Stromae: 5 things to know about one of France’s best-loved artists

He's one of France's best-loved artists, despite being Belgian, but is less well known in the anglophone world. As his releases his first album in nine years, here's why you might like to know more about Stromae.

Stromae: 5 things to know about one of France's best-loved artists
Stromae at the 37th Victoires de la Musique, the annual French music awards ceremony, earlier this year. (Photo: Bertrand Guay / AFP)

1 Multitude is his first album in nine years

Stromae’s mix of dancey beats, quirky style and hard-edged rap lyrics took him to the top of the charts in more than a dozen countries in the mid-2010s.

But then the Belgian-Rwandan star, real name Paul Van Haver, all but disappeared from the limelight – after suffering crippling burnout towards the end of a gruelling world tour in 2015. 

It has been nine years since his last album, but he returned on Friday with Multitude. 

The album has already garnered rave reviews. 

2 He has struggled with severe depression

In January, when he started promoting the album’s first single, L’enfer (Hell), he was praised by the director general of the World Health Organisation,  Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, for raising the subject of depression and suicide.

“Thank you @stromae for raising the difficult topic of #suicide on your latest album. So important to reach out for help if you are struggling and to support those who need help,” Dr Tedros wrote on Twitter.

The single is an unflinching examination of his experiences with depression and his battle with suicidal thoughts – “If it helps some people want to get help, that’s great,” the singer said in an interview with AFP.

But the album’s opening track Invaincu (Undefeated) demonstrates that he’s now revelling in his reborn ambition.

3 His 2013 hit Papaoutai was the most-watched music video on YouTube that year

It was watched 161 million times that year in France alone. But, like L’enfer, and many of his other tracks it has a harder, more emotional side.

The song (Papa, where are you) references the Belgian-born singer’s struggles growing up without his architect father, who was killed in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994.

In his latest album, Riez (Laugh) compares the fame-and-fortune dreams of a singer, with a migrant’s dreams of papers and a square meal, while in Fils de joie (Son of joy) he imagines life as a prostitute’s son, confronting a client, a police officer and a pimp.

“The subjects that have nothing to do with you are sometimes easier to talk about,” he told AFP. “[Fils de joie] came from watching a TV show about the children of sex-workers. I was really moved by the violence they experienced.”

And there’s the very personal ode to his three-year-old son, Rien que du bonheur (Nothing but happiness)… It’s less about unconditional love, and more about having to mop up vomit.

4 His name is verlan

In 2001, he appeared as a rapper called Opmaestro, though he later changed his stage name to Stromae, which is “Maestro” with the syllables switched around in the French slang known as verlan.

READ ALSO Verlan: France’s backwards language you need to learn

In fact, “verlan” itself is an example of verlan, as it’s the French word “L’envers” (reverse) in reverse.

His first hit, as Stromae, Alors on danse (So We Dance) became a hit while he was working at radio station NRJ in Brussels in 2008. The station’s music manager was so impressed he broadcast it, and it caught the public imagination – with celebrities including Anna Wintour and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted fans.

He signed with Vertigo Records, a label of Mercury Records France (Universal Music Group), soon after. By May 2010 Alors on danse had reached number one in Belgium, France, Sweden, Greece, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Romania and the Czech Republic.

5 Next stop: America

He has his eyes set on one challenging goal: breaking America.

A major test comes next month when he headlines the Coachella festival in California.

“It wasn’t my ambition in the early days to sing in French in a place like the US, which isn’t used to listening to music in another language,” he said.

“But I’ve always listened to songs in English – not always understanding them but still being moved. I told myself it might work in the other direction.”

Coachella, he admitted, will be a challenge: “I’m crossing my fingers, we are trying to be fairly ambitious with the show. There are some robotic arms involved: too much wind and we won’t be able to use them.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much.” 

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Paris’ Louvre safeguarding Ukraine art treasures

The Louvre in Paris is hosting 16 works of art, including 1,500-year-old Byzantine icons, from a museum in Kyiv in order to protect them from the war, it said on Wednesday.

Paris' Louvre safeguarding Ukraine art treasures

“Since the start of the war, like other museums, we have been concerned to see how we can support our Ukrainian colleagues. In the autumn, faced with the intensity of the conflict, we decided to carry out this rescue,” Louvre president Laurence des Cars told AFP.

“It’s not much in a sea of sadness and desolation, but it’s a symbol,” she added.

She said the Louvre was particularly concerned by the risk of theft and illicit trafficking of artworks and relics if they had stayed in Ukraine.

Among the works being safeguarded by the Louvre are five Byzantine icons from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum, Ukraine’s national arts institution, which will be exhibited in Paris from June 14th to November 6th.

Four of the icons are from Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt and date from the 6th and 7th centuries, and the fifth is from late 13th or early 14th century Constantinople.

Eleven other works, “among the most emblematic and most fragile” from the Ukrainian collection, will be housed in the Louvre’s reserves “until the situation improves,” Des Cars said.

She welcomed a Ukrainian delegation, including the head of the Khanenko museum, in October when UN cultural body UNESCO declared 240 sites in their country had been damaged by the war.

Earlier that month, a rocket landed near the Khanenko Museum, blowing out the windows.

Most of its works have been moved into the museum’s storage, but are at risk from temperature variations caused by power cuts.

The operation to rescue the 16 selected works was supported by the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas.