Stromae's thought-provoking lyrics and danceable productions have served him well since the release of "Alors on danse" (2009). That global hit led to the equally colorful number one albums Cheese (2010) and Racine Carrée (2013), which combined influences as diverse as Jacques Brel, Cuban son, Congolese rhumba, house, and hip-hop, as well as the late-'80s new beat sound of the artist's native Belgium. The vocalist, songwriter, and producer has used his platform to write about topics such as AIDS, cancer, and absent fathers, and he has capitalized upon international success to collaborate with the likes of Kanye West and Lorde. Known for his clean-cut look and trademark bow tie, Stromae has approached music and fashion as indivisible creative forms, exemplified by "Défiler" (2018), one of his several Belgian Top Ten pop hits.
Born Paul van Haver in Brussels on March 12, 1985, Stromae was raised by his Belgian mother. His father, a native of Rwanda, was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Stromae developed an interest in music at an early age. When he was 11, he became a student at L'Académie Musicale de Jette, and started playing the drums. In 2005 he took up rap music, and after briefly performing as Opmaestro, he took the stage name Stromae (an anagram for "Maestro") and launched a short-lived hip-hop combo named Suspicion.
By 2007, Stromae was back to working as a solo act, and he recorded his first single, "Juste un Cerveau, un Flow, un Fond et un Mic...." It was in 2009 that he got his big break -- while working at a Belgian radio station, he created the song "Alors on dance" using his home-recording setup, and the manager of the station was impressed enough with it to play it on air. Response from listeners was enthusiastic, and Stromae struck a deal with PolyGram. "Alors on dance" became a number one hit in Belgium, and went on to repeat that success in over a dozen countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, and Denmark.
As "Alors on dance" climbed the charts across Europe and Stromae's videos became a sensation on YouTube, he released his first album, Cheese, in 2010. In August 2010, after the album had topped the Belgian chart, Stromae's career got a major boost in the United States when Kanye West collaborated with him on a remix of "Alors on dance." His follow-up, Racine Carrée, appeared in August 2013. Distinguished by his integration of African and Caribbean influences, and lyrics regarding disease, discrimination, and absentee fathers, the album was an immediate success in Belgium and France, spending virtually the rest of the year at number one in each country. Ultimately, Racine Carrée went platinum eight times in Belgium and sold over 1.5 million copies in Europe. That November, Stromae won the Best Belgian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Racine Carrée's success continued into 2014. The song "Ta Fête" became the official song for Belgium's national football team at that year's World Cup, and Stromae made his U.S. debut that June, performing his first live dates as well as appearing on NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers. He also appeared on the Lorde-curated soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1 on "Meltdown," a track featuring Pusha T, Q-Tip, HAIM, and Lorde. He continued to play live in 2015, performing at festivals such as SXSW, Coachella, and Lollapalooza, and embarked on an African tour. During the next few years, Stromae released a handful of singles highlighted by the compelling nine-minute ballad "Défiler." Issued in 2018 as the soundtrack for a fashion show dedicated to his Mosaert clothing brand, the song became his seventh Belgian Top Ten pop hit. ~ Mark Deming & Andy Kellman
- Brussels, Belgium
- March 12, 1985