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Anonymous asked:

what is the message of Stromae's Humain à l’eau? As an English speaker, trying to learn french, I'm trying to understand it better. I feel like I'm translating it weird. Is it about how badly the earth is being treated and how bad we treat each other as human beings? As in taking over lands that belong to others?


That is one of the hardest Stromae songs to translate if you want my opinion. It’s difficult to say that it has one straight message because the lyrics are very intelligently laid out. Basically, it operates a reversal of the Western gaze towards, what is called, “primitive societies” through the eyes of a person from one of those said primitive societies (as the lyrics start like this ”Moi humain Papou/Primaire, pas vous?” “Me human Papuan/Primitive, not you?”) in order to operate a criticism of those so-called modern/developped societies (“Si évoluer, c’est ça/ Moi, j’évolue pas pour un sou” “If being advanced is that!/ I won’t evolve at all”).

It also deals with the international aid industry/white saviorism. In French, there is this saying that is “cracher dans la soupe” (to spit in the soup) which means “to be ungrateful”. And sometimes, that is one expression some (very intellectually dishonest and, quite frankly, racist) people use as a way to retort to criticisms against the international aid industry as if third-world people should be grateful for white-saviorism and the way the international aid industry works. And in this song, Stromae reverses this widespread image: 

Mais vole, vole, voyage
Fais-les tes reportages
Mais pot de colle, crache loin
Dans votre bol de potage 

But fly, fly, travel
Go get your documentaries
But you leech, spit far away
In your bowl of soup

And he goes on with a: “Dans votre monde de gotha,/ Moi? je n’en voulais pas” - “In your world of gotha/ Me? I never wanted it”. Gotha refers to the Almanach de Gotha which was a directory of European nobililty and royals. In the song, it rather is a way to speak of influential and upper-class people of today’s world. The lyrics here are a sheer refusal of the whole system in a nutshell even though the “developed world” seems to think that the “primitive societies” need to be “civilized”. 

One great thing about how the whole picture is reversed in the song is that in turn, the “first world” is belittled and put into proper context in a way that it is held accountable too. 

Mais petit modernisé, 
Pourquoi tu me parles mal? 
Je respecte ton terrier
Respecte mes terres
Je respecte les insectes
Donc respecte les mammifères

But you small modern man
Why are you being rude to me?
I respect your hole
Respect my lands
I respect insects
So respect mammals

In those verses, the two kind of societies are put against each other. People of the developed societies live in small spaces (the holes), everyone separated from one other, while they, the “primitive ones”, live in lands and thus have much space to themselves (hence the hole/lands contrast). And the “I respect you, you should respect me” figure of speech goes on with the “I respect insects/ So respect mammals” indirectly labeling/insulting those leaders of “civilized societies” as insects… And the scorn from the ‘primitive person’ goes further with those verses: 

Je te l’explique encore?
Moi devoir définir?
Toi, pas comprendre?
Pas parler ou plutôt, réfléchir? 
Oui je t’idéalisais
La culture de la bêtise,
De ça oui je suis raciste

Should I say it again? 
Me have to explain? 
You don’t understand?
You don’t speak or perhaps think?
Yes I did idealize you
The culture of foolishness
Yes, I’m a racist toward that

The song also deals with environmental damage at the expense of indigenous peoples: 

Chez moi, c’est l’Amazonie 
Ou c’était, pour ce qu’il en reste

My home is Amazonia 
Or that was, at least of the little it remains

And the unequal power imbalance between first-world/richest countries and the third-world (which most indigenous peoples are from and in which they already have no political power) in a rather straight-forward language: 

G8, G20 ou j’ai chié 
Et j’ai bien caché
Vous décidez de ça à notre insu
Moi aussi, j’aurais aimé être entendu

G8, G20 or I shat* 
And I hid my mess 
You decide of all this without our knowledge 
Me too, I’d have liked to be heard

* Though it’s vulgar, “I shat” is the literal translation of this. Here, Stromae makes a word play with the sound of “G” and “J’ai” which are the same in French.  He mentions how the richest and most powerful States damage the environment, exploit other people’s resources and do their best not to mention it and to hide it and yet are still able to have power over weaker nations and peoples. 

Throughout the song, the theme of global warming comes back with “humain à l’eau” (lit. “Human overboard”) which is also a wordplay because it can also be understood as “Humain allô” (as in, “Human wake up!). I hope it didn’t sound too complicated but Humain à l’eau’s message is definitely not what I’d call straightforward. It’s really a song with multiple meanings/messages and it makes a great job at connecting the dots between environmental damage, colonialism/imperialism and racism.