Paul van Haver, better known by his stage name, Stromae, is not a typical pop star. He wears pastels, sweater vests, and long socks. He dances like a praying mantis on fast-forward. He sings about Twitter. He sings about gender. He sings about the father he lost in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. At his concerts, he spends ten minutes sing-thanking everyone who made his career possible. He's not afraid to sing a cappella. With just a MIDI keyboard and a few of his buddies, inspired by French classics, Cuban jazz, and African percussion, Stromae turned out to be one of Europe's most famous stars.
But how could such an unconventional pop star have such a cult following? (Even by people that don't speak French?)
Let's start with his name. The Belgian-Rwandan hip hop singer is not merely a musician, but a maestro, (which in verlan is Stromae). His electronic music encompasses the scope of an orchestra, using horns, guitars, keyboards, and drums to create something bigger than just hip hop. It is a hip hop that is aware of its cross-genre predecessors. One of Stromae's biggest influences was the late Cape Verdean singer, Cesária Évora, for whom he dedicated his song, "Ave Cesaria."
Not only are Stromae's musical knowledge and influences robust, but what makes him special is his ability to perform. His seemingly boundless energy is electrifying; he is a natural born actor. "Tous les Mêmes" is a song about gender expectations for men and women. Stromae splits his body into one half woman and one half man, making for a particularly entertaining and inspiring performance.
Another one of his standouts is a peculiar song about a little bird. "L'amour est comme l'oiseau de Twitter," starts Stromae's hit, "Carmen." Love is like the Twitter bird. Only can Stromae turn Georges Bizet's sexy opera classic, "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle," into a hip hop jam about the evils of social media addiction. It's one of his many talents. Plus, it has some spectacular animation.
But since his 2013 album, Racine Carrée, fans have been aching for another album. Though for now, I'm totally content with just listening to these inspiring hits over and over again. Others of my favorites include the rap-based song about the decline of humankind, "Humain à l'Eau," and the deceptively simple, "Moules Frites," which uses a popular French dish as a metaphor to talk about about STD and AIDS prevention.
One does not simply fall in love with Stromae's music. One falls in love with him: his look, his voice, his passion and compassion. He is a singer who places humanity at the forefront. I say to Stromae, take your time. The longer you make us wait, the more we want you.