After touring in support of his first album, Cheese, Stromae began work on his second album, which was released in August 2013. With an American tour just around the corner, here’s an introduction to the album titled √, or Racine Carrée (Square Root).
Why is the album called Racine Carrée?
The word root in the title refers to the artist’s interest in roots, whether musical roots (the album is strongly influenced by the music of his childhood) or family connections. Stromae is meticulous in his work: he’s said that the title alludes to the fact that he feels that he makes music as if he were doing math. Also, Stromae is known for his plays on words, so there may even be a double meaning with another sense of the French word carré (square). It can be used to describe a person who expresses an opinion with determination and frankness.
The album Racine Carrée consists of 12 songs and a bonus track.
1 “Ta fête” (Your Party) was released February 3, 2014 as the fourth single from the album. The song was the official anthem of the Belgian soccer/football team for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In a tongue-in-cheek “Leçon 28,” (Lesson 28) Stromae pitches his grandiose idea for a video to a totally unreceptive Belgian team. The official video, directed by Lieven van Baelen, was posted on YouTube June 17, 2014, and in two months had exceeded more than 6 million views. Stromae plays on the phrase “faire ta fête,” which literally means “to party” but figuratively means “to be out to get you.” This song is often thought of as a thematic sequel to Stromae’s 2010 hit “Alors On Danse”: chronic partiers are in denial of the realities of their lives. Eventually, the party stops and reality hits hard.
2 “Papaoutai” (or Papa où t’es, Papa Where Are You) was released as the first single from the album on May 13, 2013. Casablanca Records, Stromae’s American label, released the song in the US in 2014. The title is an example of a French word game called trompe-oreilles, in which nonsense syllables are combined to create a phrase which appears to have a different meaning. In the song, the son of an absent father is plagued by questions from others and from himself. Stromae plays a perfectly immobile mannequin father figure in the video, suggesting a father who is absent but still present in the heart of the child. The video was posted on YouTube on June 6, 2013 and is the French-language music video most viewed in the world, with over 180 million views to date.
3 “Bâtard” (Bastard) considers both the extremist and the one who finds himself unable to take a stand on issues. Asking which position is preferable, the conclusion is ultimately “neither.” At the same time, the song criticizes tendencies that tend to blind us to others’ humanity, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.
4 “Ave Cesaria” (Hail Cesaria) is for many fans the most important song on this album. Paying tribute to Cesaria Evora (1941-2011), one of Stromae’s favorite artists, this song tells of a fan’s undying devotion to an admired artist, a devotion that continues even after they are separated by death. To introduce listeners to Evora’s talent, he refers to her by her well-known nickname the “Barefoot Diva” and references her popular song “Sodade.” The Latin melody and handclaps recall “Angola,” one of Stromae’s favorite Cesaria Evora songs.
5 “Tous Les Mêmes” (All The Same): released December 24, 2013 as the third single from the album. “Tous Les Mêmes” alternates between the two voices of the partners in a troubled relationship: an idealistic girl and a macho boy who limits girls to the “rules.” In his “Leçon No. 24,” Stromae introduced the character who represents both these individuals. The singer is divided in two, his left side representing the woman and his right side the man. Stromae made a dramatic appearance on the famous French newscast “Le Grand Journal” to introduce “his other half.” In one of his more impressive performances, Stromae had a conversation with his “other half” (which is actually played by himself). It took a team 4 hours of shooting and three days of editing to produce the segment. On December 18, 2013, Stromae released the official video of “Tous Les Mêmes,” which now has more than 60 million views.
6 “Formidable” (Wonderful) is the best-known song of the album next to “Papaoutai.” The buzz surrounding the shooting of the video was considerable. Stromae was spotted in the Place Louise in Brussels during a drizzly spring morning rush hour, hollering, apparently stumbling drunk. Some of the onlookers whipped out phones, and YouTube videos appeared. The press was unleashed on the case, and the articles spewed out: “Stromae Drunk in Place Louise,” “Has Stromae Lost his Head?”A few days later, a new Stromae video, “Formidable (ceci n’est pas une leçon)” (this is not a lesson) was released. Stromae had had everyone fooled: he’d planned the whole thing. When he was singing “Formidable,” apparently drunk on the streets of Belgium, it was all an act, filmed on hidden camera. In this bitter breakup ballad, Stromae plays a lover who’s drowned his sorrows in alcohol after being rejected for his inability to father a child.
