The Australian artist Gotye has been big in his home country for several years, but this winter, one particular song started an avalanche. "Somebody That I Used to Know," from the album Making Mirrors, has been a massive hit everywhere it's landed: the U.K., Germany, South Africa, Israel and now here in the U.S. It even inspired a YouTube cover that's become a runaway hit all its own.
Wouter "Wally" De Backer, the man behind Gotye, tells NPR's Laura Sullivan that he was as surprised as anyone by the song's popularity.
"I wouldn't finish a song if I don't think it has something special about it," he says. "[But] I certainly didn't listen to the final playback and go, you know, 'Punch the sky, that's it! Hitsville, here we come!' "
The song is actually a duet: It features a verse by the Australian New Zealand singer Kimbra, which contradicts the lovelorn narrative of De Backer's lyrics up to that point. De Backer says deciding to add a second voice almost kept the song from getting finished.
"I actually wrote it fairly quickly," he says. "When I struck upon the idea of introducing another perspective, I wrote the female part. Then the big challenge ... was all about trying to find the right female vocalist to complete it. And that was a lot of waiting."
His patience paid off: "Somebody That I Used to Know" is currently the No. 3 song in the U.S., according to the Billboard pop chart. In spite of his swift success, De Backer says he still doesn't feel like a rock star.
"Sometimes I feel like I've become less of a musician and more a tinkerer, a cobbler, a self-made producer and songwriter," he says. "It probably took seven or eight years before I took a chance and quit my day job."