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Stromae

Nietzsche Pop

by Andy Davis / 04.01.2011

L’ennui is a French word that literally translated means “boredom”. But it can also mean “problem” as if life is made up of a series of little problems that amount to boredoms. Boredom, l’ennui, the word apathy also works, and is perhaps the most appropriate response to the glut of manufactured pop cheese you’ll find on the nation’s airwaves. It’s also the predominant universal state of young people growing up under advanced capitalism.

The irony is not lost on us that perhaps the most relevant pop song of 2010 (currently charting at number 17 on the 5FM Top 40), is in French and barely anyone in South Africa can understand the lyrics. This is cruel and unfair, because “Alors on Danse” by the Belgian artist Stromae, powerfully, perfectly, captures this advanced state of ennui – the apathy and disillusionment of life in our built up, meaningless, consumption fuelled existences. It is a tour de force of a pop song, immediately catchy, visceral and infused with anger and real meaning. Here’s an artist who is capturing his social moment in his art and achieving massive commercial success at the same time. Cutting you and me a fresh slice of the zeitgeist. Stromae presents an accurate take of a zombie youth culture caught in a hollow pattern of existence, where the only release is to get blitzed and dance. This is Nietzsche pop. It is the realest thing to happen to global pop music since… Nirvana. And it rules like a black swan amongst all that other ersatz pop crud (The Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Kesha, My Chemical Romance, Pitbull featuring T-Pain, Rick Ross) promoting conspicuous consumption and collective amnesia as we all gravitate to “the club”, fall in love like it’s the first time and have nasty, athletic sex while being bludgeoned by marketing messages about fancy cars, hotel lobbies and over-priced mass produced booze.

A song like Stromae’s “Alors on Danse” is the rare blue pill. A singular piece of honesty that slipped through on the back of a cheesy Eurodance beat and a deranged Vuvuzela sample, and ends up showing the reality. Buried in there with all the other pop shit, it shines like a beacon of meaning in a sea of worthless polished turds. Here, just so you know what we’re on about, is the translation:

“So we dance,

So we dance,

So we dance,
When we say study, it means work.
When we say work, it means money.
When we say money, it means spending
.
When we say credit, it means debt.
When we say debt, it means bailiff, 
we agree to being in deep shit
.
When we say love, it means kids.
When we say forever, it means divorce.

When we say family, we say grief, because misfortune never comes alone.

When we say crisis, we talk about the world, famine and then the third world.

When we say tiredness, we talk about waking up still deaf from a sleepless night

So we just go out to forget all our problems.
So we dance… (X9)
So you tell yourself that it’s over because the only thing worse would be death.

When you finally think you’ll make it, there’s more and more!

Ecstasy means a problem, problems or just music.

It grabs you by the guts, it takes hold of your head and then you pray for it to end.

But your body is no haven so you block your ears even more.

And then you yell even louder and it goes on…

So we sing.
Lalalalalala, Lalalalalala,

So we sing
Lalalalalala, Lalalalalala,
So we sing

So we sing
And then only when it’s over, then we dance.

So we dance (x7)

And well, there’s still more (x5)”

Although Belgian, there’s no surprise that Stromae sings in French, a culture painfully self-aware and perpetually protesting against every perceived injustice in their social system. Alas we can’t expect this kind of existential pop clarity from Goldfish, Flash Republic, Jax Panik or anyone else digging the pop goldmine in South Africa. Our pop acts are too busy partying (and trying to get into “the club”) to get self-reflective.

Stromae, aka Paul Van Haver, was born in Brussels, son to a Rwandan father and Belgian moms. He had to work part time to help fund his private school education, but his grades suffered. He enrolled in a film school in Brussels and released his first album, but dropped out in 2007 to focus solely on music. He got a four album record deal in 2008 with a small label and worked as an intern at pop station NRJ in 2009, where he first got the opportunity to drop his debut single “Alors on Danse” live on radio. The song was immediately well received. By May 2010 it was number 1 in France, the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Romania and the Czech Republic. By June he released the full length album Chees. His name Stromae comes from the French slang or Argot (a syllabic inversion) of the word Maestro. In September he recorded a remix of the song with Kanye West.

Now compare this to the latest offering from the Black Eyed Peas (currently 10 on the 5fm Top 40) kotch a little in your mouth and feel the “ennui” rise.

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RESPONSES (26)
  1. Jason says:

    Goldfish is insipid kak, and if that effing chick from Flash Republic flaps her combover in front of a fan again at some car/tv show/feminine hygiene product launch I’ll shit my pants.

