We Must Have Been Living Under a Rock: Stromae Review
Stromae - Racine Carrée Live (Full Concert) - YouTube
on YouTube · at StromaeVEVO
Date night (on the couch)
What we love about
Bruce and I discovered Stromae when we were researching our trip to Paris. Not only did we search YouTube for Paris tips and tricks, but also to get a feel for the type of music that folks listen to there. The first playlist we came upon was more or less a Parisian versions of the hip hop videos that are so similar to the ones here in the States and those left us a little discouraged.
We were asking ourselves “Is that all folks in the world are interested in are those same tired old themes of having things and boasting about how great we all are?” We happened upon another list of Parisian “independent” music. It was on that list that we found Indila, Kendje, and, voila! Stromae.
The first video we saw was Papaoutai and though we couldn’t understand a thing he said, we were struck at how colorful and fun the video was; there was a lot of really good dancing happening in that video. But Stromae plays a mannequin in the video—except for one short dream sequence—and so we only heard the song. Again, we do NOT speak French and it was not sub-titled, but from what we could gather about the narrative of the story, it was about intersecting stories of a parent and a child bonding and sharing traditions. In the Stromae scenario, however, the father is a mannequin and his son is singing to him. It seems as if the boy is looking around at all the other parent and children activities and wanting his dad to join him in some type of movement. Well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending too much, but suffice it to say that by the end, they do get to share the same activity. (You should really check out the video yourself and let me know if you agree.) (Later, we looked up the lyrics and found out that the title means “Father, where are you?”)
That was just the first video, but we kinda were hooked… In the next video, “Tous Le Memes,” Stromae was dressed as a man on one side of his face and hair, but a woman on the other. –Again, we don’t know what the heck he is saying, but throughout the video, he moves between scenes, being a man on one side and acting like a woman when he is turned to that side. It was really kind of mind-boggling that he could keep this up and switch between the two so fluidly. And it was also mesmerizing! In that video, he dances straight through and, boy, could he “cut the rug”! His style is very Afro-centric, but he incorporates hip hop moves in there too. And I don’t mean that he can kinda dance, he’s Michael Jackson and MC Hammer-good!
Was this a fluke? We were thinking that two good videos (with great hooky songs) must be some kind of fluke, until we found ourselves scrolling through song after song and coming away with “Wow” each time! What the hell?! Why hadn’t we heard about him before? This led us to go do some research.
We found out that his real name is Paul Van Haver, but his stage name is an anagram for the word “maestro.” This is quite the appropriate name, given his robust body of work in the nine short years he’s been around. We found out that his new wife is his fashion-design partner and that his brother is a partner in his video-making. I would say that all of them together help make Stromae great. It’s not that he is not the nexus of this artistic statement, but it doesn’t hurt for talented folks who are not simply hired hands, but want to cooperatively build an artistic empire are your partners. While I consulted a few online sources, such as “Stromae Returns With New Song And Video, 'Défiler'’ (from NPR.com), among others, some of the stretches in assessing the enormity of his artistic expansive nature are our own.
Can an artist possibly be commercially successful AND merge truth and beauty? We are in awe of his artistry and the fact that he is successful at merging truth and beauty. What we mean is that even songs that seem like JUST a dance song ends up having deeply thoughtful lyrics. Songs like Papoutai sound super fun and upbeat and have a killer dance video (add link), but ask serious questions. This particular song alludes to Stromae’s own Rwandan father who, reportedly, was not there for him (due to the war). (Find link) Many of his lyrics seem to have a theme of binaries, peace vs. violence, man vs. women, happiness vs. problems, but he is discussing them in ways that add to the conversation. (I would love to give more examples and add links, but this is NOT an essay, but actually an expressionistic revelation.) I assure you that Stromae does not cut down on the fun in order to have a serious discussion.
His thoughtfulness is evident throughout his enterprise and his live show was no different. We were glued to the set, reading the sub-titles along with the songs. We highly recommend checking out the nearly 2 hour 2015 concert. It was not time wasted.
Truth and beauty, form and function....
He reminds us that you can have truth and beauty, form and function, a message and a look all at the same time. That it’s okay to dance and to think for one’s self at the same time. In the last 40 years of my life, I am hard-pressed to name someone who has managed to convince me that this all was possible. And to be massively successful with it; that’s is really the puzzle winner of them all—because you can’t tell me that there is no one who is doing what Stromae is doing, but can you follow that up with “and they are commercially successful”? If not, then, that’s why we’re so gaga over Stromae.
He is an all-around performer, who writes the music to the songs, writes incredible lyrics, plays the instruments on the tracks, dances, sings, raps, has fashion-forward ideas, has intriguing ideas for his videos, has energy for days, is humorous—but serious at the same time, knows how to interact with his audience. He is thoughtful but does not seem bitter. He has issues and deep questions but likes to have fun and dance. –Again, I can’t tell you where I have seen a combination like this before… --If you have, please, please, please let me know (because I’d add them to my list of Must Check Outs).
Truly, we have to say that we haven’t heard a song yet that isn’t about something seriously thought-provoking yet! That’s a real feat, if you ask us. –Dude, we even have songs that are not about anything much! --Even his Mr. Mussels song is about the Belgian history of mussels and fries! Who does that?! And, get this; he’s tackling ALL the issues: cancer, war, group-think, poverty, powerlessness, relationships, ideology, etc., etc. The list is exhaustive. The best part is that we love it. As you might know, Bruce is the big brain of this operation. He is a man of deep philosophical thought. I am, on the other hand, the beauty, who is concerned that ideas of expressed in the most attractive fashion. Because Stromae has attended to yin and yang of this musical artist thing, there’s something that both Bruce and I can love. And we do!
The bottom line....
The bottom line with our current obsession with Stromae is that he truly inspires us to push that limit a little harder and reminds us not to give in to the mental pressure of feeling as if folks who like to dance and have fun DON’T want to hear about serious issues. The rub is that even though we could not understand what he was saying in his songs, videos, and stage performance, his fans are fully aware that he’s dropping thought-bombs on them. And they love it! He helps convince us that “our tribe” is still out there; a group of people who “get” us and love to experience whatever we bring (no matter what the subject or how light-hearted the tune happens to be).
Ultimately, discovering him made us feel like we’ve been living under a rock. How come we hadn’t heard about him anywhere in America?!
Resources: “Stromae Returns With New Song And Video, 'Défiler'’ at https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2018/04/27/606389502/stromae-returns-with-new-song-and-video-d-filer
Video Ways to Enjoy Stromae:
This leads to our burning question:
Who have you discovered that has given you a jolt of inspiration
(and you are surprised you’ve never heard of before)?
We’d like to hear about this dazzling artist.
Drop it in a comment below.