Say Something (A Great Big World song)

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"Say Something"
Single by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera
from the album Is There Anybody Out There?
Released September 3, 2013 (2013-09-03)
Format
Recorded 2013
Genre Indie pop
Length 3:53
Label Epic
Writer(s)
Producer(s) Dan Romer
A Great Big World singles chronology
"This Is the New Year"
(2013)
"Say Something"
(2013)
"I Really Want It"
(2014)
Christina Aguilera singles chronology
"We Remain"
(2013)
"Say Something"
(2013)

"Say Something" is a song by American indie pop duo A Great Big World from their debut album, Is There Anybody Out There? (2013). Written by the duo members—Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino—alongside Mike Campbell, the song was originally recorded by Axel for his solo album This Is the New Year (2011). It was later released as a single by the duo on September 3, 2013, by Epic Records. Following its usage on American reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance, the track gained attention from singer Christina Aguilera, who wanted to collaborate with A Great Big World on the song. Quickly afterwards, a re-recorded version of "Say Something" with Aguilera was released on November 4, 2013.

"Say Something" is a slow-tempo indie pop piano ballad which talks about a breakup, where the lover is implored to make a statement that could potentially reverse plans, with the singers expressing humility, sadness and regret. In the single version with Aguilera, she plays a ghost of the lover to whom the song is addressed as she traces the steps of the lead vocal. The song was praised by music critics for its powerful lyrics, the emotional composition and Aguilera's vocal delivery. At the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, the song earned A Great Big World and Aguilera a Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

"Say Something" did not sell significantly until the version with Aguilera was available. It debuted at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after A Great Big World and Aguilera performed the song on The Voice. It eventually peaked at number four and has since sold over four million copies in the United States. It also topped the singles charts in Australia, Belgium, and Canada. A music video was released on November 19, 2013, featuring the trio singing as people "act out the heartbreaking lyrics." To further promote "Say Something", A Great Big World and Aguilera performed the track at the American Music Awards of 2013.

Background and release[edit]

"Say Something" was originally released on February 8, 2011 on band member Ian Axel's solo album This Is the New Year with the song featuring harmonies by guest vocalist Jenny Owen Youngs, but the track went largely unnoticed until it received attention after being used on the TV series So You Think You Can Dance on season 10's semi final episode contemporary dance routine by the eventual champion Amy Yakima. This sparked a chain reaction that eventually made its way to Christina Aguilera.[1] "'Say Something' was danced to on So You Think You Can Dance almost two months ago, and so many people responded to it," Axel tells Billboard. "In that whole process, someone on our team played it for someone on Christina's team, and we got a call that Christina wanted to record it, and then, literally a week later, we were in L.A. recording it with her."[1] The pair considers Aguilera as having "one of the top voices in the world," says Chad Vaccarino, and re-recorded "Say Something" with her in two hours. "We look at Christina as this icon who can say anything and make it sound amazing," says Vaccarino.[1]

About approaching to the duo to re-record the track, Aguilera said, "Somebody sent me the song (...) and it's just the most simplest song that doesn't have to fit a formula to be heard and to be appreciated, so I just heard it and I've never done anything like this before and I was just like, 'You know', I just started to hear a harmony part over it and I was like, 'get in touch with these guys and see if they wanna get in the studio and sit behind the piano and just vibe together and see what happens...' and we did, and they're so humble, so sweet, so down to earth, and I'm all about that and supporting that, and we came together so organically and it was fun."[2] Aguilera also added, "It's so quiet and still and steady and in a way pleading," she describes the song. "I'm only taking on projects that feel good to me and represent, as always, a purpose of the here and now in my life."[3]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

A 23 second sample of "Say Something".

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"Say Something" was written by Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino, and Mike Campbell while production was handled by Dan Romer.[4] Sonically, the indie pop,[5][6] piano ballad[6][7] is underlined by a piano and string arrangement, which was performed by Los Angeles string players Mark Robertson, Andrew Duckles, and Vanessa Freebairn-Smith.[4] The lyrics evoke the emotion felt when choosing to leave a failed relationship even though love still remains, imploring the lover to make a statement that could potentially reverse plans.[4] "Say something, I'm giving up on you/ I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you," Ian Axel and Christina coo.[8]

For Bill Lamb of About.com, the chorus "Say something, I'm giving up on you", "is brilliant."[4] Lamb also explained the song, writing that, "instead of being filled with anger and desperation, it is a song expressing a powerful combination of humility, sadness and regret."[4] The song was written at a time when both members were experiencing individual heartbreak. "Writing the song was part of the healing process," says Axel. "Whenever we perform it, it's like revisiting the scar. It's always a part of me, and I can always go there and feel it."[1] Lewis Corner of Digital Spy noted that with its "stripped-down melody and emotive lyrics", the song becomes the antithesis of the club-thumping blow-outs radio currently prefers."[8]

Critical response[edit]

The personal lyrics, written by the band members (pictured), were highly praised by critics.