7 “Moules frites” (Mussels and Fries): On the surface, this song may just seem plain stupid: “Polo likes mussels and fries without fries or mayo.” But when we take a closer look at the lyrics, there’s a double meaning (the missing link: “moules” is slang for “vagina”). “Polo” (Stromae’s nickname) imagines himself enticed into having sex with some girl who has AIDS, with fatal results. “I wanted to make fun of how men love sex and say, like, pay attention to your penis, man! It could kill you!” The concert performance of this song touches on the surreal as the audience dances and sings along to “POLO AIME LES MOULES FRITES SANS FRITES ET SANS MAYO IYOOH IYOOH!” But one of Stromae’s peculiar talents is his ability to lead his audience to dance to the most serious of problems.
8 “Carmen” is an adaptation of the song “Habanera” “(“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”) (Love is a rebellious bird) from the opera Carmen by French composer Georges Bizet. It addresses the alienation that can result from the use of social networks such as Twitter. “Carmen” warns against the modern habit of falling too quickly in love then just as easily discarding the beloved as soon as things go wrong or someone more attractive appears.
9 “Humain à l’eau” (Man Overboard) is one of the more danceable tracks. But again, there are serious themes here: the accepted “wisdom” of modern civilization is contrasted with the “wisdom” of more ancient traditional societies in which “Jaguars don’t roll.” “La dernière leçon de stromae ‘Humain à l’Eau‘ ” (“Stromae’s last lesson”) was the first material from the album to be released. The clip was posted on YouTube on December 21, 2012, and refers to predictions that the world would end on that date.
10 “Quand c’est ?” (When is it?) is the darkest song on the album. In strong images, Stromae personifies cancer, characterizing the disease as a violent molester. He engages cancer in a dialogue, demanding to know when it will stop its devastation, while also wondering resignedly who will be the next victim. Powerful visuals of a spidery creature emerging from wisps of black smoke to stalk the musicians onstage accompany the performance of this song.
11 “Sommeil” (Sleep): In this song, Stromae addresses a friend who is wearing a “mask” for the rest of the world. He laughs, clowns around, parties…but a deeper unhappiness keeps him awake at night. Stromae tries to help his friend by pointedly reminding him of the many good things in his life that should make him genuinely happy.
12 “Merci” (Thank You): This instrumental piece is the last song of the concert, and the final song on Racine Carrée. “Merci” thanks Stromae’s supporters. Accompanied by mesmerizing visuals in the concert, it has a slow, swaying tempo that captivates the listener and plunges into 80’s-style electropop.
Bonus track-“AVF”: Stromae, in collaboration with French rappers Maître Gims and Orelsan, steps back into his rapper origins for a moment. In strong language, this song rails against the demagoguery of the age: “I’m not saying what I think, but I think what I say,” shouts the chorus.
-10x Platinum in Belgium
-Gold Record in Canada
-3x Diamond Record in France
-Gold Record in Italy
-2x Platinum in the Netherlands
-2x Platinum in Russia
-2x Platinum in Switzerland
Racine Carrée is the most-downloaded album in France and is the most-streamed Francophone album worldwide.
According to Olivier Nusse, director of Mercury, Stromae’s French label, more than 1.88 million copies have been sold to date in France: the most sold “since the beginning of the album-sales crisis.”
In one year, according to the label, the album has sold 500,000 copies internationally.
With this article, the team at Stromaeometre wishes a happy first birthday to the record-breaking Racine Carrée. We congratulate Stromae, his team, his labels, collaborators, producers, and his graphic designers Vince and Oliver from BoldAtWork, as well as his stylist, Coralie Barbier. We wish him all success in his upcoming American tour.
This article was co-written with Emma and Axelle of Stromaeometre.fr.
Photo credit: Dati Bendo