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  2. Bob Blake says:

    The interesting thing is all the irony: the way the chorus from this song, “So, we dance,” pulled from context, legitimates dance. The dance becomes the postive act of forgetfulness – in other words, escape into dance, release into dance – as opposed to a form of displacement, repression, ignorance.

    Also, this track, a condemnation of dance (well, what dance represents – ie, the above), is the same thing that’s animating vapid, clueless, soulless fucks in any number of danceclubs across the planet.

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  3. muerte says:

    nice.

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  4. Tobi says:

    Since Stromae was born in Brussels (a city where 90% of the people have French as their mother tongue), it would be a surprise if he DIDN’T sing in French. And I’m not sure what you mean by French being “a culture painfully self-aware and perpetually protesting against every perceived injustice in their social system”? Who or which events do you have in mind here? Otherwise: good piece.

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  5. Bob Blake says:

    At 0:10, he looks like Thriller-era Michael Jackson (with that ghoul face make-up he used).

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  6. Observer says:

    Man, how can some people, young people, not drink?

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  7. Doctor L. says:

    There’s honestly nothing quite as delightful as the sense of relief and fatalistic resignation one feels on a Friday; you know, between pushing your swivel chair from your desk and handling your first Castle draught. Moments like that I almost have a wistful appreciation of the misery. What can I say? The bonds sweeten the libations.

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  8. Dan says:

    @Tobi

    Are you really asking what events in France warrant the comment “a culture painfully self-aware and perpetually protesting against every perceived injustice in their social system”?

    The French Student Riots of 1968 are well known – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1968_in_France

    One of my favourite films of all time even focuses its plot around the effects of the riots. Check it out: La Haine: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113247/

    There were more student riots in 2006 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuZtErl1AJY

    Added to that the most recent protests were last year see:

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2027077,00.html

    http://www.google.co.za/search?q=french+protests&hl=en&qscrl=1&prmd=ivns&source=univ&tbs=vid:1&tbo=u&ei=ZTsjTYCaKIOLswb13rj6DQ&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&ct=title&resnum=4&ved=0CEEQqwQwAw

    The comment is completely warranted, next time use Google dude.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    ^this dude drinks castle. hehe

    but seriously, people drink that shit?

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  10. Nkululeko says:

    “Nietzsche pop” is a fitting description, the song itself is a long overdue criticism, not only of soulless music but perhaps more so of the soulless condition of our (capitalist) society which has produced it.

    It reminds me of another famous German philosopher who wrote about the necessity of precisely this sort of criticism:

    “The point is not to allow a minute for self-deception and resignation.
    The actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicizing it.

    … these petrified (social) relations must be forced to dance by singing their own tune to them!
    Society must be taught to be terrified at itself in order to give it courage. ”

    K. Marx

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  11. bible Czech republic! says:

    call jesus bible
    viki roxx

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  12. Thomas. says:

    The invocation of Friedrich Nietzsche, in an article about a pop song – perhaps a step too far? My rage, in the words of Oscar Wilde, is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the mirror. I too have tossed names around as though they mean something in themselves. I have seen men choking, my own self choking, and I have said Heimlich and Heimlich again, and the obstacle remains – the choking remains.

    The article is not about Nietzsche: one cannot expect a review of his works, an exposition or summation thereof, but at the same time, in respect to the man who would take a hammer to the idols – we must not make of him an idol to, merely a name dropping, a reduction to type, an undefined cipher.

    His work needs be articulated. An obsession with the now means that a pop tune with fairly middling, hackneyed, problem oriented lyrics takes precedence. ‘Nietzsche’ becomes a blurb. Without consent or justification, the great philosopher is propped up on the edge of an article, that his shadow might play over the words and by a trick of the light lend them depth.

    Andy, it is not my intention to attack you. But what am I asking for exactly?

    Either leave Nietzsche out or bring him into the conversation. If he is in, give him the goddamn attention he deserves. In that great psychologist’s writing, there may be salvation for some. In a disaffected pop song, with themes of futility, denial, surrender…? Beyond three minutes, even the sense of salvation that comes with dancing is at an end.

    Nietszche said he could only believe in a God who knew how to dance. Dancing is, in his conception, Dionysian – it allows us to enter a reality beyond logic. It constitutes, in action, a return to truth beyond logic. In his early thought, he harped on about it all quite allot. There was no suggestion that dancing, as it is depicted in the song, is a form of forgetting the mundane realities of life. Rather, it is a celebration of life.

