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 street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Miss.Tic, whose provocative work began cropping up in the Montmartre neighbourhood of Paris in the mid-80s and made her a pioneer of French street art, died on Sunday aged 66, her family told AFP.

Paris street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Radhia Novat grew up in the narrow streets in the shadow of Sacre-Coeur basilica, the daughter of a Tunisian father and a mother from Normandy in western France, where she began stencilling sly and emancipatory slogans.

Her family said she had died of an unspecified illness.

Other French street artists paid tribute to her work.

On Twitter, street artist Christian Guemy, alias C215, hailed “one of the founders of stencil art”. The walls of the 13th arrondissement of Paris – where her images are a common sight – “will never be the same again”, he wrote.

Another colleague, “Jef Aerosol” said she had fought her final illness with courage, in a tribute posted on Instagram.

And France’s newly appointed Culture Minister, Rima Abdul Malak, saluted her “iconic, resolutely feminist” work.

Miss.Tic’s work often included clever wordplays — almost always lost in translation — and a heroine with flowing black hair who resembled the artist herself. The images became fixtures on walls across the capital.

Miss. Tic with some examples of her work. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

“I had a background in street theatre, and I liked this idea of street art,” Miss.Tic said in a 2011 interview.

“At first I thought, ‘I’m going to write poems’. And then, ‘we need images’ with these poems. I started with self-portraits and then turned towards other women,” she said.

Miss.Tic also drew the attention of law enforcement over complaints of defacing public property, leading to an arrest in 1997.

But her works came to be shown in galleries in France and abroad, with some acquired by the Paris modern art fund of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, according to her website.

And cinema buffs will recognise her work on the poster for Claude Chabrol’s 2007 film “La fille coupee en deux” (“A Girl Cut in Two”).

For a spell she was a favourite of fashion brands such as Kenzo and Louis Vuitton.

“So often it’s not understood that you can be young and beautiful and have things to say,” she told AFP in 2011.

“But it’s true that they sell us what they want with beautiful women. So I thought, I’m going to use these women to sell them poetry.”

Her funeral, the date of which is still to be announced, will be open to the public, said her family.