If you combine the visual aesthetic of Fonzworth Bentley and Prince, the synth-heavy beats of Kayne West, and the ennui-laden poetry of a talented Belgian guy, you’d have Stromae.
Stromae, the stage name of Paul Van Haver, a Belgian with Rwandan roots, is a very good musician and an even better performer that you have probably never heard of – if you’re American, anyway. If you’re European, you definitely have heard of him and you probably love him.
A Belgian friend on a Great American Tour invited me to Stromae’s recent concert in New York City, and it was a great show: lively, packed, and well executed. Stromae is a capital-P Performer who clearly loves being on stage, and easily bantered with the large crowd about the proper name for french fries (“Belgian frites”) and the language skills of Americans.
The show smartly used a large projection behind Stromae and his band extensively and creatively; a few songs featured a crowd of virtual “backup dancers” that seemed to be meant to evoke soldiers, and a song about cancer had a creepy, shadowy spider of some kind that creeped and crawled throughout the song.
It was a great time and I highly recommend checking out Stromae’s music, even if you don’t speak French (I don’t). As others have noted, he manages to blend melancholy, weary lyrics about disease, death, and economic stagnation with infectious beats without forcing it; he is a European and Millennial voice without seeming to mean to be, or want to be.
Here’s his breakout song from a few years ago, “Alors on Danse” (“So We Dance”):
And the lyrics to the first verse of that song, translated to English (though I can’t vouch for the total accuracy of the translation, it gels with what Google Translate comes up with):
When we say study, it means work,
When we say work, it means money,
When we say money, it means spending
When we say credit, it means debt,
When we say debt, it means bailiff,
We agree to being in deep shit
When we say love, it means kids,
When we say forever, it means divorce.
When we say family, we say grief, because misfortune never comes alone.
When we say crisis, we talk about the wold, famine and then third world.
When we say tiredness, we talk about waking up still deaf from sleepless night
So we just go out to forget all our problems.
So we just dance… (X9)
Kind of dark, right? A few of his other songs I really like are “Formidable,” “Carmen,” and “Ta Fete.” Anyway: check Stromae out on Spotify or iTunes, and get to one of his concerts if you can.