"I just want to tell stories, like a photographer or a director" - Stromae, to Radar Magazine, Oct 2013
Among the infinitesimally small number of albums I've listened to, one that I really really loved in 2013 was Stromae's Racine Carrée.
The first song of the Belgian artist Paul von Haver, who calls himself Stromae - verlan for maestro (mae-'stro-mae'-stro) - that I heard was "Alors On Danse" (So, Let's dance) - a single. It was released in 2010, but I came across it sometime in 2012 through Facebook or Twitter (I forget). After listening to the incredibly haunting song a few times, I moved on to other things and had not even noticed who the artist was etc. I came back to this after the new album scorched the music scene.
While the tune and the beats (Stromae started out as a drummer) are engaging enough to keep you hooked, the lyrics are what stood out for me. It's about our daily dreary lives - studies, work, taxes, routine and death - and...screw it, let's dance.
This was a 2010 single, by the way. Radio brought it to every corner of Belgium and France, Remixes were made in the USA, Some Hindi and Tamil songs were 'inspired' by the beats and the oh-so-haunting tune. In time, he became an international phenomenon in French speaking circles and released his first album Cheese (2010). His rise is almost like that of the Belgian football team (have you checked their lineup lately?)
Racine Carrée (2013)
Though the album was released in August, a single from it was released a couple of months earlier in May...and that'll be the first song we review.
1. First Single: Papaoutai
Easily the most famous of all the songs from the album (and my favourite too), Papaoutai explores Dads from a kid's point of view - the message was clear right from the title (ou t'es? - where are you?). "Everyone knows how to make good kids, but alas, who knows how to make good Dads?", asks the song. A very sad story of a kid is conveyed through the song, to awesome beats and a dance worthy tune. 'Meloncholy is where Human Beauty is,' he said to a Swedish magazine in an interview, and this was beautiful, indeed.
The incredible effort that seems to have gone into making this music video also adds tremendously to the song. This song, to misquote Chandler Bing, was Commercial Perfection.
A great creative video you can't stop watching (what timing for the dance moves!), a message you can't deny and superb music to go with it - this combo even broke linguistic barriers and the song marched to the top of the charts in non-francophone countries. This also brought out the actor in Stromae for the first time, but the best was yet to come.
Stromae's dad died in the Rwandan Genocide when he was nine - and supposedly wasn't there for him even before that - which also lends a very deeply personal angle to the song. The song spent multiple weeks at #1 in France.
See it to believe it.
Commercial Perfection, right? A few hundred million views spread across several copies on youtube and still going very strong. What's great is that most of the world doesn't even know about the song yet.
2. Second Single: Formidable
About one week after Papaoutai hit the markets, several videos and images emerged of a drunk Stromae on the streets of Brussels. There was a lot of buzz in the mainstream media around it - and it lent to the increased awareness of Papaoutai. About one month later, he released his second music video for the album - the video for which was made entirely from hidden camera footage of this seemingly drunk-on-the-streets act - again making mainstream news rather than being restricted to the music sections.
This, again, relies heavily on lyrics - even more so than usual because it's mostly rap - with a very small, but effective slide into a musical note (like in very, very old musicals and plays) with an accompanying tune that has been either very well received or hated by different people. I liked it, though when it comes to rap, there are higher benchmarks.
Stromae's team showed its creativity again, but in a different domain. This song hit #1 on the charts, too.
...and that's how you fool mainstream media into promoting your songs. Acting drunk is probably the easiest thing to do as an actor, and Stromae passed level 1 beautifully.
3. Racine Carrée - The Album
The album itself released in August amidst huge expectations after the runaway success of the two singles. 300K units were sold (online + offline) in three weeks - and it ended up becoming the highest selling album of the year, beating a more established Daft Punk's Random Access Memories (You saw him at the Grammys, yo). It set a record of sorts, selling a million copies in under 4 months (while the last album to hit a million was Adele's 21 in 2011 - and that took a whole 11 months. source: wiki).
Coming back to my opinion, I found no other song as good as Papoutai, though they're all quite good on their own - probably because of my sky high expectations. Some songs are great in particular, like Tous Les Mêmes - we'll get to that later. Lyrics wise, this is what song lyrics should be - attacking deep rooted beliefs and social issues, offering new perspectives - and not about liquor and drugs and women and love and money and fame (which covers most of the music world).
If you want a happy dance song you could tap to, here's 'ta fete' (Your party / Your celebration). Quite addictive, if you're in a group who are okay with singing along!
If you want another haunting almost middle eastern experience, here's 'Carmen' for you.
The album also spent about 16 weeks as #1 in 2013 after releasing in bloody August. In BLOODY AUGUST.
4. Third Single - Tous Les Mêmes
After four months of staying at the top, what did Stromae do? He decided to make another music video. Of course.
A hypnotic song from the same album, Tous Les Mêmes, was released as the third single in December 2013 and crawled pretty quickly to the #1 spot. Stromae mentioned in a recent interview that being a Good Actor matters for an Artist, next only to being good at the music side of it. He excels as an actor in this music video - looking at things from the perspectives of a woman and a man (both played by Stromae). This surprised even his hardcore fans - who you'd think would already expect truckloads of uniqueness and creativity.
The winding music player in the opening scene tells us exactly what to expect - everything about the song is drawn out and winding, in a way. While the instruments and the music start out that way, even Stromae puts all the words together to make the song more...Hypno, to say. He also plays with two colours alone to keep the hypno effect On through the song.
...and of course, it's a brilliant song. (See video sequence from 1:08 in particular)
Look at the Millions number (video views). It changes everyday. True story.
Please don't forget to pass this on to those who keep cawing the same 'no new songs are good' over and over again.
PS: Suggest some other good songs / artists / albums, no?