Building a Mystery

1997 single by Sarah McLachlan

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“Building a Mystery” is a song by Sarah McLachlan, from her fourth studio album Surfacing, first released in 1997. At a live performance, Sarah explains the song as being “basically about the fact that we all… have insecurities to hide, and we often do that by putting on a facade.” She also goes on to say that “unfortunately, if we just be who we are, that’s usually the more attractive and beautiful thing”.[1]

The song was an immediate top-forty and adult contemporary hit that paved the grounds for her future songs “Sweet Surrender”, “Adia” and “Angel”, all from Surfacing, and it has received several awards. Commercially, “Building a Mystery” was Canada’s best-selling single of 1997, topping the country’s official chart for eight weeks, and peaked at number 13 in the United States.

“Building a Mystery” won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 40th Grammy Awards.


  • 1 Censorship
  • 2 Chart performance
  • 3 Music video
  • 4 Reception
  • 5 Legacy
  • 6 Charts
    • 6.1 Weekly charts
    • 6.2 Year-end charts
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


The album version of “Building a Mystery,” and the live albums Afterglow Live and Mirrorball contain the line, “A beautiful fucked up man.” The radio version replaces this line with “A beautiful but strange man” or the original lyric garbled beyond recognition, and during performances on radio or television, Sarah sings the line “A beautiful messed up man.”

Chart performance[edit]

“Building a Mystery” became McLachlan’s biggest chart hit in Canada, spending eight weeks at number one on the RPM Top Singles chart and was ranked as the number-one single of 1997 on the magazine’s year end chart.[2][3] It also topped the RPM Adult Contemporary and Alternative 30 charts.[4][5] In the United States it debuted at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early September 1997 and peaked at number 13 a month later.[6] In Australia the song gained minor popularity, reaching number 97 in March 1998.[7]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the song features Moist front man David Usher. It features a man, described as McLachlan’s boyfriend, taking points of light from wherever he travels and stitching some sort of garment. When McLachlan investigates in his absence, she finds that he has been assembling a skirt so decorated as to be lit with stars. Matt Mahurin directed the video, but later disowned it with the Allen Smithee credit.


The song won the Juno Award for Single of the Year in 1998. The track also made McLachlan the recipient of the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards of 1998, beating Mariah Carey, Shawn Colvin, Paula Cole and Jewel.[8] It came in at number 91 on Vh1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s.[9]


On October 23, 2001 “Building a Mystery” became the first song ever played on an Apple iPod. Apple founder, chairman and CEO Steve Jobs selected and played a short portion of the song at the iPod Introduction keynote held at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. The song was the top track in his “Favorites” playlist.[10]


Year-end charts[edit]

See also[edit]

  • List of RPM number-one singles of 1997 (Canada)
  • List of RPM Rock/Alternative number-one singles (Canada)


  • ^ “YouTube”. 28 April 2016. Archived from the original on 28 April 2016. Retrieved 1 February cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:12px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}
  • ^ a b “Top RPM Singles: Issue 3288.” RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ a b “RPM ’97 Year End Top 100 Hit Tracks”. RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ a b “Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 3282.” RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ a b “Top RPM Rock/Alternative Tracks: Issue 3295.” RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ a b “Sarah McLachlan Chart History (Hot 100)”. Billboard. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ a b Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia’s Music Charts 1988–2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  • ^ “”Grammy Awards for Best Pop Female Performance” on”. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  • ^ Ali, Rahsheeda (23 May 2013). “The 100 Greatest Songs Of the ’90s”. VH1 Music News. VH1. Archived from the original on 17 July 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  • ^ “The first songs ever played on an iPod | Edible Apple”. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  • ^ “Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (2.10 ’97 – 9.10. ’97)”. Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). 3 October 1997. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  • ^ “Sarah McLachlan Chart History (Adult Alternative Songs)”. Billboard. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  • ^ “Sarah McLachlan Chart History (Adult Contemporary)”. Billboard. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ “Sarah McLachlan Chart History (Alternative Airplay)”. Billboard. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ “RPM ’97 Year End Top 100 Adult Contemporary Tracks”. RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ “RPM ’97 Year End Top 50 Alternative Tracks”. RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  • ^ “Billboard Top 100 – 1997”. Archived from the original on 11 June 2009. Retrieved 28 August 2010.
  • External links[edit]

    • Building a Mystery on YouTube (licensed content by Sony BMG)
    • Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics


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