Angèle knows you might not know her songs — or understand them — and she’s OK with that. This weekend, the Belgian pop star is performing a string of shows at New York City’s Terminal 5, wrapping her productive and eye-opening first-ever tour of the U.S.
Back home, she’s used to filling arenas with fans who want to hear her French-language pop hits. To put her level of stardom into perspective, she recently sold a total of 70,000 tickets across two shows in Paris. (That’s the equivalent of 3.5 Madison Square Gardens.) Here in Los Angeles, she performed with a full band and multiple backup dancers in front of just 2,000 people last month. This trip to America has given her a taste of what it’s like to “start from zero, but with a lot of experience,” and she’s loving it.
“It’s the best thing to happen to me,” she says. “Yes, in France, in Belgium, I do big, big shows. I’m very famous and I like it, but it happened very fast. It’s cool to be here in these more human spaces.”
Angèle skyrocketed in recognition in Europe in 2018 and 2019, following the release of the feminist anthem she penned, “Balance ton quoi,” in which she sang candidly about misogyny. The track became an overnight hit and propelled her to a level of stardom in Europe she didn’t anticipate; by 2020, she was a logical choice to duet with Dua Lipa on Future Nostalgia bonus track “Fever.”
If the topics in Angèle’s music were deep on Brol, her first album, she wanted to dig even deeper on her next album, 2021’s Nonante-Cinq, which she wrote during the pandemic when she was able to “spend time with myself.” The album features standouts like “Bruxelles, Je T’aime,” about her hometown; “Démons,” a pop-rap track about her mounting anxiety; and a painful ballad about domestic violence, “Tempête,” where she sings “Bruises are nothing, they’re just a beautiful color.”
Her comparatively lower profile the U.S., she says, gives her a sense of liberty to touch some of these topics without fear of judgment.
“In France, in Belgium, I can have my life, but there’s always something in the back of my head. I accepted that and I’m totally fine with it. My life is very cool,” she says. “But here, the fact that I’m not even thinking about it, makes it so much easier.”
She adds: “I don’t want to be a big star here. I don’t need that. I just want to make my music, and if people discover me, that’s even better. But if the people that come to the shows are happy with it, then I’m happy.”
After two successful shows at Coachella‘s Mojave Stage and before she graced the Met Gala red carpet in custom Chanel, Angèle spoke to Rolling Stone exclusively about coming to America, her friendship with Rosalía, and if she’ll ever make music in English.
How are things going?
It’s crazy. I’m so lucky. That’s really how I feel. I wasn’t expecting all of this. I wasn’t realizing that Coachella was real — when I did the show, I didn’t realize it was happening.
Wow. What was that like for you?
Well, it’s so big. First of all, the fact of being at Coachella is already a big deal. It was hard to choose what we were going to keep and cut. I wanted to be dressed in a different way; I wanted to have a sparkling outfit. It was live-streamed, which really put me in a very vulnerable place to know that I could not make any mistakes because it would be on the internet.
I’m a very stressed-out person. I don’t know how I enjoyed it, but I really enjoyed it. I did some meditation just before going on stage. That was the first time doing so in my life. I downloaded this app and I did some exercises to just make sure I was aligned. I went on stage and I was like, “OK, Angèle, now you just have no choice to enjoy because you can’t control the rest.”
You can only control how you’re feeling. What’s it like to have to reintroduce yourself to a different audience?
We did San Francisco, we did Seattle, Vancouver, and it was so cool because I could see the people, I could really feel that they were not only French-speaking people. That was a big thing we didn’t know before we came here. Maybe it’ll only be French speakers? But actually, no, it’s more than that. It’s also a lot of people who don’t know about French.
There have been a few other French-speaking acts at Coachella before you, like Stromae. What’s it like to look at the success he’s had here?
Stromae has been an example for me since Day One. I remember whenever his second album went out, I was younger. I was starting my jazz studies, so it was before I knew I was going to be a pop star. I really didn’t know. But I was listening to him. I went to his concert. I was very inspired. I also remember when I was 18, I went to New York for a few months and I was in a bar and I heard his music. It’s so rare. It’s so unexpected.
