I have never actually seen anyone wear bowler hats or knee high socks with bermuda shorts, but Monday night, I saw both — multiple times.
On tour for his newest album, Racine Carrée, Belgian singer and rapper Paul Van Haver, known on stage as Stromae, performed to a sold out Buckhead Theatre.
Born to a Rwandan father and a Belgian mother, Stromae’s diverse background influenced his music. He adds African influences to his eccentric style, which is a combination of hip hop and electronic dance music. Growing up living under the poverty line and raised by a single mother, Stromae’s upbringing provides an additional introspective depth to his music.
The stark realism in his lyrics sets him apart from other artists of his genre, and his songs frequently tackle weighty topics: breakups (“Formidable”), an absentee father (“Papaoutai”) and politics (“AVF”).
Going into the concert, I knew some things about the style of Stromae’s music, but I wasn’t expecting his remarkable mix of blunt lyricism, flamboyant style and, above all, unique humility.
Stromae’s band was dressed in matching bowler hats, knee-high socks, bermuda shorts, button-ups and bow-ties. Stromae was dressed similarly, but with the additional element of a microphone in the shape of a makeshift walking cane. To paraphrase another famous Belgian, Audrey Hepburn à la “Breakfast at Tiffany’s — his entire ensemble was quelle originale.
The show was brilliant, and Stromae’s idiosyncrasies were only one part of its excellence.
Stromae opened the concert with the upbeat, energetic song, “Ta fête,” playing a synthesizer at the back of the stage. When the audience began to sing along with him, Stromae’s excitement was immediately noticeable — it was as though he thought the audience wasn’t going to be enthusiastic or captivated.
At the start of “Tous les mêmes,” Stromae launched into the dramatics that were to be characteristic of the night’s performance. He joked around, arguing that French fries were actually Belgian and that the crowd wasn’t loud enough. He did all of this while sitting on stage at a dressing table, wearing a smoking jacket, holding a bottle of alcohol (inside: colored water) and applying some lipstick.
When Stromae played “Formidable,” he embodied melodrama, theatrically stumbling and collapsing on stage over the course of the song, which tells the story of a man who uses alcohol to cope after being rejected for his inability to father a child.
Shifts in lighting and the projected videos enhanced the fluid transition between introspective melodies and bass-heavy dance anthems.
Rounding out the concert, Stromae also performed his 2010 hit, “Alors on danse.” The song, which was No. 1 in over a dozen European countries, set off his career.
Stromae finished the show with his most popular song. “Papaoutai” was the lead single on Racine Carrée when the album was released in 2013. Inspired by Stromae’s father, who was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the song recounts the story of a boy missing his father, the chorus repeatedly asking, “Papa, where are you?”
“Papaoutai” excited the audience the most, leaving almost everyone dancing.
At the end of the show, Stromae, dressed in a matching turquoise and orange polo shirt and bermudas, thanked his bandmates and said goodnight.
If you’re craving eccentric hip hop music, a phenomenal performance and an ensemble dressed in bowler hats and knee highs, then look no further — Stromae’s concerts are the ones for you.