For the record, I don't consider myself a feminist critic, but this was just too great to pass up.
Truth is...over the past eight months I've become familiar, too familiar, more familiar than I ever wanted to be, with Gotye's ubiquitous single Somebody That I Used To Know. And, unfortunately, over that period of time, I've become fairly conversant with the song's lyrics. But they're just lyrics, ya know? Lyrics don't mean anything. They're just words that happen to fit with the music.
Somewhere in the last month I actually started thinking about the lyrics. What I've decided is kind of shocking and kind of hilarious: the "I" in the song is at best emotionally abusive, at worst some kind of chauvinist pig.
Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
First, almost too obviously, note the different attitudes toward this relationship. She feels happy, and She is willing to say that out loud. She talks about the relationship, expresses Herself, interacts. By contrast, He talks to Himself, does not engage with Her. His discourse is negative, too; He only sees Her relative to himself, as an item to improve His situation. She is open, positive; He hides His misgivings about the relationship behind a cloud of angst and terrible music.
Not only that, but...
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it's an ache I still remember
He feels lonely when She's around. Once more, He denies Her personhood, consciously or unconsciously. She is physically there; He can tell that--but emotionally He is detached. Why? Because "that was love". He misleads Her about His feelings because of some misguided application of an arbitrary emotion-construct He's seemingly plucked out of thin air.
You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
He focuses on the end of their relationship obsessively, addictively. What kind of healthy relationship has one person planning an exit strategy?
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I'll admit that I was glad it was over
Once again, the dialogue between the principals in this relationship is a model for how NOT to do relationships. After the breakup, She attempts to retain some level of civility, some measure of maturity, by trying to avoid bitterness and finger-pointing. He does not respond to Her--again--rather acknowledging to himself that He's glad that the whole mess is over. But He says "admit"! Isn't that a step in the right direction?
It would be, if the song were written as communication. If this were ostensibly a letter from Him to Her, such an admission would be responsible, though hardly pleasant. But this is an introspection, a journal entry rather than an email. The format of this song is private, personal, not communicative.
But you didn't have to cut me off
Well, She did. You were emotionally withdrawn and obsessed with "the end".
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
It's called "moving on". Try it.
And I don't even need your love
Yeah, see, that's why She cut you off. Because YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT HER.
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
Quick counting exercise. How many times has He mentioned His feelings of pain? Six times. Six times in 2 stanzas and this chorus. He obviously cares about how He feels; it doesn't occur to him that possibly, just possibly, She might have feelings too. Feelings that might bring forth these "moving on" and "getting past Him" actions.
No you didn't have to stoop so low
It's true. She didn't. But do you blame Her for "stooping so low" when you were doing things like not talking to her and building up your exit strategy?
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
Hmmm, now this is interesting. For the first time we get hints of major, significant problems. Why does She change Her number? Could it be that He keeps calling Her, contacting Her, trying to get things going again? Is She actively trying to defend against someone who won't take "no" for an answer? Is He an obsessive ex?
Perhaps not. Perhaps this is Her way of emphasizing to Herself that She is done with Him. Perhaps She's even trying to hurt Him by emphasizing their separation. But changing one's number is a significant process. It's a lot of work. It's far more likely that She's changing Her number because He won't stop bothering her.
I guess that I don't need that though
Now you're just somebody that I used to know
Again, He refers to Her relative to Himself. He defines Her by Her interaction with Him, by Her impact on Him. In His mind, She exists because of Him.
Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
The voice of Her: and She begins by mirroring Him. But there is an important difference between their two voices: as we might expect of Her, She points to specific reasons their relationship did not last. No, She doesn't specify how exactly He screwed Her over, but we do glean that She felt betrayed, frequently, within their relationship. This is another important difference between the two of them: Her negative feelings spring from problems within the relationship, and He seems bothered by how She responded to the breakup.
But had me believing it was always something that I'd done
I'm no psychologist or counselor or anything, but I'm pretty sure this is abusive behavior. Convincing someone that what you're doing to them is their fault? Manipulative at best, abusive at worst.
But I don't wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
So She tries to move on. She has grown tired of His uncommunicative, angsty stupor, and she's done with it. So She tries to move on (which eventually sparks His unreasoning wrath).
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
And that's the trifecta: He's uncommunicative, He's abusive, and He cheats on Her. This is a bit more oblique, but it's pretty clear for a' that: She did catch Him messing around with a former ex.
A disclaimer--this stanza is from Her point of view, and therefore subject to Her bias. That being said, Her ethos is much more acceptable than His; She uses examples and simple language, and makes Her priorities clear.
There are multiple repeats after this section, things we've already discussed. What seems clear is that He, the primary speaker in the song, is emotionally abusive, does not communicate his feelings, does not approach relationships correctly, views Her as less than a person, and cheats on her.
She, on the other hand, has her faults, but seems to be a well-adjusted human being, for the most part. She copes well with the breakup, apparently. She clearly enunciates her problems with Him, and She has a plan to move forward without Him.
And now we come to the really serious point of this blog. Because Gotye has made it clear that the male voice in the song represents his voice. He draws on previous experiences, emotions he's felt, pain he's endured. While art must not be assumed to be 1:1, documentary-style representations of aspects of the creator's mind, this piece of art has particularly been linked, by the creator himself, to his mind.
Hence, Gotye is a pig.
Long live wild overexaminations.