You performed Friday, when Bad Bunny headlined. The following day was Blackpink, and Rosalía also performed. It feels like language is no longer a barrier to stardom here.
I hope so. Good for us. It’s very interesting because I’m always putting a lot of focus on the lyrics because I want to talk about something deeper. I want to express myself and I want to talk about stuff — not only about love, but I would also love to write about stuff that might be hard to talk about in real life. To know that people might not fully understand, it’s cool because it helps me be a bit more relaxed. I can be really straight to the point.
Which songs do you feel that way about?
There are some songs that are about tough topics. For example, I did a song called “Tempête,” and it’s talking about domestic violence. Whenever I sing it here, I feel like I may be less judged because people don’t really know me. If they are here, it’s because they really love my music and it’s not because I’m this pop star. It’s just because they want to hear me, and they’re not there to judge.
That makes a lot of sense. You have a lot of eyes on you back home as a celebrity.
Exactly. I mean, it’s always like that. I think it’s normal and I have to deal with it. You can’t have everything. If you are going to be very famous, it’s cool because you have a really cool career and people will love you and will stop you on the street and tell you they love you. I’m grateful for that …. The bad stuff is the fact that once you become known, you’re not free anymore in a way. I feel more free here because I can start from zero and can be fully myself. Then I’ll be so happy to come back to France with new energy and to feel maybe more free to be spontaneous again.
You’ve spoken in interviews about how a lot of the focus back home has been on your body and your looks. That’s something that a lot of women in this industry deal with. Is it any different here, where you’re under less of a spotlight?
Well, that was my biggest dream. When I started to do music, I was very nervous about that. I wanted people to be interested in my music, and I wanted people to know that I was writing my music, that I was composing, and that I was doing the production. That was very, very important to me. I was even making me the least sexy that I could, because I was very young and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t feeling like a woman in my head because I was still a teenager, so I didn’t want it to get sexualized and I was very stressed because of that. It took me some time to feel more confident, and now I feel like I embrace it. I’m totally fine being more sexy, being a woman, whenever I choose to be. Being able to be myself and to dress the way I want, but still talking about music, that’s the best.
You did an awesome interview with Rosalía for Deezer last year. Do you and she stay in touch?
The thing is we’re both European singers, and I remember when she did “Malamente,” everybody was talking about her everywhere. We were in touch. It was very cool to connect in the interview, but we’ve known each other for quite a long time because we have the same job. She is so inspiring, and I’m not the only one. I think she is proving that you can be whoever you want. She’s very free. She’s bringing something very new to pop culture, because she’s not even a pop star — she doesn’t fit in any categories. I think that’s very, very cool.
Did you get to see her performance at Coachella?
Yes, and I saw her in Paris and I loved the show, but I don’t know why, I loved it better at Coachella. It was so beautiful. Everything was so perfect. She sings perfectly. And also she’s so natural.
She removed her makeup onstage!
That’s very, very inspiring to see how free you can be, if you are taking your makeup off in front of so many people.
What’s something you want people who don’t know your music to know about you?
People might not be able to fully understand, but I want them to know that the songs and the lyrics and everything really have a very profound aspect. The song topics are all that really matter to me. I might seem like a very typical pop project, but it has also been built with a lot of steps. I’ve been to a lot of vulnerable places because I’ve learned my job while doing it in front of a lot of people.
I’m still a bit clumsy sometimes and I want to keep it that way. I want to keep my clumsiness as a pop singer who also writes her own lyrics, produces her own songs. I really feel like we’re in a new era where musicians can be very independent. It’s important to show that we can build everything by ourselves.
Your lyrics are nearly all in French. Would you ever make music in English?
I’ve always sung in the two languages, because I’ve learned to sing with English pop stars, and that’s how I’ve learned English. Also with the Beatles. When I started, I was even writing in English! I think maybe it will be good to do something mixed, because my voice fits better in French because it’s my language. But I would love to try to write in English, maybe.
Is there anything you want to add as you wrap up this trip to the U.S.?
I feel so lucky. It’s already a dream come true being able to come to another place, to travel, to see new places. I’ve been to San Francisco for the first time. I’ve been to Seattle for the first time. I already feel so grateful.