Défiler by Stromae: A commentary on upward mobility
Stromae, a world-famous Belgian musician, left the spotlight after the release of his second album in 2013 and has since remained dormant. But he emerged from his occupational slumber in April 2017 to release a single—”Défiler,” meaning “to parade.” The song is just under ten minutes long and comments on two primary themes: the movement of people through life and control of self-image. Stromae’s song, in this regard, may be interpreted to comment on both migration and public relations. A rough English translation of the lyrics can be found here.
The movement of people is, by definition, a representation of migration, which is broadly defined as “movement from one part of something to another.” The song lyrics as well as the title imply a temporal migration, describing ways in which humans move through life: they parade, walk backwards, “walk in lines/In groups or not, we walk alone,” step-by-step, from birth to death. Specifically, Stromae contemplates his own destination or lack thereof; Stromae does not know where he is going in life.
The song lyrics as well as the title imply a temporal migration, describing ways in which humans move through life.
The control of self-image is a personal form of public relations. Stromae mentions that people “have a market value” that morphs as they go through life, that to get a job, “first you’ve got to learn how to edit the photo of a [resume].” Halfway through the song, he changes person to talk about a woman who is reliant on social media and the internet to propel her forward in society; she relies on Google to seem smart, social media photo filters to look beautiful. “If only school taught us how to make beautiful selfies,” a verse says.
Where these concepts of movement and societal representation of the self overlap is not obvious and will require some analysis. It helps to know that Stromae has a background in fashion; he and his wife coproduce a line of haute-couture clothing called mosaert that links fashion and music in the audio-visual sector. Stromae released his single in parallel with the opening of “Capsule 5,” his fifth clothing collection. The music video for “Défiler” consists of the Capsule 5 runway show.
With this is mind, the juxtaposition of movement (specifically walking forward) and beauty/image makes sense. The runway is analogous to the progression of life. Models make a living by the way they portray themselves to others, how good they look in what they wear. In this sense, migration and public relations are both fundamentally reliant on upward mobility, that whatever lies ahead is better than what falls behind.
It is interesting to think about the types of migration in fashion. Of course, there’s the physical migration on the runway that adheres to the broadest use of the word; models move from one part of the stage to the other. There’s a philosophical discussion to be had here. Why is movement aesthetic? For if it weren’t, the fashion industry would have no need of runways or fashion shows. All clothes would remain static. Movement, and synonymously migration, is perhaps desirable because it is associated with lifeforms, with spatial freedom. Allowing clothes to migrate from one end of the stage to another in a way personifies them, allowing the viewer to more readily envision those clothes on a regular human walking down the street. For this reason, the model must embody a desirable personality, to exude comfort and confidence, to pique lust.
The runway is analogous to the progression of life. Models make a living by the way they portray themselves to others, how good they look in what they wear. In this sense, migration and public relations are both fundamentally reliant on upward mobility, that whatever lies ahead is better than what falls behind.
Yet Stromae isn’t necessarily referring to physical migration through his lyrics; instead, he uses the runway as an analogy for walking through life, from birth to death. In a sense, humans do migrate through time as they pass from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and so on. What Stromae comments on is the inevitability and irreversibility of this migration. Everyone walks forward in life, no one can go back.
Again, there’s a philosophical discussion to be had here. Why are we under the impression that time itself migrates? And if time truly does migrate, why is it going forward? How do we know it has a direction at all? I discuss a few of these questions in earlier posts related to the structure of space and time. Stephen Hawking briefly addressed this topic in his book A Brief History of Time. I remember reading a specific chapter about the arrows of time, of which there are three, and these arrows indicate that time appropriates a direction. The most memorable is entropy, or the tendency for nature to descend into chaos. We know that entropy increases with time. In other words, systems gradually become more chaotic as time goes on. Think about pushing a glass of water off the table. If someone were to film the water as it falls, edit it so it plays in reverse and then show it to you, you would know immediately that the video is not playing chronologically. Systems do not naturally become less entropic with time. For related posts, see also We are such stuff that spacetime is made of and Action at a distance: Science fiction or fact?.
Movement, and synonymously migration, is perhaps desirable because it is associated with lifeforms, with spatial freedom. Allowing clothes to migrate from one end of the stage to another in a way personifies them.
Of course, one could argue that time is merely a human construct. By extent humans cannot migrate through time; there is no medium to move through and thus no movement at all. But if we make this assertion, what impedes us from concluding the same about space? If there is no space or time, how can we assert that there is migration at all?
But let’s limit the philosophy. For the moment, we will posit that time moves forward, and humans move forward through time and space. From a sociological standpoint, Stromae asserts that in order to move up in society, one must maintain a good reputation. This is where public relations enters the migratory scene. To a large degree, one’s physical appearance influences their professional aptitude. When CEOs of companies make a press statement, they want to make sure they look just right in front of the camera—well put-together, dressed nicely. Audiences are more receptive to communication when the people administering it line up with expectations. For this reason, individuals and companies alike value aesthetics and visual appearance. “Kid, before you learn a job/First you’ve got to learn how to edit the photo of a [resume],” a verse in “Défiler” says.