STROMAE BLOWS AMERICA AWAY
After the cancellation of ten concerts and a summer of forced sick leave, the Belgian maestro is back for his third tour in the USA in the span of just one year! Let’s take a closer look at this meteoric rise before his concert on October 1, at the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York.
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN LOS ANGELES
Last June, after kicking off his African tour, Stromae made an emergency return trip to Belgium. Ten summer concerts planned in Africa, Europe, and North America were canceled, including the highly anticipated date in Rwanda. The news disappointed thousands of fans who quickly became worried about the state of their hero. His admirers can rest assured: the Belgian genius is currently on a comeback tour of the East Coast of the United States and has announced a date in Kinshasa on October 10.
Having conquered all Europe, the kid from Brussels is taking on the United States. While many Americans still don’t know who Stromae is, he’s not completely unknown on the other side of the Atlantic. Will.i.am, Lorde, and Kanye West have all expressed their admiration. And Ashton Kutcher paid tribute to him on Facebook, writing: “Wow, this guy is majorly talented.”
His return to the United States coincides with the release of the official music video for “Quand C’est?”, directed by Xavier Reyé. The video depicts the devastation of cancer through a sinister stage production filmed in black and white. Fans and critics are hailing him, once again, as a genius. The video has already attracted more than 9 million views in less than a week.
Still more material made its way to the web: two videos were launched in September, in anticipation of the North American tour, which began on September 12 in Miami. A new triumph for the Belgian, who presents himself with self-mockery in “Stromae Takes America.” The video features Madonna, who confides of the singer, “We talked about working together.”
THE HISTORY OF AN AMERICAN ASCENSION
In June 2014, Stromae burst onto the screen on the set of NBC’s “Late Night.” He had just begun a campaign to win over the American press, followed by a series of concerts in the fall. That’s how the United States discovered, for the first time, the one that the host of the show, Seth Meyers, presented as “the global phenomenon of hip-hop and dance music, straight from Belgium.”
The gateway to America had opened a little earlier, with Christian Bernhardt, Vice President of The Agency Group. The businessman devoured Stromae’s album and was immediately hooked. “I directly contacted Clementine Bunel, his producer, in France.”
This manager one of the most renowned talent agencies decided to organize the North American tour of the Belgian star, who was still completely unknown in the States at that time. From Boston to San Francisco via Chicago, Stromae lined up his first dates, a dozen of them, in front of a predominantly French-speaking audience.
Expatriates arrived in force to enthusiastically support the Brussels revelation. A few of the earliest US fans also turned up and won’t let him go.
Cathy, from Buffalo, has followed all the dates of the tour from the start. At Madison Square Garden, she will attend her thirty-sixth concert. During this tour, she even makes it possible for fans to watch a live-streaming performance from every concert venue. The singer inspired her to make her dream of traveling come true. Stromae was also a catalyst for Nyasa, a young Japanese woman living in Los Angeles. As a mentor, he allowed her to bring her artistic gifts to light. “Before, I scribbled to kill time; today, I take out my pencils and watercolors with great joy.” Cathy, Nyasa, and over a thousand other fans regularly follow the torrent of documentation offered by Stromae USA Fans, “the only American Facebook fan page,” says Paule-Sylvie Yonké, its founder, cheerfully. Across the country in Colorado, Amy Van Vranken, editor-in-chief of stromaeometre.com, will not hesitate to travel nearly 3000 km to attend, with her daughter, her hero’s concert in the Big Apple. Since she heard him on the internet radio station NRJ France in 2013, she has worked tirelessly to make his work more accessible to English-speakers.
AN ORGANIC STRATEGY
Christian Bernhardt immediately sensed the potential of the artist. “I had a vision of the relative success he’s experiencing now and I hope, in the future, to lead him to mainstream exposure, but I didn’t think it would go so fast.” Since the beginning of the American adventure, The Agency Group and Stromae’s team applied an organic outreach strategy without a marketing plan. “We wanted him to be discovered through his fans.”
Among twenty or so tour organizers, Elliott Lefko, vice president of Golden Voice, promotes the Belgian’s concerts in Southern California. Responsible for the Coachella festival which Stromae participated in last April, he said: “We welcome more than 135 groups and draw 150,000 people over two weekends. We have the best artists of the world, and Stromae was part of that.” He’s also fired up about his immense talent: “We immediately agreed to collaborate in his US breakthrough. He’s going to continue to get bigger and become more and more popular.
STROMAE AS FRENCH TEACHER
“If my teacher wasn’t as obsessed with him, the course wouldn’t be much fun,” says Charlie Weiss, a student at La Cañada High School. Merissa Sadler teaches in this high school, near Pasadena. “I’m a little crazy; I make my students laugh with dramatizations on Stromae. He opened my class up to another world and made my classes more exciting through his profound and relevant words. The hardest part is always getting the students interested,” Sadler says. For Fadhima Thiam, mother of Aïda, the songs contain thoughtful messages. Her daughter learned “Papaoutai” in her New York School, and says, “I love that song about his dad. The lyrics are powerful. He’s brilliant and very inspiring!” Further north, in Minnesota, Kendra Waldauer gives French lessons to beginners at Richfield High School. “He is a master of the French language. A gifted artist, really like no other. With ‘Ta Fête,’ we studied the near future tense; with ‘Formidable,’ the imperfect tense. Stromae does all the work for me!”
JOURNALISTS WON OVER
Journalist Salima Koroma doesn’t hesitate to call him a genius. She created a video for the Time magazine website. Before filming, Paul (Paul Van Haver is Stromae’s real name) apologized for his low level of English. “I thought he was very courageous to make himself vulnerable like that, with humility and authenticity. He’s wonderful, really nice and funny. Like a kid, mischievous.” Guy Trebay also interviewed the Belgian phenomenon, for the New York Times. “I got to know him with ‘Tous les Mêmes.’ I was fascinated by the gender ambiguity, but mostly by the striking eccentricity of his movements: a fusion of ‘Thriller’ and an Apache dance.” At Rolling Stone magazine, Brittany Spanos expresses the same excitement. “He’s stirring and universal. You connect to him emotionally; it’s easy to identify with him.” According to the New York journalist, Stromae will continue his ascent, and will be filling stadiums soon.
Christian Bernhardt was right. “My greatest joy,” he avows, “is to create something unique with this artist who comes from Belgium and sings in French. When we began our collaboration, people in these circles didn’t think it would work, because of the language difference. I encourage him to continue in French and remain genuine, because it has always worked for him that way!”