What about the name? Did he make you call him Maestro?
—Yeah, I called him Maestro.
—You didn’t mind?
—Well, I did at first, but, actually, I kind of got used to it.
—Okay, from now on, I want you to call me Jerry the Great.
—I’m not calling you Jerry the Great.
—Why not? You call him Maestro.
—He is a maestro.
—Well, I’m great.
—So you say.
—Seinfeld, “The Maestro”
While the year in music has been pretty good so far, and I am already fearing trying to cull my purchases for this year’s round-up post, I find myself going back time and again to a 2013 album I only recently discovered: Stromae’s Racine carrée. So, since it technically can’t be part of that eventual round-up, I’m talking about it now.
How did I not learn about this performer earlier? Well, it seems I was just not paying attention, his 2009 “Alors on danse” (later remixed by Kanye West) was a hit I had in fact heard before. And he’s slowly been making the rounds on the SXSW and Coachella circuit. Even if you don’t speak French, I highly recommend checking out the work of this Belgian rapper/singer. Most of the videos embedded here have either the French lyrics or English translations included.
Racine carrée still has some of these early house stylings, but pushes more heavily into the kind of exceptional wordplay that I haven’t heard since the days of MC Solaar. The album title itself, which translates as Square Root, is open to all sorts of interpretations. But what else would you expect from a singer whose stage name, Stromae, is “maestro” rendered in verlan?
This wordplay is most evident in the homophones, verbal expressions, and double entendres of “Sommeil”…
… as well as the Queneau-like title “Papaoutai”—a nonsense word seemingly straight out of Zazie dans le métro and constructed to sound like the Caribbean-flavored music in the song as well as reflect the theme of absent fathers (“Papa où t’es?” or “Papa, where are you?”). [Side note: Stromae was raised primarily by his Flemish mother. His father was killed in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.]
As seen above, Stromae also makes incredible videos. My favorite is this one filmed with hidden cameras, where people were genuinely concerned that Stromae was wandering around Brussels drunk.
His video for “Carmen”, a song using the theme of “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (“Love is a rebellious bird”) from the opera Carmen, is a harsh diatribe against social media, with a direct hit at Twitter’s infamous bird. The video is directed by Sylvain Chomet, of Les Triplettes de Belleville fame.
With the final track on the album, Stromae goes back to his rap roots with the social commentary of “Avf” (or “Allez vous faire”—the unsaid final word being foutre, that is, “go f*ck yourself”). This one just makes me want to MOVE.
And on that note… je file.