Stromae’s new album tackles mental health and misogyny while avoiding culture wars

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The famous Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae has released his third album Multitudemaking a long-awaited return to the international music scene after an eight-year hiatus.

Known for hits such as “Alors on danse”, “Papaoutai” and “Formidable”, Stromae (real name Paul Van Haver; stage name is a variant of “Maestro”) is one of the most popular contemporary French-speaking artists. influential. His propensity for writing dark lyrics to upbeat electro music has won him a lot of accolades since his debut album. Cheese in 2010.

“If it’s a rhythmic track, like a really happy song, I don’t want to sing really happy lyrics to it, I want to twist it,” the 36-year-old singer said. Newsweek. “I think it’s possible to dance to the hardships. I think it’s possible to celebrate the hard life.”

Naturally, the world isn’t what it was in 2013, the year of Stromae’s last critically acclaimed album. Square root has been freed. Why did it take him so long?

“I just needed to live,” he says. “I was lucky to have a beautiful baby, to get married, I experienced some nice things. And to meet people, to discuss, to listen… And in the end, all that gives matter.”

In the midst of a grueling world tour, Stromae announced his indefinite retirement from music in 2014, but he’s barely been dormant over the years. He has collaborated with household names like Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and Coldplay, and has also launched five clothing lines under his creative label Mosaert.

“I started to get, not jealous, but when I started to see other artists putting out stuff, I started to be like, ‘Ah man, this is really good music, I wish I had done that,'” he said. “I started to get a little bitter, so I was like, ‘That means maybe it’s time for me to get back to it.'”

Unbeknownst to patient fans, Stromae began work on her new album which would originally be titled Folklore in 2018. That is, before Taylor Swift released her chart-topping album of the same name. charts in 2020. The new title Multitudehe said, was more than the next best thing: “It just made sense.”

“I love playing different characters, and even the musical direction influences are completely diverse,” he said. Newsweek.

Square root unveiled a rich tapestry of electronica, nostalgic French folk and vibrant African percussion. Multitude branches out even further. The disc blends vocals and instrumentals from many parts of the world, including contributions from Chinese erhu master Guo Gan, Bolivian charango player Alfredo Coca, the Franco-Bulgarian choir Orenda and the National Orchestra of Belgium. .

The sounds of Multitude are thrilling, but less sanguine than previous Stromae material. There is a darker edge, a pause, an air of unease. The singer describes the album as “a little less upbeat” and “rather slow”.

Singer-songwriter Stromae performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 19, 2015 in Indio, California.
Chelsea Lauren/Getty

However, lyrical storytelling through larger-than-life protagonists remains a leitmotif. The first two albums of Stromae present striking personalities: a woman expressing her grievances with men in “Tous les memes”, a man succumbing to AIDS in “Moules frites”, a child mistreated by the adults who surround him in “Dodo “.

Listeners looking for love songs in Multitude will meet a man desperately disenchanted with both celibacy and relationships (“La solassitude”), a serial cheater outraged by the fact that his ex-partner is moving on (“Mon amour”) and a couple in disenchantment who does not know why they stay together (“Not really”).

MultitudeThe cast of characters evokes the many faces of the human condition, including existential angst. This seems timely given the universal psychological toll of casualties and confinement during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Hell,” a single released ahead of the album, took an intimate look at loneliness and suicidal ideation.

Stromae explains these themes from his flow of creativity – a process that begins with composing music, followed by building a chorus, and then “writing a story” around it. “I didn’t think, ‘Hey, I’m going to talk about mental or health issues,'” he says. “It came like that, spontaneously.” Regardless, the words are biting.

Multitude ends with two mirror titles: “Bad Day” and “Good Day”. The first song describes a bad sanity day spent trudging through a misery-soaked routine. The following is a joyful emergence from the depressive episode, with a spring at each step revisited from the day before.

“It was one of the most difficult to complete because the process was very long,” says Stromae. “I’m used to telling stories, playing certain characters in my songs, but never describing a mood or a day, you know? »

“I wanted to end the album with a positive message, which is ‘Good Day’. There are not only bad stories that I like to tell, there is also happiness.” Still, Stromae says “Bad Day” – in which he yells, “Help me / I feel so lonely / Leave me alone / It’s my right to be depressed in my chair” – is a song “about which I love to dance.

