Even in our globalized, internet-crazed world, there are still huge cultural phenomenons that manage to stay localized and cordoned off by geographical barriers like oceans. Stromae is a Europop behemoth with a continental popularity factor rivaling the heydays of Ace of Base or ABBA. Yet, if he walked down the busiest of American streets, most onlookers wouldn’t notice anything but his striking figure and impeccable style.
What they are missing out on is a musician with the charisma of Serge Gainsbourg, the savvy of Kanye West, and the theatricality of David Bowie. If you haven’t been acquainted just yet, here are 10 essential facts that will help you fall in love with Stromae.
Stromae is from Belgium with Flemish and Rwandan Roots
Stromae was born Paul Van Haver in Brussels. His mother is from Flanders. His father (who was absent during his childhood) was an architect from Rwanda. In 1994, Stromae’s father was killed during the Rwandan genocide. Stromae explores his fraught relationship with this father and his subsequent death in his emotionally-affecting video for the song “Papaoutai.”
“Alors On Danse” was his spectacular debut
Stromae began his career in the small Belgian hip-hop community in the early ’00s. At some point, he started listening to ’90s Europop and began to experimenting with dance music in his own work. His first single “Alors On Danse” (So We Dance) was released in 2009. It’s a song about being a disaffected worker in the midst of a crumbling economy. In the video, a drained Stromae ends up at a local pub after a boring day at the office. He gets drunk and dances it out with others just trying to forget their problems. “Alors On Danse” reached number 1 in the charts in 15 European countries and is still a mainstay on the playlists of many nightclubs. Kanye West even jumped on a remix.
His lyrics are full of straight talk
Stromae doesn’t mince his words. His songs are full of dark social commentary (he jokingly calls his music “suicide dance”). Instead of truth-telling turning off his fans, they are attracted to his candor. French newspaper Le Monde described him by saying, “Stromae is an antenna. He pulls in signals — the crisis, AIDS, the environment, misogyny, Twitter, false richness — from his Brussels control tower.”
He defies gender constructs
To quote the goddess RuPaul, “We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” In Stromae’s video for ”Tous Les Memês,” from his most recent album Racins Carrée (Square Root), he takes a look at a relationship from both sides: dressed on one side as a man and the other half as a woman. The video has a spectacular set, choreography, and styling and Stromae shows off some smooth, androgynous moves.
His YouTube numbers will shock you (if you’re American)
As of May 2014, “Alors On Danse” has 53 million views, “Formidable” has 75 million views, and “Papaoutai” is quickly nearing 150 million views eleven months after its release. For a little comparison, Pompeii’s “Bastille” has 95 million views and Disclosure’s “Latch” has 42 million views after being posted around the same time as “Papaoutai.”
He has amazing style
His “dandy swag” is distinguished by color-blocked bowties and cardigans, printed shirts, high knee socks, and pleated slacks perfectly tailored to his gamine physique. He has even launched a clothing line called Mosaert, “characterized by a mixture of the meeting of the ‘English school’ cuts, the checker and isometric patterns and the warm colors of the African wax.”
He wrote the anthem for the Belgian World Cup team
His song “Ta Fête” was chosen as the anthem for the Red Devils, the Belgian soccer team. He released a humorous video announcement where he stalks the players in order to get them to star in a fantastical music video involving a field shaped like a huge maze, a mother wielding a broom, and a human soccer ball. “Ta Fête” has a beat that makes us go:
He isn’t into art
Even though his music thoughtfully blends hip-hop, Europop, French folk, African rhythms, and even Cuban rumba, he’s not into having his music labelled as art. In a recent interview with Time Out New York, he’s quoted as saying, “Before there was just art, and art is actually bullshit. It’s so useless, you know? And next to a father, next to a baker, next to necessary jobs, you see that art isn’t really a necessity. That was a big lesson for me.”
“Formidable” is a powerful banger
Not your average break-up song, the story of “Formidable” is told from the perspective of a drunken person trying to deal with the loss of a lover by confronting strangers. The mention of a monkey at the end of the song is a reference to an incident where a homeless person on the streets of Brussels accosted Stromae and called him a “monkey” as a racial slur while he was walking with his first love. Stromae has also said that he was inspired by the work of Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel.
He’s on tour in the US, Canada, and Europe through the fall
Now that you know the essential facts about Stromae, there’s no excuse not to try to see him live. Check out his summer/fall tour dates here.