The Extreme Sadness of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know – A Chordal Analysis

Loneliness, sadness, a touch of regret and sarcasm. All emotions wrought out by Gotye’s #1 single “Somebody That I Used to Know”.

Click here to review the song and video, if you want.

“Somebody That I Used to Know” is written in the key of D minor. I believe this particular key is used for several reasons:

D minor’s relative major

D minor is related to F major. F major is a fairly easy key for peoples’ ears to understand, with only one flat (B-flat) and its relationship to C major (being the V chord in F major) and closeness in the circle of fifths. C major is the home base for major keys, with no sharp or flat notes (all white keys on a keyboard). The idea here is accessibility for the listener. This is not absolute accessibility, however. Think o fit as taking a familiar painting, and changing the color scheme to give it a darker tone or mood. The familiarity of F major brings about positive, happy vibes, but they’re warped into a minor key, and the clouds roll in.

Use in the chord progression

The use of D minor also plays an important role in the chord progression. Most of the song is a simple i – VII progression. If i is D minor, then VII is C major. C major, the previously-noted home base for music-listeners’ ears!The you-play-this-chord-and-everything’s-okay chord!

This sets up a severe dichotomy. D minor, sad. C major, happy. Back & forth, back & forth. The fact that the tempo is close to 120 BPM (129, I believe), makes it feel like a clock, ticking away the seconds until your life is over because your girlfriend dumped you last week.

With C major as such a starting point for your music ear, to make C major the place you to from D minor, is unsettling, at best. Oh, the misery!

The chorus is not much more complicated, i – VII – VI – VII. Wanna hear some other songs that employ a i – VII – VI – VII progression?

Dream On – Aerosmith

My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion

And, probably the most well-known i – VII – VI – VII progression (for the ENTIRE SONG):

All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan

Yeah, I’m referencing Aerosmith, Celine Dion, Bob Dylan, & Gotye in a single article. Listen & compare !

Your brain is pre-programmed to associate the music of “Somebody That I Used to Know” with sadness, break-ups, losing that special someone, general and specific melancholy, etc.