2014, the year that Belgian artist Stromae will not only have conquered his native homeland and neighbouring France, but the entire European continent. When Papaoutai and Formidable rose to the top of charts this year, so did the ‘Belgian’ image. Indeed, Stromae has brought back an identity that seemed lost to this surrealism-loving, beer-drinking-and-chocolate-eating-nation.
For those of you who are not familiar with this -safe to say- peculiar artist, a short introduction is in place: Stromae, or Paul van Haver, was born in 1985 to a Rwandan father and a Belgian mother. His first big hit was the dance song Alors on danse, still very popular in today’s nightlife scene. After his first CD (Cheese), it seemed like he was destined to become another one-hit-wonder kid. He began a relationship with Tatiana Silva, former Miss Belgium, and it seemed as if the story would have a happy ending, with both of them living quietly in the Belgian countryside.
But as we all know, fairytales seldom come true and the couple had its inevitable break-up in september 2012. This romantic pain brought on a new burst of genius in the young artist, and he started working on his new album Racine Carrée (Square Root).
When the first song was released, Formidable, it went viral on Online Social Media. The clip, which featured himself pretending to be drunk in the middle of Brussels and fooling police officers, led him to become so successful that on the album’s release date, people waited more than 6 hours in line so as to be able to claim their signed copy. Not bad for a Belgian artist.
But what makes him so popular? Is it really only the special type of music (indeed, Stromae requires multiple listenings to ‘really’ appreciate the song) and his hipster shirts? Or can we maybe detect a political message that appeals to the Belgians especially? In a country that forever seems divided between Flemish and Walloon people and no longer functions as one true Belgian nation, Stromae’s songs carry out a true message to keep alive the Belgian spirit.
In his song Bâtard for example, one can truly discover this message. In the excerpt below, he argues that we can’t make a distinction between Walloon and Flemish people, simple because this is racism. Granted, this message seems quite straight-forward and a little simple, but still it’s heard by all his fans on both sides of the Belgian language barrier, something previously unseen in the Belgian media landscape.
Flamand ou Wallon ?
Bras ballants ou bras longs ?
Finalement t’es raciste
Mais t’es blanc ou bien t’es marron, hein ?
Ni l’un, ni l’autre.
Bâtard, tu es, tu l’étais, et tu le restes !
One might argue that all his songs are in French, and that this undermines the Belgian idea. But the fact is that Stromae speaks both French and Flemish fluently, and opted to carry out his songs in French, just because that language tends to be more fluent.
Last week Stromae’s new clip Tous les mêmes was released. Again, the clip went viral on Facebook and Twitter, this time because he switches between a male and female character all the time. This might be going out on a leap, but if we again include the Belgian idea, he can be seen as portraying the two opposite sides in Belgium but in the end arguing again that there should be no differences between the two.
But even with artists like Stromae and the qualification of the national football team (Belgian Red Devils) for the World Championship in Brazil, the future for Belgium as one country seems gloomy. Political parties demanding independence of Flanders are steadily rising in election polls, and since there are only few truly federals competences remaining, a separation between the two parts (!not yet defined how this would go about in practice) seems inevitable. One can only hope that the new generation of Stromae fans turns the tide, and helps to keep this, already small nation together, because let’s face it: Belgiumoutai does not seem very catchy.