Discovering Stromae and Learning Languages


Buzzfeed featured this brilliantly crafted commentary on social media from Stromae, “Carmen.”


My significant other found the video on Facebook and thinking I would like the song, shared it with me. I enjoyed not only the music, but the full package of artwork and theme. Seeing it was written and directed by French animator and comic writer Sylvain Chomet (known largely for animated films: The Illusionist and The Triplets of Belleville) was a bonus, and won more points with me. “Carmen” piqued both our interests in Stromae, but I became distracted and didn’t look further. My SO did and before I knew it, linked me to another song this time, “Tous Les Mêmes.” This video served as the catalyst for me diving into his work as well as background. I assumed he was French, from both of these songs, but learned Stromae (a stage name) is instead Belgian and a lovely blend of Flemish and Rwandan that latter proving to be significant in how he approaches his music. I soon realized I didn’t know much about Belgium or how strong of a French presence it has. For whatever reasons, when I thought of the country, I thought German or Dutch and almost never French.
After my latest reading endeavor, this felt a little less happy coincidence and more dancing in the realm of uncanny, as if both the reading and my listening to his music were fate.

While “Carmen” is fantastic, my favorite song of Stromae’s is actually this one, “Papaoutai”


As it turns out, we both lost our fathers at young ages, anything touching on the relationship of father and child usually speaks to me. The video is done in such an illustrative fashion that those without French fluency, or any French understanding can still get an idea of what the song is about. I love the combination and all the videos I’ve watched so far use different styles of short film in the telling of stories. It’s refreshing to see someone in a more popular genres of music being an artist and not just an entertainer which has become so common in the United States. A few articles mentioned that scientists have gone into researching the decline of Pop Music over the years and it’s not just in our imaginations.  The genre has actually been dumbing down. I assume physical record sells have also declined resulting in a stronger push for record companies to make that money. Leaving us with commercialism and repetition over talent and artistry. Fortunately, not everyone interested in making music is behind the cheapening of it and continue to treat it as a craft.

I haven’t analyzed Stromae’s lyrical content, yet. But even if he didn’t have the most in depth lyrics, he’s singing in French (and quite possibly bits of other languages). By him doing this, English speaking listeners such as myself, or others who don’t know French can pick up pieces subconsciously. Many songs have catchy hooks, that are clear and repeated and it presents the language in a more interesting way. Since French happens to be one of the languages I’m learning, I plan to make a conscious effort of looking up his lyrics while listening to the songs and focusing on natural pronunciations. If I want to be really ambitious, I can work on translating them into English myself instead of shortcuts. This article highlights eight tips for learning language through songs and music. Even though it specifies English, most of the tips make sense and should be applicable to learning others.

So, while social media poses threats of doom and gloom if we let ourselves get too absorbed, it still has productive uses. Like introducing me to an array of artists I might not have discovered any time soon. And by being open to this discovery, much like reading, I can get sucked into new worlds giving me the opportunity to learn about myself and others along the way.

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