's real name is Wouter De Backer - whose nickname is "Wally" - and had been making music since the turn of the century as a young twenty-something.

Though Wally achieved success in Australia under his Gotye guise throughout the Noughties, nothing could've prepared him for the international adoration he'd garner from 'Somebody That I Used To Know'.

Part of the song's appeal was the stop-motion video, which was super quirky and stood out from the high-budget music videos that pop stars usually promoted.

The video's director Natasha Pincus told Stereogum at the time: "The [music video] budget was small because Wally was funding it himself. But if anything that aided its charm."

That was true, in so far as celebrities like Katy Perry and Ashton Kutcher came across the video and shared it with their millions of followers on social media.

Since its release, the music video for 'Somebody That I Used To Know' on YouTube has racked up over two billion views.

Whilst you'd think that Wally would be minted, he refused over $10 million in advert revenue from YouTube as he didn't want adverts to play before fans could stream his music.

"I'm not interested in selling my music, That's the reason I don't put ads on my YouTube channel, which seems strange to people in today's climate, but that is a decision you can make," he later told The Daily Telegraph.

His remark gives you an insight into his thought process, and ultimately his decision to step away from the million-dollar-making pop venture that was Gotye.

Due to its success, there were multiple remixes of 'Somebody That I Used To Know' which frustrated Wally, as he knew people would eventually become sick of the song.

Telling Stereogum about the song's success, he said: "[It] probably contributed to an aspect of over-saturation. There was a feeling that it wasn’t me who was shoving the song in everyone’s face, it was the rest of the world."

Though Wally did follow up his Grammy Award-winning album Making Mirrors - which featured 'Somebody That I Used To Know' - with mixedANCHOR in 2014, it wouldn't achieve the same sort of success.

So, after winning numerous ARIA Awards and two Grammy's (including Record Of The Year), that year Wally retired making music as Gotye.

Wally De Backer in 2015 after he announced his retirement as Gotye. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
Wally De Backer in 2015 after he announced his retirement as Gotye. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage). Picture: Getty

"There will be no more Gotye music. Wait, maybe there will be. I’m not entirely sure right now. There are many contingencies," he published in a newsletter on his website in 2014.

After deciding to step away from the spotlight, Wally didn't retire from music altogether. But - until the time of writing - has never made music as Gotye again.

He returned to his original band The Basics who he'd been writing music since 2002, and focused on his record label Spirit Level.

De Becker appears to be incredibly active in music, creating the Ondioline Orchestra in 2016 and setting up the not-for-profit organisation called Forgotten Futures which he said "excavates and revives vital artefacts of electronic music history."

Though he might not be crafting internationally renowned singles these days, it seems he's happier pursuing more personally fulfilling musical projects.