Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
Recently dubbed “The Most Famous Pop Star You’ve Never Heard Of,” Paul Van Haver – otherwise known as Stromae – is one of Europe’s biggest pop acts, and he’s finally making his much-needed touchdown in the United States.
Hailing from Belgium, Stromae released his sophomore effort Racine Carrée (Square Root) last year, an album that has topped the charts across Europe and is already making waves here, along with his single “Papaoutai.” Combining his love for hip-hop with electronic music, Stromae not only creates incredibly catchy dance floor fillers, but also addresses issues such as loneliness, absent fathers, race and gender roles in his music, making him a pop act that can’t be easily categorized. It would be pretty hard to confine this guy in a box, anyway, since he towers at 6’5″ tall.
After playing a full house at New York’s Best Buy Theatre on June 20th (he’s gearing up for a nearly sold-out North American tour in September), we sat down with Stromae to talk about his latest album, and what’s up next for Europe’s latest pop sensation.
HOW YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM: Back in 2010, the Belgian singer released infectious jam “Alors On Danse,” which Kanye West then remixed as well. He recorded that number in his room: “I wanted to say ‘Alors On Danse’ on the chorus, but I didn’t want to talk about all the things we can do in a club. I just wanted to talk about the real reason why we are dancing in clubs. When I go into the club, it’s the best place of melancholy. You have like fake happiness, and real happiness also, but you can see the worst sadness that you can ever find.”
HOW HE CAUGHT THE MUSIC BUG: “My mother put me in classical musical school and I discovered drums, and that was my introduction to music. After that, she decided to send me to boarding school. I discovered composition on computers, just trying to make some instrumentals and, at this time, it was more composition than during my classical music school.”
MUSIC INFLUENCES: An eclectic roster of folks that include Congolese rumba singers Papa Wemba and Franco Laumbo, Cuban ensemble Buena Vista Social Club, the Cape Verdean “Barefoot Diva” Cesaria Evora and, oh wait, Brooklyn’s Biggie and Harlem’s G. Dep. “‘Special Delivery’ [by G. Dep] is like one of my classics,” Stromae raved.
WHY RACINE CARRÉE BECAME THE ALBUM TITLE: “It was obvious for me to take this title because the influences from this album came from my young, young, young age. I knew that before my teenager time, I was influenced by African music…at family parties, we used to listen to Salsa music, Congolese Rumba, stuff like that, so the word ‘Roots’ was totally justified for this. ‘Square roots,’ maybe, for this kind of pattern that we used to create with the fashion designer. Maybe because I used to think in this way, like a mathematician.”
ON HIS NEW SINGLE, “PAPAOUTAI”: Stromae admitted that the initial version of the song was a bit more angsty than the finished product. “The first version was more a teenager vision, more aggressive, like ‘you’ve never been there for me,’ and ‘you’re the baddest father on the earth.’ I understood that that’s just a vision that you have as a teenager, so I decided to just grow up and ask the real question like ‘Okay, what’s a father?’ because I actually have to be a father because I’m almost 30. So, what’s a father? What’s a good father? Actually, nobody knows what’s a good father. That’s the question of the song. ‘Everybody knows how to make babies, but nobody knows how to make fathers.’ For me, that’s the most important sentence in the song because that’s the answer I was looking for…and there is no answer.”