Close your eyes and picture ––– stop, no wait ––– he doesn’t fit the “typical” mold of an entrepreneur.
At 6’3”, he is soft-spoken and well dressed, with cinnamon-coloured skin and translucent green eyes. His style is a cross between electic and preppy, with razor-trimmed hair that accentuates his already high cheek bones. Did I mention, with a contagiously warm smile, he is charismatic and handsome, if not unconventionally sexy.
I am talking about Belgian artist – Paul Van Haver, better known by his stage, Stromae.
Alone, Stromae stands strong as one of the world’s most loved brands. Having completed 209 shows in under two years, hits reaching number one in 19 countries worldwide and a sold out unisex clothing label, mosaert, this mega superstar entrepreneur is beyond successful. Ironically, the way he handles all the attention – with grace, humility and sincerity truly adds to his success – making him a highly respected artist and entrepreneur.
Tell me more!
Stromae has received a handful of awards for his French songs, videos and live performances. His breakthrough was in 2010 with his house-electro album Cheese that went Platinum three times in Belgium, Gold in France and Austria. His single “Alors on Danse” was described by The New York Times as “a mournful anthem that evokes unemployment, divorce, debt and the financial crisis of our times.” If things couldn’t get any better, Kanye West remixed the hit in English, taking his popularity across continents to North America and beyond!
Far from being a one hit wonder, his second album, Racine Carrée, saw an even bigger success. Selling over 2.5 million copies around the world, the album went Platinum two times in Europe and once in Canada. His song, “Ta Fête,” was the Belgian Team’s anthem for the 2014 World Cup and was played over and over again during the games.
A possible reason for the overwhelming success on the album: he was built unique, there was nobody else like him.
What did he build?
A musical paradise tangled in lyrical mastery
Everyone from the young to the mature acknowledges his talent. He brings together a worldly mix of influences. His sound is a unique blend of electronic beats, pop, Congolese rumba and the soul of Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. Singing only in French, he is not afraid of injecting some substance into his club-friendly sounds. If you listen attentively, you will find humour in his lyrics and his style, but there is also a darker layer in the subtext.
Native French speakers will understand how clever Stromae’s lyrics are. His play on words is common and his ability to speak about controversial topics in a witty way leaves the audience speechless. In addition to being a lyrical genius, he has mastered being able to put melancholic themes on dance tracks.
Described as being “the best kind of pop star that is irresistibly compelling and socially aware,” Stromae’s songs reflect local and global issues and he works hard to make a positive contribution to the pop conversation. So while it may take you more effort to comprehend his French lyrics, than say those of Ariana Grande or Carly Rae Jepsen, it’s absolutely worthwhile.
A few of his hauntingly beautiful and poignant songs include:
Papaoutai (translates into ‘Papa, where are you?’): story of a boy’s emptiness growing up with an absent father.
Formidable: a heartbroken young man who and drowns his sorrows in alcohol.
Tous les mêmes (translates into ‘All the same’): showcases gender stereotypes and the divide between men and women, where Stromae plays both sides dressed as half-man and half-woman.
Quand C’est (in English, sounds like ‘Cancer’): with a play on words in title, cancer is personified as the shadow spider creeping throughout the entire video. At the end, the human figure gets consumed by the spider.
Carmen: warns us of the dangers of our consumer society where social media inhibits the creation of real relationships and encourages us to become mindless followers. In the video, Twitter is represented quite literally by a little blue bird.
Love is like the twitter bird
You only fall for him for 48 hours
First we meet, then we follow
It makes us crazy and we end up solo…
To all those who like you out there
And the plastic smiles cut like hashtags
That cursed bird, I’ll put him in a cage, I’ll make him sing
One day you buy
One day you love
One day you throw away
But one day you pay…
You all best beware
And in the end, it’s every man for himself
And that’s how we love, love, love.
Lyrics sourced here.
He claims to be a storyteller and though his songs are inspired by his own life experiences, he takes a step back and tries to avoid making them too personal so that other can relate to them.
True entertainer with an incredible stage presence
He is on the radio every hour. For Belgian locals and other around Europe, it’s hard to go to anywhere without being harassed by Stromae’s voice. You want to switch things up a listen to North American radio instead? Good luck because you’ll end up hearing Kanye West’s remix of Stromae. Looking through the magazine stand? You’ll find Stromae on the covers of Elle, GQ, Télérama and Les Inrocks. What about North American publications like the New York Times and the Guardian you ask? Well, he’s on that too!
This man is everywhere. It would be almost annoying if it turned out to be a meticulously planned marketing campaign, but it’s not. The truth is, Stromae’s got talent!
He is a true performer. With a strong character that cannot be boxed in, Stromae’s charming is refreshing. His deep vocals trigger strong emotions that allow him to connect with the audience. Then comes his moves, making poses that exaggerates his lankiness, Stromae tells a powerful story using his body language. Playing different characters within his songs and looking ridiculous is also comes second nature to him.
Grounding his legacy
When he’s not joking with fans or his bandmates, he tells The Independent, “I’m trying to stay normal, that’s all. But it’s hard. Everything has changed. Success is a gift, but it’s a handicap at the same time, I think.”
Stromae’s image appeals to a wide range audiences and can be appreciated by different generations as he is a respectable figure who embodies “cool” and promotes critical thinking, sincerity, originality and fun, despite the serious messages he hopes to deliver through his lyrics.
Being in his early 30s, there’s no doubt that Stromae will continue to capture the attention of many more in the years.
To stay grounded amidst his success, he feels strongly about the following:
Celebrity is overrated
Stromae tries to keep a clear distance between work and play – Stromae and Paul. “People recognize you, yes, but nobody’s crazy, nobody’s screaming. It’s really quiet. And maybe that’s why I love Brussels. Because it’s a boring city, and I’m proud of this city because it’s boring,” he says.
No topic is off-limits
There are a lot of taboo topics in life, music helps break that barrier: “Music is the only place that I can have no taboos.” Stromae believes it’s important to keep the conversation open.
Voice of our generation?
He candidly admits that he doesn’t want to be a voice of a generation. “I’m 30 and I’m just singing, that’s all. But sometimes you can think you are becoming a genius or something, and it’s dangerous. But actually, you are just like everybody else, just trying to tell stories and that’s all.”
He goes on to say “At this point in time, you may have all the attention and the support of the people, but maybe the next time you won’t have the vision that people want to believe in.” Success is defined by the relationship you have with yourself. It is important to not let external influences impact who you are and what you stand for. Your 15 minutes will come and go, but as long as you stay true to who you are, you will never lose your joie de vivre.
His talent is undeniable but do you buy Stromae’s brand? What do you think of his view on success? How do you define success in your life and how do you stay grounded? I’d love to hear from you!