"Say Something" received universal acclaim from music critics. Rick Florino of Artist Direct gave the song 5 out of 5 stars, calling it "Oscar-worthy", with "a cinematic heft to the track that makes it utterly vivid and vibrant." Florino also praised Aguilera's performance, calling it "one of her best ever, fortifying the hook and harmony masterfully."[9] Lewis Corner of Digital Spy praised Aguilera for "reminding us why she always sounds infinitely better when heading up a ballad", calling it "a beautifully simplistic ode to heartache that evidently connects."[8]

Robert Copsey also of Digital Spy called it "one of [Aguilera's] most understated outings in recent memory, and it's all the better for it."[10] Jon O'Brien of Yahoo! Music noted that the song features Aguilera's "most restrained and indeed impressive vocal in years", calling the song " as emotive as it is theatrical."[11] Melinda Newman of HitFix praised Aguilera for "show[ing] admirable restraint vocally, beautifully pairing with Axel's vocals."[12] Sam Lansky of Idolator wrote that the song "was already pretty heartrending, but Aguilera's vocals provide some lovely support and additional pathos; it's a relief to hear that she enriches, rather than overwhelms, the track."[7] Bradley Stern of MuuMuse praised the "slow, sad piano melody", the "mournful strings," calling it "a haunting production – made even better by the Stripped diva, proving once again that less is often more." Stern also praised Aguilera for showing a simple side of her voice, writing that she "doesn't even have her own verse or chorus – she resigns to delivering subtle, yet effective, backing vocals for the entirety of the re-recording. It's only in the song's final few moments that she allows that powerhouse pipes to blow in the background. And those whispers at the very end? 'Say something, I'm giving up on you...' Gulp."[13]

Chart performance[edit]

United States[edit]

"We still can't even believe that this happened. We can hardly put it into words. Not only did we get to perform on The Voice, but we were honored to do so alongside one of the best voices in the world, 'Christina Aguilera'. We're grateful to all of our fans around the globe who have connected with the song so closely."[11]

—The duo impressed with the success of the song.

The original version of the song had sold only 52,000 downloads before the version with Christina Aguilera was released, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[14] "Say Something" debuted at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, following the impact of the performance on The Voice, as the song started at number-one on Digital Songs with 189,000 sold, with the remix featuring Aguilera accounting for 86% of the song's overall download sales in the chart's tracking week.[15] The song was also a success on the Canadian Hot 100, debuting at number 9 and peaking at number one.[16]

After the performance on the AMAs, the song jumped to number 3 on the Digital Songs chart, with 197,000 copies.[17] It also jumped from number 18 to number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming A Great Big World's first top-ten single and Aguilera's 11th top 10 and second in 2013 (with the other being "Feel This Moment" at number eight), becoming the second time she achieved multiple top 10s in a single year, with the first being in 2000, when 'What a Girl Wants' (number-one for two weeks), 'I Turn To You' (number three) and 'Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)' (number-one for four weeks), all from her self-titled debut album, reached the top tier. The song is also Aguilera's first top 10 with lead billing since October 2008, when her single "Keeps Gettin' Better" debuted at its number seven peak.[18]

"Say Something" also became Epic's first top-ten hit since 2008 with You Found Me by The Fray.[18] "Say Something" peaked at number 4 on the chart in the sixth week of release, with 39 million radio plays and sales of 233,000 copies for the week.[19] The following week, the song sold 355,000 downloads and climbed to number 14 on Radio Songs, although it fell to number five.[20] In February 2014, the song reached the Radio Songs top 10, becoming the band's first top 10 and Aguilera's ninth, marking her first Radio Songs top 10 in a lead role since "Beautiful" in 2003.[21] The song reached its 3 million sales mark in February 2014, and was certified triple platinum on March 5, 2014.[22] In June of the same year, the single was certified 4x Platinum.[23] As of December 2014, the version featuring Aguilera has sold over 4 million copies in the US.[24]

