Arts, Culture & Entertainment

A maestro’s many faces in Stromae’s ‘Multitude’

Belgian music artist Stromae returns after nearly nine years with a new album that dives deep into human psychology and emotion.

A still photo of artist Stromae for a music video from his album "Multitude."

“Multitude” marks the highly-anticipated return of musician Stromae nearly nine years after the release of his last album. The album begins with a triumphant fighting spirit but dives into the realm of psychological enemies in the form of dark thoughts, intense emotion, and constant questions, but by the end, listeners are pulled back into the light, having survived their troubling times.

The Belgian artist is known for his music that blends elements of hip-hop, jazz, electronic dance music, and other various genres into something completely unique and fresh. Born to a Belgian mother and a Rwandan father, Paul Van Haver (Stromae) draws on musical cultures across the globe, notably Congolese music as well as the works of Belgian musician Jacques Brel. He gained worldwide renown with his first album “Cheese,” which featured his hit song “Alors on Danse” topping European charts in 2010. His second album, “Racinee Carinée,” reached similar success by selling more than 3 million copies globally with popular tracks such as “Papaoutai” and “Formidable.” In the time between albums, he went to pursue other projects, including collaborating with other big-name artists like Lorde on the soundtrack for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1″ as well as expanding his own fashion line titled “Mosaert.”

With uneven beats and plenty of French wordplay, Stromae continues to convey layered, complex themes throughout his work on “Multitude.” His first single from this album, “Santé” (“Cheers”) released in October 2021 and was seen as the start of his reemergence in the music scene. The track celebrates ordinary people, praising the working class individuals such as truck drivers, fishermen, bakers, and all others who sacrifice their schedules to keep the world running. He names them off, juxtaposing them with similar-sounding French words such as “Arlette” and “arrête” (stop) while choreographing simple dance moves to accompany the song. According to Stromae, he was inspired by reggaeton and cumbia music and many of the lyrics were a tribute to Rosa, his former housekeeper who always worked to pick up after they partied.

His next single, titled “L’Enfer” provides a massive shift in tone. The title translates to “Hell,” and conveys the experience of wrestling with suicidal thoughts. The message conveyed by the song is that the only way to effectively move past these dark thoughts is to silence them completely, by mentally changing the channel away from the negativity that plague one’s mind. The first two singles from the album provided a taste of what was to come in this new project, giving two contrasting stories that establish his range of tone and depth of thought for “Multitude” from its most optimistic to its most grim.

The album officially begins with the intro track “Invaincu,” a strong declaration of victory that as long as he is alive, he remains undefeated. The optimistic fanfare is complemented by a choir, singing joyously as Stromae raps fighting words against an enemy. In a way, it parallels “L’Enfer” with its more haunting, tribal choir and its description of depression. “Invaincu” throws a punch at such adversities, and with global unease for the past few years, they are words to invigorate listeners fighting their own personal battles.

The album explores dark, psychological themes, reflecting on difficult, but human emotions in times of tumult. Whether it be the constant struggles and sometimes suffering from relationships in “Pas vraiment” and “La solassitude,” or the contrast of an ideal life with one’s destitute living in “Riez,” the album dives deep into incredibly personal, realistic difficulties.

At the end of its 12 song tracklist, Stromae juxtaposes the two tracks “Mauvaise journée” and “Bonne journée” together, with each meaning “Bad Day” and “Good Day” respectively. In one, a person awakes with intense pessimism, grasping for hope while battling depression, thinking of what’s the use of going on. On the other, a person wakes with a spring in their step, dancing with joy, even if through an overly-optimistic lens.

While Stromae’s comeback album focuses less on the catchy beats students got acquainted with in high school French class, it takes listeners on a journey through the human psyche. Aside from “Santé,” whose relatively jarring presence seems to be in response to more external, worldly circumstances, the music is highly interested in the human within. Unfortunately, it is significantly shorter than his last album “Racine Carée,” concentrating much of its heavy ideas into just 35 minutes.

On its release date, it topped charts on iTunes in 21 countries and on Apple Music in five, meaning his global fanbase has not lost their excitement for the artist and his work. “Multitude” speaks to the thousands of emotions and voices that consume people every day, but amongst that darkness, light can always be salvaged. In a way, it returns to Stromae’s early hit, “Alors on Danse,” where when problems arise, one should just dance it all away because there are better days to come.

“Multitude” is now available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, iTunes, and Tidal.