Christine and the Queens on Alter-Egos and Ambition

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AnOther talks desire, drama and escapism with the enigmatic French pop musician Héloïse Letissier – aka Christine and the Queens

Some stars are born, some manufactured but Christine and the Queens is perpetually star-becoming. The plural name for solo pop artist, Héloïse Letissier, belies the French singer’s fluxing persona(s), alluding to queered glamour and tragicomic cabaret. On stage and screen, her petite figure radiates power as she exults in self-acceptance and determination. Letissier intends Christine and the Queens to be a silhouette, a cipher, for others to project themselves on to. A gender-fluid, dancing beacon for anyone who doesn’t quite fit society’s little boxes – and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she crafts beautiful pop music.

Christine was drawn into becoming when a softly spoken, overly self-aware Letissier was at her lowest ebb half a decade ago. Heartbroken and unfulfilled by a theatre degree, she fled Paris for London. Yet to fully accept her sexuality, she sought out spots that celebrated otherness, winding up nightly at Soho’s Madame Jojos, where she was befriended by three drag queens – the Queens. They nurtured her spirit, instilling enough confidence for Letissier to begin writing songs upon her return. As an ex-dancer, pianist and writer, with a fine voice and grasp of theatrics; it didn’t take long for Christine and the Queens to manifest as a scintillating electropop act. A trio of EPs swiftly found fans. Her first album, Chaleur Humaine (Human Warmth), saw her claim Female Artist of the Year at French Grammy-equivalent, Victoires de la Musique, and has gone platinum over five times since.

Now, she’s touring her global debut, a re-working of Chaleur Humaine featuring a handful of original cuts, translated versions of hits and new songs, such as her poignant duet with Perfume Genius, Jonathan. The latter, which explores the hurt that stems from a lover publicly denying your existence, is typical of Letissier’s song-writing – its realisation disavowing shame of its destructive force by bringing it into the open and making a gorgeous piece of art from it. AnOther caught up with the shape-shifting chanteuse in London to discuss writing relatable songs, desiring on stage and evolving as Christine.

On creating an uncategorisable character…
"You can make pop that ticks boxes but for me, it's a way of not choosing. I thought Christine would only resonate with people who are close to myself, but what’s cool is I’m connecting with unexpected people who find something to relate to. I suppose it happens because I'm obsessed with the pop aesthetic where you have to be precise at the same time as being abstract. It's this balance where you have to be a ‘blank face’. It's really interesting to write like that." 

On the generosity of pop music…
"Pop can be a really interesting place to create something hybrid. Even more so with the internet as you get to make a song that can exist in many different ways, as audio, video and gifs, so you blend influences and be generous with it. A pop song is democratic. It can act as a trojan horse, as first you like the song, then you search for the video and so on, so these other ideas are brought in – it can have a domino effect."

On evolving alongside Christine…
"I've changed quite a bit thanks to her. My body changed through touring so I'm athletic and I'm dressing like her all the time as this is how I feel now, but I couldn't embrace life as Christine, it would be too tiring. Off the stage, I like to shrink to this tiny character, as in real life, I'm constantly trying to escape. I have to project and create. I need to blend in, observe. I love that in Paris I can walk for hours without being noticed. I like being the focus of attention on stage, but I really, really like its effects, that it starts conversations."

On openly desiring as a female… 
"Girls are obsessed with being desirable, not desiring, as this is what society tells us to be, and it's a real problem. It’s sad these characteristics are suppressed, so you have to break free. It’s going to be super powerful when girls just feel desire. I want my next character to be like that, but already, when I'm speaking with people about it they're like, 'Are you not afraid people will change their mind about you?' I'm like, 'On what grounds? Did they think that before I didn't have any desire for anything before?' I love this album and character, but it's really soft and beautiful. I want to be the girl who lunges at people, wants to eat them. It's time for girls to take back some of the things that have been stolen."

Christine and the Queens plays the Roundhouse on May 3, 2016. Chaleur Humaine is released in the UK on February 26, 2016.