Australia and Europe[edit]

In Australia, "Say Something" debuted at number 47 on the week of December 29, 2013. Later, it re-entered at number 45, on January 19, 2014. The song went to jump from number 50 to number 9, on the week of February 2, 2014, until it reached the top of the ARIA Charts on the week February 16, 2014. It became A Great Big World's first number-one single and Aguilera's third number-one single (the last being "Beautiful" in 2003).[25] The song became Aguilera's 18th Top 10 single in Australia, her last entry was on the Pitbull song "Feel This Moment" which made it to number six in March 2013.[26] In New Zealand, the single debuted at number 18, on December 16, 2013, while on February 10, 2014, the song reached a peak of number two; Aguilera's highest charting-single since her collaboration with Maroon 5 in "Moves Like Jagger" (2011), and her 14th top-five single.[27]

In Europe, the song managed to become a huge success. In Austria, the song peaked at number four on the Austrian Singles Chart,[28] while in Norway, the song peaked at number eight on the Norwegian Singles Chart[29] and in Sweden, "Say Something" became a success, peaking at number four on the Swedish Singles Chart.[30] In other countries, "Say Something" was a moderate success, where in Spain, it peaked at number 24,[31] in Switzerland, the song reached a peak of number 31[32] and in France, the song is currently at number 29, as of March 1, 2014.[33] In the United Kingdom, "Say Something" debuted and peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart, becoming Aguilera's 24th Top 40 hit in Britain and A Great Big World's debut there.[34]

Music video[edit]

A music video was already shot on November 8, 2013, with Aguilera posting to her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram page a picture of her standing next to a piano, where the duo is playing the track.[35][36][37] The music video, which was shot in Los Angeles, was released on November 19, 2013, exclusively on Entertainment Tonight, while VEVO premiered the video on November 20, 2013.[38] The video features Aguilera in a minimalistic black dress and natural make-up, reminiscent of her "Beautiful" days, according to MTV's Natasha Chandel.[39] In the video, the trio perform the ballad as people — a child whose parents won't stop fighting, a young couple lying coldly side by side, an older man bidding his dying wife goodbye — act out the heartbreaking lyrics.[40]

Reception[edit]

The scene where Christina Aguilera is shown with tears welling in her eyes was praised by critics and fans alike due to her delivery.

The video received widespread acclaim from critics. For Jason Lipshut of Billboard Magazine, "Aguilera and AGBW's Ian Axel look utterly sorrowful as they croon the break-up ballad together, with Axel carefully pounding away at the grand piano and Aguilera appearing on the verge of tears as the song reaches its climax. Meanwhile, various tear-inducing images accompany the majestic track, often in slow motion – most strikingly, an older man climbing into a hospital bed with his peaceful female counterpart and emitting a silent shout."[41] Peter Gicas of E! Online praised Aguilera's emotion on the video, writing that she "serves up a certain subtleness to the clip, which is definitely appropriate given the tone of both the ballad and the video itself."[42] Bradley Stern of MuuMuse agreed, writing that, "Armed with nothing else but a piano and an old bed frame by her side, the 'Lotus' legend bares her soul and gives you pure Stripped-era vulnerability, conjuring the simple-yet-effective one-take video for 'The Voice Within.' No over-the-top diva theatrics, no wigs — just raw emotion and a genuinely powerful performance."[13]

John Walker of MTV Buzzworthy called the video "equal parts tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic. Like, hand us a bucket, because we are ugly-crying from our eyes, noses, mouths, ears, and at least 17 other places where tear ducts biologically shouldn't be located.[43] Mike Wass of Idolator also praised the video, writing that, "In keeping with the song's soft and subtle tone, the visual is understated and classy. It centers around a bed and the universality of its occupants' grief. Interspersed with those scenes is footage of the New York-based duo at the piano and Xtina looking utterly perfect in a sleek black dress. Grab a tissue and watch the emotional clip up top."[44] Natasha Chandel of MTV praised "a rare moment, when Xtina breaks down on camera as the hook, 'Say something, I'm giving up on you' crescendos, exposing a tender side to the singer that we haven't seen since her album 'Stripped'.[39]

Live performances[edit]

A Great Big World performing "Say Something" at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut in May 2013

