Stromae has repeatedly been dubbed “The Most Famous Pop Star You’ve Never Heard Of,” or other epithets to that effect. In the Internet age, it’s hard to imagine one of Europe’s most celebrated performers being virtually nonexistent on the American playing field, but the sentiment is accurate—Stromae is ridiculously famous overseas, and yet he remains relatively unknown by the US at large. The duality of frenzy-like fame on one continent and obscurity on another puts Stromae into an unusual category, leaving a load of intrigue and wonder that has yet to be fully explained, or at least translated into English.
There is, however, a rapidly growing US fan base that pays no mind to the fact that Stromae sings strictly in French—an attribute most American’s view as an obstacle. His Terminal 5 shows in NYC sold out, and quickly. The same success was found throughout the US, helping Stromae to break through the clutter with irresistibly catchy music, theatrical performances, and a ton of press, often paraphrasing his broken English. Like anyone in the spotlight, some articles have hinted at untruths, like his taking a noteworthy sabbatical from making music after this tour, or a possible collaboration with one of America’s most iconic stars.
So we chatted with Stromae while he was in his hometown of Brussels about Lorde, rumors of retiring, and there being “no such thing as bad publicity.”
Your song “Meltdown” was just released on the Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 soundtrack. What was it like working with Lorde and the other artists?
Actually, when I met her, it was like I knew her for a long time…because we actually have the same convictions, and it was funny just to talk about how she lives her success and how I live my success. It’s not the same of course. Her success is huger, but it was really interesting just to talk with her. We talked about the music. We talked about everything. It was really interesting. But actually, I wasn’t really in the studio. The track was already done, so I sent it to her and she sent me, step by step, the new version of “Meltdown.”
She’s not the only artist that’s been dying to collaborate with you. I read that Madonna was also interested?
I don’t know if you know how it happened…I was on a television show in the Netherlands and actually a friend of hers came to my concert to invite me to her house. But it [was not] about a collaboration, it [was] about just meeting her. We just had a drink and that’s all. We cannot talk about any collaboration just now.
It was a French article that I read, so maybe I misunderstood.
The French-speaking journalists maybe just use [this story] to say, “Okay, maybe a collaboration or something.” It’s just not completely true, no.
I want to move on to your American tour. Were you surprised to have so many sold out shows even though you sing in French?
Actually, I was surprised the first time with “Alors On Danse.” I think that the crowd and the fans, I hate the word “fans,” but the fans, they made me think and they made me believe that it was possible to be listening to another language than your mother language. And actually, since “Alors On Danse,” since the first album, I had the conviction that it’s not about language or something, it’s just about the music.
[I was] so surprised to see that this concert was sold out so quickly, and to have not only a French-speaking crowd. It was like half and half. It’s not the fact that I didn’t want to have French-speaking people at my concert, no, but if I come to the US it’s of course for the French-speaking people, but not only. You come to the US to talk to the English-speaking audience, so I was happy to have both languages in the crowd.
What was your favorite city in the US?
There’s the big cities of course, like New York and LA. But it was really Philadelphia. That was the first concert and it was Brussels. Like, Brussels it’s not really happy; it’s cloudy all the time. I don’t know if it’s exactly like this in Philadelphia, but it’s an industrial city. It’s not a “bad” city, it would be too much to say that. A sad city in a good way. Like Brussels. Some people hate Brussels because of that, but it’s the reason why I love Brussels, because it’s really cloudy—people are just not really happy, not really sad. They’re just how they are. It’s difficult to say, “I know Philadelphia.” But that’s the feeling I had when I arrived there.
Is fame handled differently in the US than in Europe?
That’s interesting, because of course Europe is more complicated than just Europe. French people are different than Belgian people, of course, like people in Texas are so different than in New York. The big difference is…I don’t know if it’s true, but everyone says that in the US, there is no bad success. I don’t know if you understand me, but in Europe, success is not really as accepted as in the US. When you have success sometimes, it’s not about jealousy or something, it’s not jealousy, I don’t know if you understand.
I understand. What we say here is, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Yes. Success is good in the US. That’s the vision that I have. In Europe sometimes, for good reasons yes, but sometimes for bad reason, we are just thinking too much…But you know, that’s the problem with that continent I think. And I think that every continent has its own problems, and I think one of our problems is that sometimes we are too old. I’m not judging somebody else. I’m judging myself. Sometimes I’m thinking too much, you know, maybe yes, maybe no, I don’t know. It’s good to just take the time, but I take too much time sometimes. I have to go faster.
I read that after this tour was finishing, you wanted to take a few years off to become a “normal” person again, and recover from the intense fame.
I think I cannot relax, to be honest. But for the same reason as the story about Madonna, I was talking about the fact that normally, every singer or every musician, we just have to live a normal life after the tour. But the tour is not finished yet. And we will continue until next year. So yeah, in September, yes, I will take a break, of course, just to live and compose something new. And I need to compose again. Even if I’m still composing now, but I don’t have enough time to compose as much as I want to compose…So I continue my job. I don’t know why people understood because of the newspaper that maybe I would stop or something, but that’s not true. I continue my music.