Stromae's thought-provoking lyrics and danceable productions have served him well since the release of "Alors on danse" (2009). That global hit led to the equally colorful number one albums Cheese (2010) and Racine Carrée (2013), which combined influences as diverse as Jacques Brel, Cuban son, Congolese rhumba, house, and hip-hop, as well as the late-'80s new beat sound of the artist's native Belgium. The vocalist, songwriter, and producer has used his platform to write about topics such as AIDS, cancer, and absent fathers, and he has capitalized upon international success to collaborate with the likes of Kanye West and Lorde. Known for his clean-cut look and trademark bow tie, Stromae has approached music and fashion as indivisible creative forms, exemplified by "Défiler" (2018), one of his several Belgian Top Ten pop hits. Born Paul van Haver in Brussels on March 12, 1985, Stromae was raised by his Belgian mother. His father, a native of Rwanda, was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Stromae developed an interest in music at an early age. When he was 11, he became a student at L'Académie Musicale de Jette, and started playing the drums. In 2005 he took up rap music, and after briefly performing as Opmaestro, he took the stage name Stromae (an anagram for "Maestro") and launched a short-lived hip-hop combo named Suspicion. By 2007, Stromae was back to working as a solo act, and he recorded his first single, "Juste un Cerveau, un Flow, un Fond et un Mic...." It was in 2009 that he got his big break -- while working at a Belgian radio station, he created the song "Alors on dance" using his home-recording setup, and the manager of the station was impressed enough with it to play it on air. Response from listeners was enthusiastic, and Stromae struck a deal with PolyGram. "Alors on dance" became a number one hit in Belgium, and went on to repeat that success in over a dozen countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, and Denmark. As "Alors on dance" climbed the charts across Europe and Stromae's videos became a sensation on YouTube, he released his first album, Cheese, in 2010. In August 2010, after the album had topped the Belgian chart, Stromae's career got a major boost in the United States when Kanye West collaborated with him on a remix of "Alors on dance." His follow-up, Racine Carrée, appeared in August 2013. Distinguished by his integration of African and Caribbean influences, and lyrics regarding disease, discrimination, and absentee fathers, the album was an immediate success in Belgium and France, spending virtually the rest of the year at number one in each country. Ultimately, Racine Carrée went platinum eight times in Belgium and sold over 1.5 million copies in Europe. That November, Stromae won the Best Belgian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Racine Carrée's success continued into 2014. The song "Ta Fête" became the official song for Belgium's national football team at that year's World Cup, and Stromae made his U.S. debut that June, performing his first live dates as well as appearing on NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers. He also appeared on the Lorde-curated soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1 on "Meltdown," a track featuring Pusha T, Q-Tip, HAIM, and Lorde. He continued to play live in 2015, performing at festivals such as SXSW, Coachella, and Lollapalooza, and embarked on an African tour. During the next few years, Stromae released a handful of singles highlighted by the compelling nine-minute ballad "Défiler." Issued in 2018 as the soundtrack for a fashion show dedicated to his Mosaert clothing brand, the song became his seventh Belgian Top Ten pop hit.
© Mark Deming & Andy Kellman /TiVo
© Mark Deming & Andy Kellman /TiVo
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French Music - Released January 1, 2013 | Universal Music Division Mercury Records
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After getting a sizable hit with "Alors on Dance" from his 2010 debut, Stromae chose not to fret and took three full years to deliver his sophomore album. Released in the fall of 2013, Racine Carrée went on to become one of the biggest records of the season in Europe, topping the French, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, and Swiss charts, helped by a string of smash singles such as "Ta Fête," "Papaoutai," "Formidable," and "Tous les Mêmes." At first look, Stromae's pumping Euro-disco with a dash of hip-hop and world music may seem fairly indistinguishable from offerings by many others artists on the Continent. As incongruous as it sounds, what sets Stromae apart from his peers are actually his lyrics -- something that you do not hear too often (read: never) when discussing dance-oriented entertainers. Indeed, many would be bewildered upon hearing that Belgian and French critics were quick to point out Jacques Brel as a major influence, a statement that could only sound positively ludicrous or downright heretical to non-Francophone ears. And yet, both Stromae's diction and his scathing attack on prejudice and small-mindedness (updated to an urban, racially mixed society plagued with issues of identity, rather than the petite bourgeoisie) establish a clear link to the legendary songwriter, even if Stromae is more humorous than cruel and more compassionate than misanthropic. The Belgian-Rwandan young prodigy is at heart much closer to a singer/songwriter than to an EDM producer and DJ, which turns Racine Carrée into a very unusual kind of dancefloor filler. After all, how many albums designed for clubs feature songs that deal with subjects such as absent fathers, cigarettes and cancer, AIDS, racism, sexism, or social isolation created by the Internet? At the same time, Stromae's dual nature is also a two-edged sword: while their throbbing pulse can turn these tracks into hits and present his material to a bigger audience, listening to track after track being insistently punctured with seemingly the same grating horn-sounding synth can eventually become infuriating. In this context, excursions outside of the disco like the homage to Cesária Evora (another unexpected reference) "Ave Cesária," the sweet African cadence of "Moules Frites," or the slower grooves of "Formidable" and "Quand C'est?" function as much-needed pit stops. Rewarded with vast commercial and critical success, Racine Carrée will be remembered as Stromae's breakthrough album and a major validation of his considerable songwriting talents. Stromae's challenge from now on will be how to manage the seemingly contradictory tendencies inherent to his vision. © Mariano Prunes /TiVo
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