Square root drew praise for addressing various aspects of self, including race and gender. In “All the Same”, Stromae performed fluidly as the female character for the song’s music video and on stage.

Identity and belonging were at the heart of the culture wars that engulfed the United States and spread to other parts of the world, including French-speaking countries.

Following the global Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the Belgian government is seeking to atone for the country’s genocidal colonial legacy under King Leopold II. The monarch’s brutal rule over the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) from 1885 to 1908 resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10 million Congolese.

Meanwhile, the Flemish far right – a fervent anti-immigration movement with white supremacist elements – has been gaining momentum for several years.

In neighboring France, presidential candidate Éric Zemmour is emerging as a superstar for right-wing extremists, who see him as an antidote to political correctness gone mad. There was even an outcry over the main French dictionary Little Robert introduce a non-sexist pronoun hey.

Considering everything that happened during Stromae’s hiatus, fans might be surprised to find out Multitude avoided political statements – except for “Declaration,” a crystal clear message about misogyny and feminism.

“I admit that it’s a bit voluntarily that I try to avoid topical subjects, but it’s because the debate is already there, so I don’t really see what more I can contribute because all the opinions have already been given,” he said. . “Of course we all want to move towards a better world and we all want equality for all.”

“That’s why I was hesitant to put ‘Declaration’ on the album, because it was such a hot topic,” he continued.

“I listened to that song again and, actually, no, the lyrics are another point of view, and that’s the male point of view. There aren’t a lot of male opinions on feminism.”

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Michel Ferie

Stromae expresses a preference for drawing attention to “subjects that are talked about a little less”. He points to the song “Fils de joie”, in which we hear people in the orbit of a sex worker, in particular her child. “At the end I said to myself: ‘What could be better than taking the voice of this son, this lady, this cop, this client'”, he says. “Everyone has a point of view on this woman and she is never really asked for her opinion.”

This is not the first time that Stromae has explored subsidiary relations. “Papaoutai”, a beloved energetic song from Square root, is about a boy looking for his absent father. (The artist’s Rwandan father was killed in the country’s 1994 genocide.) Now himself the father of a young son born in 2018, Stromae paints a ruthless portrait of parenthood in “C’est que du happiness”. The song begins with an excessive love for the child, before thanking him for having “destroyed mum’s body, she didn’t like herself very much but it’s worse than before”.

“Because there are so many songs about fatherhood that are, like, ‘Okay, I love you, you’re the best thing in my life,'” Stromae said. Newsweek. “Of course I love her, and as I say at the very beginning of the song, ‘I gave birth to you and you saved my life.’ “So yes, ironically, as I like to do, I like to portray the bad side.”

“C’est que du bonheur” covers diapers, smells, vomit and poop, before launching into teen tantrums and empty nests. When the adult son has his own children and deals with the resulting mess, he also witnesses the incontinence of his aging parents.

This reveals another notable pattern in Multitude: scatology. In “Bad Day” and “Good Day”, respectively, the “poo” goes bad, then is “perfect” the next day.

“Maybe the most popular word on this album is poo,” Stromae says with a laugh. “Maybe because I literally got my hands dirty for two years, maybe that’s why I use that word a lot.”

While Multitude creatively divides into uncomfortable realities, Stromae said he seeks to channel positivity. In late 2021, he teased his re-emergence with a “happy song” from the album.

“Santé” is a living tribute to the workers – from waiters to nurses to fishermen – whose jobs involve night shifts and grueling hours. A statement of circumstance, given the inequalities made apparent and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Corn MultitudeThe opening track “Undefeated” isn’t quite as sweet, it’s just as relevant. Stromae can be heard rapping combatively about putting three bullets in someone’s head, later revealed to be the disease personified, as the song is meant to “celebrate healing”.

“I’m just saying if you’re alive you’re ‘invictus,'” he said. Newsweek. “We always like to talk about cancer, COVID, whatever, but actually, if we’re still alive, that’s something really positive.”

“We just fought and we won the fight, and that’s beautiful.”