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Stromae, 'Carmen'

The international megastar Stromae has a seemingly boundless love of music across genres. And if his tune "Carmen" seems vaguely familiar, it's because the track is a reworking of an operatic classic, the "Habanera" from Bizet's opera Carmen. "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle que nul ne peut apprivoiser," the seductive Carmen sings: "Love is a wild bird that no one can tame."

What the Belgian artist does with Carmen's metaphor is to twist it, with new lyrics, into a piercing commentary on one of the biggest forces in contemporary life. In Stromae's hands, Carmen's bird morphs into an all-too-familiar blue fowl that grows bigger and bigger and all the more menacing, finally consuming everyone — celebrities and everyday people alike — before (literally) expelling them out of its body.

Stromae's ire isn't aimed solely at Twitter by any means. Instead, it's targeting the endless pull and false fronts of social media in general. "Prends guarde à toi," Stromae warns. "Et à tous ceux qui vous like, les sourires en plastique sont souvent des coups d'hashtag." ("Watch yourself. All those who 'like' you out there, those fake smiles cut like a hashtag.") And here's the irony: Stromae set up an Instagram account a couple of weeks ago, and every post is an illustrated teaser for the "Carmen" video.

But because this is a Stromae project, there are even more layers of meaning embedded in a breezy three-and-a-half minute confection. The lyrics include several sharp plaints against consumer culture, not to mention a whole visual narrative about a failed relationship. (Stromae is the king of "suicide dance," after all.)

Visually gripping, this "Carmen" video was directed by the Academy Award-nominated French comic artist, animator and director Sylvain Chomet, who directed the 2003 film The Triplets of Belleville and 2010's The Illusionist. Chomet also co-wrote the "Carmen" video with French rapper, songwriter and record producer , who in turn co-wrote the "Carmen" song with Stromae.

"Carmen" is a cut from the album Racine Carrée("Square Root"), which was first released in 2013 and in the U.S. last year. But with Stromae's first real push into the American market — including a hugely buzz-generating set at the NPR Music SXSW showcase last month — "Carmen" is the sixth single from the album. It premiered just yesterday and has already garnered more than 5 million views. It's well on its way to being another monster video hit for Stromae.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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