No I am not referring to views on hattydaze (though I am thrilled to have exceeded my 2000th view). I am referring to a quite different beast, YouTube, which gets 3 billion views per day (I can dream! but then again, I would have to think up something a bit more useful to say if I had that many visitors).
You might expect mega artists like Lady Gaga, Adele or Jay-Z to get millions of views, or viral hits like Charlie bit my finger…again (and they do: in order, 118 million for Poker Face; 102 million for Someone Like You; almost 126 million for Empire State of Mind with Alicia Keys; the second Charlie and his brother clip has so far been seen by 411 million people).
But it is something else when a music video by a little known artist (in this country anyway) reaches these heights of visitor numbers. I first heard Somebody I Used to Know by Gotye (featuring Kimbra) a few months ago when it was posted on Facebook (good call, Emma Miveld!) and liked it there and then but have found it has kept on growing on me. At the moment it is constantly running through my head, in a nice way. I then realised lots of other people were watching it when I saw a headline in a paper last week about its international success. I heard it on the radio today. And I started to wonder why it is proving to be so popular. Here’s what I think:
- The song
It tells a story and has a good melody. It talks about the aftermath of a relationship, both parties’ different perceptions of it – you can identify with it. It’s a two parter, the man starts and the woman continues, and they sing together. Over the sparse backing track, their two parts work well together.
- The video
It has a good video, with a symbolic concept of the two naked people who are covered in paint and then the paint comes off again. It uses stop motion type action, which reminds me of Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel.
- The nudity
Of course, it has naked people in it. It’s not in the raunchy way of many of the music videos on YouTube. You barely (excuse the pun) see anything more suggestive than the man’s feet, nipple, slightly hairy belly and his shoulders. You get to see the woman’s back and, as she turns and you expect to see her breasts, the shot goes in closer so that you don’t. The nudity adds a lot to the theme of the song and video but I guess (knowing what people are like) it also contributes a lot to the popularity.
- The protagonists
The two people who sing on the track and appear on the video are not ugly. More than this, they seem to have talent. Gotye (real name Wouter “Wally” De Backer) is the singer and writer of the song and plays lots of instruments, and a Belgo-Australian who has recently found success outside of his own country but has been making music for some years. This song has already been number one in the charts in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Wally has also won several awards in the past year for this song, as well as his latest album which is due for release in the UK in February. His concerts here are sold out. In the video, he looks to me like a bit of a young Michael Hutchence; during the chorus his voice is a dead ringer for Sting’s. Kimbra, a young Kiwi singer, is very pretty and slim, she also has a nice voice and also has been picking up awards. Most importantly, though, see no 5.
- The emotion
They show emotion. They sing as if they really mean it. You can feel the vulnerability in Wally as easily as you can see the few hairs on his chest, or the slightly blotchy skin around his upper chest. It is all very intimate. It’s not all pretend, it’s proper unblinking eye contact with the camera. When he looks directly at us for the first time on the word ‘die’ it’s very affecting. Both their faces and voices show expression. It reminds me of Sinead O’Connor’s video for Nothing Compares to You. Also, they don’t touch each other. They have strong feelings about what has happened and this is made clear without them having to touch or hardly move from their spots: Wally looking at us, Kimbra looking at him. I think we can understand the relationship and what has gone wrong between them. Feeling pain after a relationship has gone sour is a universal emotion and millions of us have been there.
I suppose in a nutshell there we have it. It’s a wounded naked man singing about having had his pride hurt, and a pretty naked girl singing her heartfelt retort. That’s what appeals to all the (at the time of writing) 48.2 million people including me who have watched this song and then passed it on. Either that, or these millions are made up of the populations of Australia and Belgium plus all of Wally and Kimbra’s extended families and friends.
I used to be sniffy about popular stuff. Today, I feel I am in good company along with all of my fellow viewers around the world with such good taste. Pass it on!