    Anyway, there isn’t much of use, to me personally, in Nietzsche’s first work, which deals with the Dionysian and it’s opposite, the Apollonian. It’s a bit of a snooze fest at times to be honest. Nietzsche himself panned his first book in a subsequent review entitled “Towards a self criticism.” None of this is important. What is?

    Nietzsche (Thus Spake Tharathustra [Discourse 1]) designates to man three metamorphoses of the spirit: The spirit becomes a camel, then a lion, and then at last a child.

    The Spirit asks what is heaviest, and then “kneeleth down like a camel and wants to be well laden.”

    ” What is the heaviest thing, ye heroes, it asks, and wishes to be well laden.”

    The camel moves into the wilderness with the “heaviest things” on its back and there the second metamorphosis occurs; the camel becomes a lion and reacts against the “Great Dragon” What is this dragon? The dragon is “Thou Shalt.”

    “Speaketh the mightiest of the dragons: All the values of things – glitter on me.”

    But the spirit of the lion says “I Will.”

    What is the purpose of the Lion?

    It has not the strength to create new values, but it has the strength to create the freedom that is the necessary condition for such a recreation to occur.

    There, some Nietzsche for you – a gross, surface-skimming summary but enough to provide one with much food for thought. Pop songs that express something real (albeit in the ‘cool kid discontented’ style) are fine, but comparisons to Nietzsche are unfair and misleading in the extreme. Thanks Andy. Cheers.

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  13. Thomas. says:

    “Seeing that I must shortly approach mankind with the heaviest demand that has ever been made on it, it seems to me indispensable to say who I am. This ought really to be known already: for I have not neglected to ‘bear witness’ about myself. But the disparity between the greatness of my task and the smallness of my contemporaries has found expression in the fact that I have been neither heard nor even so much as seen. I live on my own credit, it is perhaps merely a prejudice that I am alive at all? … I need only to talk with any of the ‘cultured people’ who come to the Ober-Engadin in the summer to convince myself that I am not alive . . . Under these circumstances there exists a duty against which my habit, even more the pride of my instincts revolts, namely to say: Listen to me! for I am thus and thus. Do not, above all, confound me with what I am not!”

    Friedrich Nietzsche (Why I am so Wise)

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  14. Nkululeko says:

    Thomas, yes it would be absurd to say that this pop song is ‘Nietzschesque’ (for my lack of the correct term), but thats not what I read the article to be alleging (perhaps Im mistaken). To me it was only in that the song is an expression of disdain for the banality of pop culture that it had something in common with the philosopher of the hammer.
    In the sense that the song is a reflection (conscious or not) of human self-alienation as it exists in late capitalism, overdeveloped and nearing its end, I suggest it represents a symptom of society exactly as Marx would have expected – again that is not to say that the song itself is in any way ‘Marxian’.
    If that makes sense?

    [And the irony that Nietzsche, from a Marxist perspective, represents the pinnacle of bourgeois speculative philosophy (‘speculative’ as in the sense of Feuerbach’s critique of philosophy) and idealist (as opposed to materialist) philosophy taken to its final limits, is, of course, a different story… ]
    p.s I often wonder what Nietzsche would have turned out had he been acquainted with the works of Marx.

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  15. Thomas. says:

    Hey Nkululeko,

    I think the term is Nietzschean, but no matter.

    Disdain for the banal is only a starting point for Nietzsche.
    In itself, disdain is mere decadence – one must go beyond it.
    Our generation, so it seems to me, is too busy bitching; yawning, preening and making sure to appear as disaffected and disinterested as is possible, because the outsider is en vogue and the man of action is a cornball (in his suit and tie).

    Even the word ‘cool’, if we examine its origins, points to the fact that being dispassionate, cold, unimpressed and borderline hostile is the trend. It’s opposite, ‘warm’ (passionate, friendly, active) is passe.

    On their latest album, referring to the kids in the suburbs, the Arcade Fire sing:

    “Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
    The kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
    Now, some things are pure and some things are right
    But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight”

    “So young, so young
    So much pain for someone so young, well
    I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light
    But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?”

    Here we have a all for action beyond disdain.
    One might even call it Nietzschean, at a stretch.

    I’m not sure, but you seem to suggest that FN was an idealist, which he was not.
    However, I am not overly familiar with Feuerbach and thus I may have misunderstood you.

    I think Nietzsche would have rejected Marx’s dialectical materialism as too fatalistic. There approach as philosophers was very different in its focus. FN was concerned primarily with the individual, while KM deals more with societies and systems of governance. I think Nietzsche would have disliked Marx’s suggestion that history proceeds according to the interaction of outside forces (class struggles) and the odor of Hegelian absolutism that clung to much of his writing.

    To be honest, I don’t think Marx would have been of much interest to him. Although I’m fairly certain he would have admired the Great socialist’s beard, as we all do.

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  16. Manza says:

    So your explanation of how Nietzche saw disdain as only a start is to quote an Arcade Fires song and then say it is Nietzchean?

    Come on, that’s circular logic. You’re doing the same thing you’re accusing the article of doing. Being shallow and flippantly referential.

    Explain how disdain was only the beginning for Nietzche, as you say.

    I want to be educated beyond my prejudice of thinking this philosopher the bane of pimply white ou’s who can’t come right with the stukkies.

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  17. Thomas. says:

    Yo Manza,

    First off, I’m assuming you meant boon instead of bane in your last sentence.
    It’s a mistake I have made before. Otherwise, I don’t understand your meaning.

    Regards that last sentence; I am quite sure that there are many black people who read and appreciate Nietzsche and certainly, being pimply is not a precondition.

    Nietzsche requires that one reject traditional values (if they do not serve one’s purposes). He posits that many morals (values) have no validity in themselves but are rather the creation of certain historical powers (in an attempt to consolidate their power, or as a reaction against an other that they hope to malign). This is an immensely complex proposition but I will attempt to illustrate it with an example. Hundreds of years ago, the Church pronounces charity a virtue. This “charity” often involves donating one tenth of one’s income to the Church. Today, we accept that charity is a virtue. Nietszche asks: Why? It may seem like charity is understood as good by virtue of an innate human faculty but it is not the case (according to FN).

    Perhaps if we turned our backs on charity, more people would be inclined to raise themselves up by their own boot straps. Perhaps.

    This example is hypothetical: I have nothing against charity, personally.

    The point is: FN suggests that we first evaluate values, explore their origins and then decide for ourselves if they have any true utility. So, the first step is often disdain. Then rejection. Then a recreation of values. This is a highly personal task and one that assumes the primacy of subjective meaning.

    Lets say that Apartheid was still around in 2200, and had become the accepted norm. The government had convinced the people that in fact, their was great value in the system and in fact, oppression/”stewardship” of blacks is a form of service as they cannot fend for themselves. So the people accept this as the case and after another few hundred years, no one even remembers that it was the govt that ascribed value to the act of oppression in the first place. It has been normalized: we have come to accept it as true in itself.

    So, FN would suggest that we look at the origins of the ‘value’, find it man made and highly specious, reject it, and then create a new value – let us say freedom for all – in its stead.

    If you read his work, you will find that even the most obvious values (chastity, temperance, mercy) had their origins in man: at different times in history, the very opposite traits may have been exalted for different reasons.

    The Arcade Fire lyrics I posted seem to suggest (in the line: “I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light, but how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?”) that the youth of today are so preoccupied with disdain that they are unable to begin the task of recreation. This is somewhat Nietzschean, but of course, at the same time, its a pop song and thus incomparable to Nietzsche’s massive and immensely sophisticated ideas.

    FN’s philosophy is a yea-saying philosophy – it wants to say YES! to life.
    Not fuck life, lets dance.
    But: Exalt life, lets dance.

    As an esoteric moralist, Nietzsche hoped to liberate human beings from their false consciousness about morality (their false belief that morality is necessarily good for them).

    You see, certain moral beliefs are life-negating. Nietzsche believed that only life-affirming values have an use for mankind. So if someone smacks you on the cheek, don’t swallow your pride, negate your own emotions and turn the other cheek (as is prescribed). Rather embrace your anger, rise up and smite your enemy wholeheartedly, as is natural and affirming of self.

    The sole standard by which one evaluates a moral value is no longer “is this what God or society would approve of?” but rather “is this strength?”

    I hope this helps.

    I would recommend, if you wish to go beyond your disdain for FN, you read his books, starting with “beyond good and evil” which deals with much of what is discussed above.

    I hope you are well.

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  18. Manza says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. For real.

    But I have to say, that is a way of thinking I don’t agree with.

    I’m with him as far as a re-evaluation and rejection of certain values goes. But I’m not sure about the creation of new values as stemming from an individual’s own primacy.

    One, I don’t agree with rejecting society and community for self like that. As if they didn’t happen to you.

    Two, I don’t think it’s possible.

    Also, this:

    The sole standard by which one evaluates a moral value is no longer “is this what God or society would approve of?” but rather “is this strength?”

