The smile. The voice. The long, lean, androgynous body. The elegant look. The smart, if mournful lyrics, both poetic and realistic, a sharp contrast to the catchy tunes, a blend of rap, hip hop, electronic music and Latin rhythms.
Meet Stromae the 28-year Belgian-born artist who is taking Europe (and French Canada) by storm.
Stromae – French slang for “Maestro” – has developed a cult following in most European countries. If the social media is any indicator of success, numbers are impressive: 2.6 million follow his Facebook page. His most popular video to date, Formidable, has received over 43 million hits on Youtube.
Two albums (Racine Carrée, Square Root, came out last spring.) Awards up the wazoo. His public appearances are greeted with much anticipation. He can discuss his origins, his career, and the issues confronting European youth articulately. He seems surprised, and humbled, by his success, but exudes self-confidence and controls all aspects of his career.
The guy has talent, and smarts. What’s not to like?
French friends recommended I checked him out. I liked what I heard.
His first big hit was Alors on Danse, (Then you Dance,) a song he wrote about a friend going through a tough time. Some of Stromae‘s favorite themes are in the song: the rat race, divorce, loneliness, hopelessness. Yet, the pace is upbeat, and one can’t help watching the short movie… Stromae sold three million copies of the first album.
Stromae, it turns out, is a trained musician, an accomplished percussionist, a fan of poetry. He studied cinema once, and it shows. He loves acting. All of his video clips play like mini-movies.
The Guardian nicknamed him: “The Morrissey of the Eurozone,” because of his realistic and gloomy lyrics.
The young Belgian Dandy is also compared to one of his homeland’s most shining star, the late Jacques Brel, and was recently featured in the New York Times in a flattering piece. Are the United States his next stop?
The fact that Stromae does not try to imitate other European artists by singing in English, might limit his appeal. Yet I noticed English subtitles in his most popular video, Formidable. Didn’t I tell you the kid had smarts?
Formidable happens to be an amazing song, thanks to Stromae‘s acting skills and creativity. The chorus is a clever play on words:
“Tu es formidable, je suis fort minable…”
(You are wonderful, I am pathetic)
(For those of you who study the French language, fort is often used in Belgium and the Northern part of France to translate très – very. Un minable is a loser.)
The song tells the story of a painful breakup. The guy is drunk and mourns his failed relationship.
Even if Stromae is acting (he grins at the camera at the end of the clip,) the video was shot with a hidden camera in downtown Brussels on a rainy morning (there are a lot of rainy mornings in Brussels, Belgium…) Passers-by did not know they were being taped. At some point, three policemen approach Stromae (they recognize him,) and offer to give him a ride home. He declines, and they let him go.
Belgian cops are the most relaxed and understanding police force in the world!
The video clip went viral when leaked online, and the rest is history…
The young artist seems unstoppable. His new album tops European charts. My favorite song: Papa Outai (“Papa où t’es?” – Where are you, Daddy?) He draws on his personal experience to tell the story of a child with an absent father.
The son of a Belgian mother and a Rwandan father, who later died in the Rwanda genocide, Stromae only met his own dad a few times in his life. The video clip is creative; the tune catchy and no doubt rocking all dance floors in Europe! My favorite line:
“Tout le monde sait comment on fait des bébés;
Personne ne sait comment on fait des papas.”
(Everyone knows how to make babies;
Nobody knows how fathers are made.)
Papa Outay (Stromae)
This week, to promote his ongoing French tour, Stromae made the headlines, and once again created a big buzz in the media, when he appeared at a popular talk show. Thanks to creative visual effects, he was able to introduce the audience to his “moitié” (his better half,) in a hilarious skit. They both sparred in front of the audience for a few minutes before he/she launched in an entertaining rendition of “Tous les Mêmes,” (They are all the same.) Stromae‘s carefully cultivated androgynous look and acting skills came in handy. He brought the house down.
|Stromae and his better half (amazing special effects!)|
Click here to watch the live performance.
(Song starts at 1:37)
|Stromae… or Stromae?|
I would love to hear what you think about my new friend. I am adding his new CD to my Christmas list and can’t wait to listen to the other songs on the album.
In the meantime, I know Stromae would approve the ending of this post: I will leave you with an iconic live performance by the great Belgian artist Jacques Brel, Amsterdam.