All over SXSW, kiosks were plastered with posters that posed a provocative question: "Who the hell is Stromae?"
It's a question you wouldn't ask in many places outside North America. The impeccably groomed Belgian singer is a massive global superstar, which created a funny juxtaposition at NPR Music's SXSW showcase, held at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas. SXSW is an international festival, so for every curious would-be convert still hanging around after Courtney Barnett's set, a Stromae superfan was in danger of losing bladder control at the sight of him.
At one point, Stromae (real name: Paul Van Haver) removed his cardigan and changed into a handsome jacket — the star has his own clothing line, natch — and triggered what appeared to be a mass cardiac event near the stage. After an NPR staffer led Stromae through the crowd prior to his set, she likened the experience to walking John Lennon through the crowd at the height of Beatlemania. Several of Stromae's videos have been viewed hundreds of millions of times each on YouTube alone.
He's a big deal, is the thing, and on Wednesday night, the singer and his band put on an exhilaratingly danceable set to match. Punctuated by an elaborate light show — and slowed down only by a goofily charming monologue about Belgium's superiority to France — the show felt electrifying at every turn. Playing songs from last year's Racine Carrée, culminating in the unstoppable set-closing monster "Papaoutai" (included in this two-song video with "Alors On Danse"), Stromae more than did justice to his sleekly driving source material, which appropriately straddles genres and cultures: everything from electronic pop and dance music to hip-hop to Congolese rumba.
To many if not most in attendance, the subject matter of Stromae's French-language songs — absent fathers, failed relationships, loneliness — is bound to get lost in translation, especially amid the throbbing, mile-wide arrangements. But after this show, fewer people than ever will have to ask who the hell he is.
- "Alors On Danse" (So We Dance)
Producers: Saidah Blount, Mito Habe-Evans, Otis Hart; Technical Director: Kevin Wait; Director: Mito Habe-Evans; Videographers: Katie Hayes Luke, Morgan Walker, Carlos Waters, A.J. Wilhelm; Audio: Timothy Powell/Metro Mobile; Assistant Editor: Carlos Waters; Production Assistants: Lizzie Chen, Nathan Gaar Special Thanks: SXSW, Stubb's BBQ; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann.