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Culture, Music

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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