On November 5, 2013, on the 14th episode from the fifth season of The Voice, Christina Aguilera (one of the competition's coaches) performed "Say Something" with A Great Big World. The performance consisted in a piano, some strings and a keyboard for instrumentation, while Aguilera "reining in her voice's natural power", according to Billboard's Jason Lipshutz.[1] Christina was wearing white t-shirt, jeans and a woolly hat.[45] The performance was lauded by critics and other artists, such as OneRepublic, Christina Perri, Ingrid Michaelson, Cee Lo Green and Carson Daly.[11] Caila Ball of Idolator wrote that, "She was legendary, obviously."[46] Michelle Stark of Tampa Bay Times wrote the performance "gives us all of the goosebumps."[47] British newspaper Daily Mail wrote that Christina "gave the competitors a master class in subtlety in her touching duet."[45] Douglas Cobb of Las Vegas Guardian Express called it "a very emotional, low-key, cool performance. It was a very tender, touching song — Christina did great, as usual, singing it."[48] Bradley Stern of MuuMuse called the performance "perfect", writing that, "Christina keeps it as stripped as the studio version, allowing her naturally beautiful vocals to sound a whole lot more vulnerable than usual. The result? One powerful, devastating performance – you'll be seeing your reflejo in the tears streaming down your face in no time."[49]

A Great Big World & Aguilera also performed the song at the 2013 American Music Awards on November 24, 2013.[50] With her hair in a braid and wearing a muted black dress, Aguilera sang an original verse midway through the performance, which included a string section and a fairly bare stage. With A Great Big World's Chad Vaccarino manning the keyboard, the group's Ian Axel sat at the grand piano and stamped his feet furiously as 'Say Something' approached its emotional climax," according to Billboard's Jason Lipshutz.[50] Lindsay Dreyer of Wetpaint wrote that "Taking her rightful place center stage in a floor-length black dress and braided updo, the 32-year-old pop diva harmonized perfectly with the group's lead singer Ian Axel, who worked the piano with passion and poise. Xtina's rich yet breathy tone offered just the right amount of strength and vulnerability — a side of Christina we haven't seen in a really long time." Dreyer finished the review stating, "If tonight's AMA performance is any indication, Christina is on the brink of a major music comeback — and we can't wait!."[51] The band also performed the song at the 2013 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on December 10, 2013.[52] However, Aguilera did not perform the song with them as a duet, due to scheduling conflicts of The Voice.[53] Aguilera also performed the song in Malaysia in a private concert without the band on March 28. The duo and Aguilera also performed the song during the New Orleans Jazz Festival. She gave a one-and-a-half-hour-long show and then invited the band to perform the song in front of a large crowd on May 2, 2014.[54] The band (sans Aguilera) sang the song on the September 6th episode of Last Week Tonight in a duet with comedian John Oliver to mourn the loss of the Russian space geckos.

Cover versions[edit]

American indie pop duo Alex & Sierra performed the song twice on third season of The X Factor (U.S.), where they were contestants and eventually won the show. During the sixth week, the duo performed the song for the first time, with Sierra on the piano and Alex on guitar.[55] The performance was praised by the judges, with Kelly Rowland, one of them, feeling like she was watching an awards show performance. Catriona Wightman of Digital Spy called it "pretty simple, but showed how genuinely talented they are."[55] The cover version of the song surpassed Aguilera and A Great Big World's version on iTunes, climbing to number 1 the morning after they sang it onstage.[56] Series creator and head judge Simon Cowell, who mentored the group, claimed that the duo success is proof that the show is still capable of turning small-town kids into bankable stars.[56] The duo performed the song once again on the finale of the show, eventually winning the competition.[57] Daniel Evans, a finalist from The X Factor (UK) performed a Rhodes piano based cover on his YouTube channel featuring a Glockenspiel and slightly larger, synth driven production. This song was also covered by the a cappella music group Pentatonix. In 2014 the South African group Straatligkinders also recorded a cover version.[58] Country music singers Danielle Bradbery and Maggie Rose also covered the song. On January 19, 2014, The Voice of the Philippines coaches Sarah Geronimo and Bamboo performed their own rendition of the song on ABS-CBN's Sunday variety show ASAP 19. Right after the performance, the hashtag 'SaySomethingAshBoo' trended on Twitter.[59][60][61]


Joe Brooks and Tammin Sursok released a pop rock version of the song on March 29, 2014 as a single.[62] The song was released under Independent record label Fantastik Music and was distributed by TuneCore.[63] This is Sursok's first single since "It's a Beautiful Thing" (2005).

In other media[edit]

Track listing and formats[edit]

Charts[edit]