Wednesday, January 8, 2014

THF: Alors on est épris (AKA, Let's Talk About Stromae).

New year, new "actually write anything ever" resolution, newfound unemployment—&, alongside it all, a new all-consuming musical fixation.

Or, well, not so much "new" as "rediscovered": If you were 20s-adjacent in 2010 & happened to have ears at the time, you likely remember "Alors on danse," the chart-shatteringly infectious rap-electronica single that you might not have entirely understood in its fast-mumble français, but you certainly knew the eponymous chorus—& to jump up & down like a fiend at the siren-like electro-sax riff that followed. Perhaps you also have some memory of the (dear God so good-looking) star of its viral split-screen video—but if you're like me, you didn't know his name, or really care to know, or give much thought at all to whether his career would progress past that sole explosive multi-national hit.

Well, far from supernova-ing his way into oblivion, Belgian artist Stromae (verlan for "maestro") has apparently been steadily producing music since—&, surprise, he's nothing short of fabulous. Each track is both relentlessly clever & eminently danceable, a personal favorite combo of mine. They also tend subtly toward the theatrical, as he sings from the point of view of various characters, a practice I've been known to find fun.

True, some of the appeal (specifically, the omnipresent wordplay) may get lost in translation for those not Frenchly inclined, but I'd like to think that the sonic thralls—& his freaking gorgeous face the visual spectacle of the videos, several of which include English subtitles—can make up for it, at least in part.

Below are my three current "listen on repeat-repeat-repeat" picks—though I do highly recommend all of his most recent album "Racine Carrée" ("Square Root"). & also, y'know, maybe one more play-through of "Alors on danse," just for old times' sake. It really is an excellent young-professional anthem, perfect for the midwinter trudge-to-work blues—& more importantly, for the hazy limb-thrash sessions that inevitably follow.

"Tous les mêmes" ("All the Same").
My Stromae binge began with the above video, which I clocked instantly as "one of the more brilliant uses of the 'half-femme' face I've seen in quite some time," a statement I happily stand by. The song, which is written primarily from the perspective of a woman to her boyfriend, is essentially a run-down of Major Gender Stereotypes: Men are unfaithful, superficial louts who are "always there to make [children] but never to raise them," while women are hormonal head-game-players whose aggression thinly veils a Kate Moss insecurity complex. See: a version with English subtitles (also preceded by several minutes of him being adorable in a gondola):

Sure, on its face, the concept risks a sense of been-there banality—but the fact that Stromae & his bevy of asymmetrically-coiffed dancers play both roles, I think, adds an extra layer: the idea that for all their gendering blame & complaints, these men & women are ultimately tous les mêmes, if only in tediousness. 

Also, perhaps most importantly, are you kidding me with that post-chorus horn riff. I have committed many an embarrassing subway / elevator / down-the-sidewalk dance in the few weeks this song has graced my headphones, physically incapable of not dipping & swaying with each punch of brass. 

"Formidable" ("Wonderful").
Slightly slower but nonetheless sway-worthy, piano-backed "Formidable" takes the form of a recent dumpee's drunken rant—&, delightfully, so does its video. Hidden cameras capture the singer stumbling around a Brussels intersection, umbrellaless on a rainy weekday morning, alternately shouting spurts of lyrics & sitting slumped on the curb. Passersby pop out cell-phone cams, police approach to ask if he's had a "rough night"—it's a masterpiece of method acting-cum-media trolling. Plus, I'd be remiss if I didn't call out the rhyme-y cleverness of the chorus: Tu étais formdiable / j'étais fort minable (You were wonderful / I was so pathetic). I'm such a sucker for turns of phrase.

"Carmen" is, like it sounds, a riff on Bizet's opera of the same name—specifically, its most famous aria—though in this case, instead of comparing love to any old bird, l'amour est comme l'oiseau de Twitter. Yes, Stromae is calling out the site's winged logo, & with it, the potential slip into social superficiality that accompanies the rise of Social Media—the danger of a genuine "coup de foudre" being replaced by coups de hashtag. Lest the term "fucking genius" seem a bit much, for those not so sprung as I, I'll just point out the alliterative syllables tripping over jaunty cello & tightly wound beats, the savvy hip-hop-ification of high art—AKA, yes, please. 

See also: this recent live version, in which he sports a bowler hat & dances just so right, strolling dandyish with his cane-like partial mic stand, shoulders hunching hard with each speaker-testing bass throb, his movements mimicked by a grid of video projections behind him:

Ladies & gentlemen, I rest my case.

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