A few months ago I received a Snapchat from a friend of mine asking me to listen to a song by the Belgian musician and songwriter Stromae, otherwise known as Paul van Haver. The song was the 2013 hit, Papaoutai. An upbeat and dancey house music song with a seemingly positive feel, actually contained a sad and heavy message at its centre which was masked by the instrumentation.
The track tells the heartbreaking story of Stromae’s absent father after he was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. This backstory adds a weight and a significance to the lyrics throughout the song. Papaoutai would be the biggest selling single in Belgium in 2013, and would reach number one in Belgium and Germany.
There is nothing straightforward about the path that van Haver has taken to get to where he is in his career currently. After numerous attempts at a music career, Stromae (which would come from the word maestro with the syllables reversed) would decide to commit fully to music in 2007 while studying in a film school in Brussels. This would be followed shortly after in 2008 with the release of his debut single, Alors on dance, which was met with extreme enthusiasm and appeal. It would be the track that would bring Stromae to the attention of the wider public.
June 2010 would see the release of the debut album by Stromae, Cheese. The album would span three singles, and would feature the aforementioned debut single. The album would go on to win Best Dance Album at the Victoires de la musique.
May 2013 would be the next time that we would hear from the performer with the release of the aforementioned Papaoutai, which would serve as the lead single from the second album by the artist, racine carrée, which would be be launched the following March. The album would be critically praised for the variety of different themes that would be addressed with the use of sophisticated and powerful lyrics, themes such as alienation from social network, relationships, discrimination, disease, among others. The album would also be extremely commercially successful, even in countries where French was not the primary language.
Over the following year and a bit, Stromae would tour the album, including an extensive tour around the United States. 2014 would also see his song Ta fête become the official song of the Beligian football team at the 2015 World Cup. During the year he would also be invited to work on the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
September 2015 would see Stromae release the single Quand c’est, a song to raise awareness for cancer.
There is little doubt that Stromae is one of the most interesting and innovative French language artists currently working. Known for having a variety of interests and enterprises, including his own fashion line Mosaert (a fashion range famously worn by artist Dua Lipa in the video for her single IDGAF), there is plenty of reasons to be excited about where his career will go next.