Stromae proved his Euro-chic dynamism at Boston’s House of Blues this past Friday, giving a show almost as theatrical as it was musical. Belgian-born as Paul Van Haver, Stromae is a European sensation whose presence in the U.S. has grown since the release of his 2009 single “Alors On Danse” (“So We Dance”), and with good reason. Stromae’s music blends electronic dance music with a hint of pop, though his underlying message often leans toward the serious.
In the case of “Alors On Danse,” a strong electronic beat serves as its foundation, lending well to clubs and parties. Over the baseline, Stromae comments on the financial and social situation of Europe: despite the divorce and debt, “alors on danse.”
He began the show with “Ta Fête” (“Your Party”) — a good choice for an opening act at a sold-out venue. It’s an explosive dance song that carries a wildly expressive bass and drum line from start to finish. While the audience reflected the energy and excitement of the song, Stromae introduced himself as his own performer, standing tall and staid, feet together and arms to his sides, somewhat reminiscent of a schoolboy at a spelling bee.
Dressed in simple black trousers, a buttoned-up sweater and a small black bowtie, he could have walked out of an oak-paneled study rather than the urban venues in which his music is most frequently played. Instead of dancing with his audience, Stromae embodied the theatrical nature of his performance and solidified the deliberateness of his creative intentions.
The show was also marked by impressive visuals. Clips of an animated movie played before Stromae took the stage, between set changes and even during his performances. Entirely in black and white, these clips looked as though they could have been produced by Tim Burton. A small cartoon Stromae ran across the cartoon screen, tumbled down chutes, and was plucked into the air by a mechanical claw. The recently released music video for “Quand C’est?” (“When Is It?”), in the same cartoon style, accompanied his performance of the song. Arguably one of his more explicitly serious songs, “Quand C’est?” deals with the threat of cancer. Describing its prevalence and lack of discrimination between parent or child, Stromae asks, “who’s next?”, wondering if the disease will ever take a break.
On the screen behind him, a spindly arachnoid hand prods into the open space in search of its next victim. He sings the song with an effluvial melancholy that is distinct from the rest of his discography, producing a sound similar to currently popular non-traditional R&B artists.
Though he sings primarily in French, Stromae addressed his audience in perfect English. He took one step further in his multilingualism by introducing “Te Quiero” in Spanish. Later, he poured himself a drink and even toasted in Portuguese.
He emphasized the importance of internationalism and multiculturalism to his music by introducing the members of his band, who have roots all over Europe and Africa.
Stromae closed the show with “Papaoutai,” arguably his most popular song with over 286 million views on YouTube and 78 million listens on Spotify. The title, a conglomerate word not in the French lexicon, is based off the French “where are you, dad?”
As this suggests, the song focuses on Stromae’s absent father. On the screen behind him was a pattern of animated, block-like men. He wore a light blue polo shirt with the same pattern, and shorts with the images slightly enlarged. What does the repetition of this pattern have to do with the absence of his father? Who knows. But one fact is clear: despite his commercial success, Stromae continues to create on the basis of his individual flair.