    I don’t agree with at all.

    “Is this strength?”

    As unintentional as it may be, I can see how the Nazi’s could appropriate this as a philosophy.

    Not to dwell on an example, but how is it life-affirming to want to harm someone, not necessarily for survival, but to attend to an emotion?

    Are all “natural urges” life-affirming and from societal tampering? I don’t know. And I don’t think so. This seems to me to be something that works within a specific matrical value system where morality relies heavily on the church for definition.

    Which would make sense given what morality is, but I lose him when it comes to talking about natural human impulse.

    But these are just questions at face value. Of course, as you say, I would have to read the books.

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  19. Thomas. says:

    Hey Manza,

    It is good to question everything and I appreciate your perspective.

    Nietzsche is a difficult philosopher to grasp and I myself am still far from fully grasping the true implications of his thought. As far as I understand though, destructive human impulses are seen as being a reaction to unnatural conditions. Thus, if we could return to a more natural condition, our impulses will express themselves, for the most part, in benign action.

    Furthermore, to reign oneself in, to mock one’s pride and negate one’s own strength in the hope of deriving the approval of society, or god, is life negating and otherworldly – and likely to give rise, in some quarters, to violence, decadence and destruction.

    Some quotes of interest:

    “It is inhuman to bless where one is cursed.”

    “The inclination to depreciate himself, to let himself be robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of, could be the modesty of a god among men.”

    “One has been a poor observer of life if one has not also seen the hand that considerately — kills.”

    “With one’s principles one wants to bully one’s habits, or justify, honor, scold, or conceal them: two men with the same principles probably aim with them at something basically different.”

    At the same time:

    “Tethered heart, free spirit. — If one tethers one’s heart severely and imprisons it, one can give one’s spirit many liberties: I have said that once before. But one does not believe me, unless one already knows it…”

    Nietszche has been accused of contradicting himself. It is only through highly attentive study that one begins to see the bigger picture.

    As for the Nazi’s; it is interesting to note that Nietzsche imagined, even though he was little known in his time, that his work would be misappropriated, and that ..”One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful / of a crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified. I am not a man, I am dynamite.”

    He could be arrogant as hell, but if you know of his life; his isolation and his rejection by the academic world, you begin to understand that he needed his own backing, even to the point of excess.

    Give his books a crank – you might find something of use for yourself. At the same time, you may not, and there is nothing wrong in that.

    Thank you for an interesting correspondence.

    Cheers.

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  20. Thomas. says:

    “Who has not, for the sake of his good reputation — sacrificed himself?”

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  21. Manza says:

    Thanks, Thomas.

    I think I actually will.

    These:

    “Who has not, for the sake of his good reputation — sacrificed himself?”

    “It is inhuman to bless where one is cursed.”

    “The inclination to depreciate himself, to let himself be robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of, could be the modesty of a god among men.”

    are resonant.

    And I’m surprised by his prescience.

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  22. Thomas. says:

    Manza,

    If you live in Cape Town, I would be willing to lend you a book or two.
    Let me know.

    Cheers.

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  23. K-Pax says:

    @Manza

    Hahaha – I’m pretty sure I know who Thomas is.
    Manza, u say that lovers of Nietsche cant come right with the Stukkies?
    You should see ol Thomas’s gf – it might convince you otherwise. Perhaps the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. If I have the right person.

    As for Nietsche himself – too difficult for me personally. After one page I have a headache.
    But when B breaks it down for me, holy shit, its mindblowing to the max.

    @Thomas.

    Is that u B-Man?

    If not, then whoever you are, u should get together with him and have a rap.

    Laterzzzzz.

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  24. Thomas. says:

    A. will be most pleased.

    Anyhow, with a hint of the bitch: Mahala is clearly not the place for philosophy.

    It seems if you want to engage with the writers, it’s necessary that you insult them or indulge in some flagrant grammatical nitpicking.

    Finally, I don’t think Nietzsche belongs here, and it makes me so sad I want to weep.

    Out.

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  25. Nkululeko says:

    Yeah its hard to talk philosophy, never mind Nietzsche, seriously on this blog. Its not really the point of Mahala anyway.Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed reading the comments of Thomas on the subject. When im next in Cape Town we should meet up to discuss this further, u tell me more about Nietzshe and I’;; introduce you to Feuerbach and the link he forms between Hegel and Marx 😉
    Ona lighter note check out the Ricky Gervais bit on Nietsche and Hitler on youtube – I luled..

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  26. Andy says:

    Fuck I just like the tunes! Alors on danse

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