Got a few seconds? Then lend your ears — you might just have the answer to a question that has perplexed forensic audio obsessives for years.
Before the days of apps like Shazam, trying to identify an unfamiliar song was a team effort. WatZatSong, a social network dating back to 2006 (the early days of Web 2.0) facilitated that process on a global scale. Users could upload tracks that had stumped them, and crowdsource guesses about where it had come from. Some mysteries were swiftly solved; others were tougher to crack. But it wasn’t until 2021 that WatZatSong received what would become its most infamous and enduring submission, from a contributor in Spain going by the handle “carl92.”
The file is labeled “Pop – English,” indicating the genre and language. “Mid 80s, Bad quality. (Everyone Knows That),” wrote carl92, offering an estimate of when the song might have been recorded. “Everyone Knows That” is an interpretation of a lyric heard in the clip. “I rediscover[ed] this sample between a bunch of very old files in a DVD backup,” carl92 explained in a followup comment. “Probably I was simply learning how to capture audio and this was a left over.”
The grainy recording, just 17 seconds long, captures what indeed sounds like the catchy hook to an upbeat 1980s New Wave tune, though most of the words are hard to make out. It didn’t attract much interest at first. Yet as the months passed without an identification, each proposal of a potential artist being ruled out one after another, a cultish fascination began to take hold. Two years later, it’s the most-commented thread in WatZatSong history, and there’s a 5,000-strong subreddit devoted to theories about the song. Fans have recorded remixes and covers imagining the missing verses, generated longer versions with AI, and perpetrated successful hoaxes about where the original came from. But the fact remains: no one knows the band behind “Everyone Knows That.”
A redditor who goes by the handle “cotton–underground” and moderates the r/everyoneknowsthat forum, which was launched in June 2023 to advance the search for details about the track, tells Rolling Stone that it’s tantalizing to be faced with such an enigma in this day and age. “Why are people obsessed with it?” he says. “On one hand, it’s an incredibly catchy and recognizable tune, while on the other hand loaded with mystery. Especially in 2023, with everything digitized and music freely available, it’s probably very interesting to a lot of young people that this song is seemingly untraceable.”
The lack of leads is itself intriguing, he says, comparing “Everyone Knows That” to another popular piece of so-called “lost media,” widely known as “Like the Wind” or “The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet.” This was recorded sometime in the 1980s from a German radio broadcast and has likewise thwarted years of investigation into who produced it. (Such artifacts are sometimes given the genre tag of “lostwave.”) But, notes cotton–underground, people researching “Like the Wind” have a full, three-minute audio file of decent quality to work from. The existing short fragment of “Everyone Knows That,” whose precise lyrics are still a subject of debate (some hear the words “ulterior motives” where others hear “fear of emotions,” for example) presents a greater degree of difficulty for audio detectives. Some even believe that carl92, who left WatZatSong after uploading it, pulled off some kind of maddening prank.
Indeed, frustrations over the relative challenges of pinning down “Everyone Knows That” vs. “The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet” have inspired memes about the hopelessness of the hunt — while debates on r/everyoneknowsthat have at times grown so contentious as to trigger bouts of trolling and harassment. While looking to settle the story of such unknown media is technically nothing more than an online hobby, it clearly stirs high passions.
There’s no end to the list of the potential sources suggested for carl92’s garbled snippet of “Everyone Knows That.” Some believe he got it off an MTV broadcast in the 1990s, while others are convinced it was a commercial jingle. It could be an unreleased demo by a group that never hit the big time. Or it might be from a compilation of muzak created by a Japanese company and played in McDonald’s locations in Eastern Europe — except that one investigator called the distributor and confirmed they have no such track in their databases. These dead ends have only multiplied.
Another r/everyoneknowsthat moderator, with the handle sodapopyarn, says the community is still completely in the dark. “Sadly, as of now, there have been no solid leads and far, far more hoaxes have existed,” he tells Rolling Stone. One of the most notorious is now remembered as the “michael92 incident,” in which “a user by that name posted an extended clip to WatZatSong with a Japanese voiceover throughout,” he says. “The whole community was fooled into believing it was real for about four hours until it was debunked. It was found that michael92 had used a mix of various isolations and covers/remixes to create the clip.” After the ruse was discovered and file deleted, it became a piece of lost media in its own right, until sodapopyarn uploaded it in full to the subreddit as a “mini ‘historic’ relic of the search for the real “Everyone Knows That.”
“It was fun to have hope, but as of late, the hoaxes have gotten so common, it’s becoming increasingly more and more disruptive to the search,” sodapopyarn laments. Still, it often appears as if creative inspiration — not the dogged quest for cold, hard truth — is what keeps the discussion going. As one YouTube commenter wrote on a recent music video that convincingly fleshes out the song in polished form, complete with suitably neon 1980s visuals: “Even if we find the original, it’s probably not gonna be as good as this.”
However, having this trove of original content could make cracking the case of “Everyone Knows That” all the more satisfying. Were people to track down the band at last, sodapopyarn says he’d want to “tell them about this entire scavenger hunt,” adding that it would be “especially be cool to show them all the cover songs people have made.”
Patience will be key, however. Other lostwave enthusiasts have gone much longer without discovering who wrote or sang a piece of music that left them curiously affected. A yearning jangle-rock tune frequently compared to the hits of Irish band the Cranberries, called “How Long Will It Take,” has been making the rounds on and off since at least 2007, with fans no closer to figuring out the artist or true title after almost two decades of inquiry. A new subreddit devoted to the song emerged just a month ago.
To connoisseurs like sodapopyarn, the lack of answers isn’t discouraging — it’s the sustained, collaborative interest that makes the pursuit worthwhile. “People within the community will always come and go,” he says. “But I truly believe the community as a whole will never die until the song is fully found.”