What’s happening [in the United States] is we’re starting out. We’re going to go on tour in September for 15 dates over there in the United States. But it’s not like here in Europe. It’s really some real development. We’re starting out, we’re trying to make ourselves heard. And that’s it.
-Stromae, in an interview at the Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands, August 16 2014
Check that box. The modest goal of “starting out” and “trying to make ourselves heard” has been met and exceeded. Since setting out on their North American tour on September 17, Stromae and his team have more than made themselves heard across the continent.
Start with the tens of thousands who attended the 15 concert dates at venues ranging in capacity from just under 1000 to 3000. All the venues but one (the Depot in Salt Lake City, which nearly met the mark with 815 places sold) were sold out. And those concerts weren’t just full of French and Belgian expatriates, either, as Stromae had feared before his first American show in New York City last June. There are no exact figures, of course, but a good chunk–maybe as much as half, and at some concerts, far more–of those audiences spoke English as their first language.
Whether those English-speakers were French professors, schoolkids, or hipsters who didn’t speak a word of French, Stromae destroyed the language barrier. His English is strong enough to keep up the level of onstage repartee that Americans expect, but he didn’t entirely abandon his native language either. A surprising number of concert attendees were able to sing along to his biggest hits. Those who couldn’t sing were never left out. His music speaks a language of its own.
Then there’s the onstage presence: despite a foot injury that plagued his west-coast performances, Stromae delivered night after night of his unique brand of showmanship that had audiences eating out of his hand. In Philadelphia, he “had people jumping around hard enough to shake the floors.” The wordplay he’s famous for in French even started to show up in his English when he yelled “Are you sweaty? Are you SWEATY??!!” in a twist on the standard rocker cry “Are you READY?” ( at :42 in this video taken at the Denver show)
On the national level, a mid-tour appearance in Time magazine has many more Americans discovering Stromae, plus there’s the buzz around Pentatonix’ cover of “Papaoutai,” whose release also coincided with Stromae’s tour. But in the American media, post-concert press was limited to bloggers, college newspapers, and the like. He hasn’t cracked the Billboard Top 100. There’s still plenty of opportunity for growth ahead in developing an American audience, and the future looks bright. Clayton Russel of Phawker, a popular curated news/culture/commentary site based in Philadelphia, reviewed the first show of the North American tour and concludes: “I predict America will fall hard for this fellow.”
Onstage in Los Angeles, Stromae promised to come back to the city for two dates next year, and Le Soir, a French-language Belgian daily newspaper, reports that he will “certainly” be on the bill for the Coachella Festival in April. Let’s hope a bigger North American tour is in the works for the spring!
Le Soir comments today that “Rarely, or probably never, has a Belgian artist (or even a French one) met with such a successful start in an American venue.” That is something to celebrate on both sides of the Atlantic. Stromae hasn’t yet quite “put North America at his feet” as the photo text in Le Soir claims, but he’s proven his theory that Americans can–and will–dance to French music. And he’ll be back.
Thank you Lionel Capouillez for the photo of Los Angeles International Airport, and Nancy Simon for the photo of Le Soir.