Stromae: a “formidable” rise to stardom

  • The Fête de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles music festival caused traffic jams on Friday.
  • Stromae, the headline act in Brussels’ Grand-Place, was the principal reason.
  • Where does his power to attract huge crowds come from?

 

When Stromae holds a free concert, chaos reigns. By noon on Friday, there were 18,000 enthusiastic fans in the Grand-Place in Brussels, brought there by announcements on social networks, although the cobblestoned area can only hold 6,000. The Belgian singer-songwriter has enjoyed great success just about everywhere with his new album. And contrary to his 2010 worldwide hit “Alors on danse”, it cannot be classified as a “surprise smash” this time.

 

A look at some recent statistics on the musician shows how the kind of attendance seen at the Fête de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles was really to be expected. In one week, the artist’s record went gold in France, selling 80,000 copies: 55,000 CDs and 25,000 downloads. As he began his concert in the center of Brussels, the album was still No. 1 in Belgium and France, after having reached the top of the charts in Switzerland and entered the top 20 in the Netherlands and Germany.

 

Stromae (a syllabic inversion of “Maestro”) has been praised to the skies by the press. His fall tour could have sold out many times over. Since the end of August, he has made countless television appearances, from Le Grand Journal to Vivement Dimanche with Michel Drucker, singing his latest single “Formidable” in front of French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was visibly enchanted by the experience. Recently, the French satirical puppet show Les Guignols de l’info parodied his single “Papaoutai”, with President François Hollande and his government singing alternative lyrics. To sum up, Stromae doesn’t just sell No. 1 hit singles; he has a polished image too.

 

Has luck played a part? It seemed as if he would never reach the heights of “Alors on

Danse”, 3 million copies of which have been sold. But the very clever viral marketing campaign for “Formidable” and a new album have shown him in a whole new light, as a more complete artist. “Gone is the kid trying to give flippant lessons over the Internet; he’s now a unique artist, capable of filling dance floors one minute and of making people cry the next,” said the French daily Libération. Its right-leaning counterpart, Le Figaro, adds that “young music fans are crazy about him” and that “older generations regard the phenomenon with real curiosity.” And there is his secret in a nutshell: blending tradition and modernity.

 

Stromae is modern when it comes to his musical influences: rap and “euro-dance”, but also African Rumba and Brazilian music. He remixes it all with French lyrics, which he doesn’t hesitate to deliver in the style of legendary Belgian singer Jacques Brel, imitating his gestures and diction on “Formidable”. While the shadow of Brel could weigh heavily on other artists, Stromae manages to take it in his stride: “I draw inspiration from him in the way I interpret my songs,” he explained to Le Monde.

 

Olivier Nusse, head of the record company to which Stromae is signed, believes that his ability to “emphasize performance” is one of his major selling points. And who else apart from a Belgian could get so close to the great Jacques? On YouTube, beneath the video clip for “Formidable”, the phrase “Jacques Brel 2.0.” comes up more than once, perhaps a little prematurely.

 

Modernity and tradition. In terms of the sound, but also the image. A product of immigration, Stromae resembles the perfect son-in-law. In frivolous outfits and a bow tie, he combines serious themes (paternal absence, cancer etc.) with a flippant tone. In the popular imagination, he represents the antithesis of warring French rappers Booba and La Fouine. At the same time, Stromae is just as far removed from the “old France” image of Cali and Bénabar. He’s an educated rapper: “I went to a good school,” he told Le Monde: a Jesuit boarding school. But as French magazine Les Inrockuptibles put it, “Stromae is a popular singer, not an avant-garde musician. He’s a master at coming out with gimmicks that appeal to young people and make sales skyrocket.”

 

DIDIER ZACHARIE

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