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A Review of “Multitude”: How Stromae is Experimenting With the Idea Of Pop Music

Stromae with a multitude of himself. This is the album cover for his release “Multitude”. Photo via pitchfork.com

On March 4, 2022, Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae re-entered the limelight with his third studio album, titled “Multitude.” The album delivers a complex mix of styles deriving from Stromae’s use of different types of music from places around the world, and also commentates on world issues, and issues from Stromae’s own mental state. It’s Stromae’s attempt at making experimental pop music, and it works well, delivering a solid album that gets better the more you listen.

Paul van Haver, better known by his stage name Stromae (an anagram of the word Maestro), first gained popularity with the release of his single “Alors on danse,” though he had released music before that and had even been part of a rap group called Suspicion. “Alors on danse quickly became the number one song on Belgian charts, and gained worldwide recognition. He released two albums, “Cheese” and “Racine Carrée,” before taking a long hiatus for his mental health. On Oct. 15, 2021, he released “Santé,” his first single in three years, and then released his album “Multitude” earlier this year. 

“Multitude” is an experimental album that combines hip hop, pop, and folk music. It starts out with “Invaincu” (Unbeaten), an upbeat song about how Stromae has gotten through his hardships. It features the voices of a Bulgarian choir. The second song on the album is “Santé,” which includes Argentine charango played by professional charango player “Juan Paio.” It thanks workers who kept things clean during the pandemic. Next is “La solassitude,” a song about being lonely while single and weary while in a long term relationship. It includes the Chinese erhu, an instrument similar to a violin, which on this song is played by musician Guo Gan. 

The fourth song on the album is arguably one of the best, and it might be my favorite. “Fils de joie” actually samples the teaser for the “Bridgerton” series on Netflix, and is a delightful mix of funk music with cello added. Stromae defines it as a “paradox between baile funk and classical music” in a YouTube interview series where he explains each song. This song highlights the experiences of the children of prostitutes, and pays tribute to these women who he saysdo a very difficult, largely unappreciated job, which exists and will exist whether we like it or not.” The song name translates to “son of a hero,” and the music video that accompanies the song depicts a national funeral for a missing sex worker. The cross of funk and classical music is stimulating to listen to, and something I doubt many people have heard before. 

The next song is called “L’enfer” (Hell) and talks about his experience with depression and suicidal thoughts. It starts out slow with piano and lyrics, and shocks you with a raging chorus. It also includes a Bulgarian choir. It’s a haunting song that departs from his usual happy and upbeat music, and is the darkest song on the album. After “L’enfer” comes another one of my favorite songs, “C’est que du bonheur” (This is Happiness). This song talks about how it isn’t always easy to be a parent. It’s an off beat song featuring a Bolivian charango player named Alfredo Coca. I love how the song sounds staccato and off beat when you first hear it, but quickly comes together into something unlike anything you’ve heard before. 

The seventh song is called “Pas vraiment” (Not Really), and it’s the last of my favorites on the album. Stromae has a hard time defining what this song is about. “It’s a bit like gossip,” he says in one of his YouTube interviews. “[Gossip] between friends and acquaintances and everyone gives their opinion.” The woodwind sound featured in this song is that of a ney, a Turkish flute.

I’m not a huge fan of the next three songs. “Riez” (Laugh) is a song about dreams, inspired by Afropop. It’s good but something about it seems lacking. My taste in music is mostly fast with heavy bass, so this song doesn’t fit in much with what I like, being a song with a mostly high melody and little bass. As for “Mon amour ” (My Love), it’s a song inspired by Venezualen music about a guy fooling around and his wife leaving him. I don’t really like how the song sounds, simple as that. It’s very well put together, however, with an experimental beat. “Déclaration” is kind of weird. It starts off with this strobing, ghostly sound, and I feel that the tone of the lyrics don’t really match it. It shares a message of feminism and a promise to be a better husband.

The album ends with two songs, “Mauvaise journée” and “Bonne journée” (Bad Day and Good Day). I’m a fan of both these songs. “Mauvaise journée” has the Bolivian Charango, again played by Alfredo Coca, and talks about a really bad day where nothing goes right.  In the chorus it introduces heavy horns that really adds weight to the song. “Bonne journée” is the positive counterpart to “Mauvaise Journée.” Stromae sings about a good day, ending the album on a high note. It again uses the Bolivian charango, but this time Stromae puts a trap beat over it, creating an interesting texture of sound. 

Stromae takes a really interesting path with “Multitude.” While it still discusses social issues like his last album, Stromae’s musical approach is different, sampling folk music and going more experimental. Fans used to his upbeat, danceable songs like “Alors on danse” and “Tous les mêmes” might be disappointed with the direction he took. I wouldn’t call any of his new songs a hit like “Alors on danse” or “Papapoutai” was. However, for those who really appreciated the messages his music carries, this is an excellent addition to Stromae’s discography.  

I first learned about Stromae from Dana Miller, who’s been a French teacher here at Franklin since 2003. Mrs. Miller has been a fan of Stromae ever since she heard his hit single “Alors on danse.” When asked about her favorite song, she said “I’d have to say “Santé.” I love the lyrics, [and how] he’s always so spot on when he talks about social justice.” When I asked her about her general impressions of the album, she talked about how she loves the lyrics and his plays on words, but also how he delves into the struggles he faced. “There are some [lyrics] that you just feel for him because you know that he really struggled, especially through the last two years how so many of us had struggled with mental health. It was just so spot on,” she explained. She really liked this album, and gave it high praise. 

Overall, I really enjoyed “Multitude.” Every time I listened to each song, I enjoyed it more. It’s complex music, something that hasn’t really been coming out lately. Stromae manages to make experimental music without departing too far from what’s popular, and he pulls it off well. I’d give it a well deserved 9/10, for delivering such a solid and enjoyable collection of music. 

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