Christine and the Queens has big dick energy, and she wants you to know it. In the video for her G-funk-leaning anthem “Girlfriend,” she flexes her biceps with a clique of male dancers, performing slick moves on an aerial construction site lit in the same lustrous ochres as Fassbinder’s Querelle. “Don’t feel like a girlfriend / But lover / Damn, I’d be your lover,” she sings lustily. For the “5 Dollars” visual, she dons a harness, admiring her bound-and-buckled reflection, before covering up in a three-piece suit. “The suit is power, but there’s another form of power that is disruptive underneath it,” she says, over a phone call from Paris. “It’s unclear if it’s about money or power or sex, or everything at once. I kind of like the idea that people fantasize about the whole thing.”
Christine and the Queens (a.k.a. the Nantes-born Héloïse Letissier) is out to pervert pop and remake it in her own image. That mission was made clear by her fluid performances surrounding the release of her 2014 debut album, Chaleur Humaine: The artist’s Pina Bausch-inspired choreography took her slippery synth-pop to a dazzling new dimension. The androgynous title of Letissier’s new album, Chris — as well as her fresh, Hackers-era Angelina Jolie cropped hairdo — foregrounds her sly resistance to expectations of how a modern woman performer might look and move. “Chris” is how she prefers to be addressed these days, too; its androgyny appeals to her. “As a concept, Christine, and now Chris, has always been queer,” she says. “It was about being empowered by the wounds you have...questioning the margins and owning the margins of society instead of feeling like you’re an outcast.”
The self-produced Chris moves from abstract meditations on high art to touching personal reflections, specifically on her own life as a pansexual woman. “Some of us just had to fight / For even being looked at right,” she sings — a mantra for when taking up space as a queer person feels like an act of defiance. But as much as Chris is a cry against an imperfect world, nothing about it feels like an academic exercise. “Comme Si” is a pure, synth-pop sugar rush, and “Damn (What Must a Woman Do)” glitches up rubbery funk with fun, zippy electronics, as if the music itself is mirroring Letissier’s efforts to rewire our expectations of pop.
Growing up in Nantes, an industrial city in northwest France, Letissier’s early life was good: Books by queer authors like Jean Genet and Sarah Waters were strewn around the house, and she watched movies like Tod Browning’s outsider classic Freaks. At school, it was another story. “You see people perform ideas of gender and identities, and you’re like, ‘Fuck, what am I going to do?’ ” she says. “I didn’t know how to be a classic girl, and I’m not a boy.” Letissier returns to that discomfort in Chris’s most emotionally charged song, “What’s-her-face,” in which she belts out, “If I’m not sick, that’s how I feel,” amidst an ominous beat. “It was not easy to record, and it’s not easy to perform” she says. “But I can’t cheat my way through writing a track.”
With her plainspoken honesty, you can imagine cracking a bottle of Pernod with Letissier and spending all night putting the world to rights. But there’s an impish side to her, too. In the past, she’s gamely freestyled, in French, over Desiigner’s “Panda” on Beats 1, and, in our conversation, references Travis Scott and Chris Kraus with similar ease. She’ll even make fun of her own tendency to get esoteric. When she likens the vocal production of one new song, “Doesn’t Matter,” to “the hero of a Greek tragedy and the chorus who are standing next to him,” the unexpected mental image prompts a whole lot of laughter. “I know!” she bursts out. “I don’t even take drugs. It’s weird.”
The complexity of Letissier’s worldview might escape some newcomers to her music, yet Chris has enough bops to win over casual listeners, while also being her strongest statement to date. But one of the happiest results of making her new music is a personal one. “I remember being young and trying to fit in so much I almost erased myself,” she says. “And now with my shorter hair and my more androgynous femininity, I just feel — maybe you can tell in the ‘5 Dollars’ video — that I finally look happy. I never had that look on my face before. My family said to me, ‘Wow, you’re glowing.’ And I think it’s because, finally, I’m accepting who I can be.”
Photography by Piper Ferguson.
Styling by Karen Levitt. Hair and Makeup: Ady Sanchez.
Suit by Topshop. Coat by Norma Kamali. Shirt by Topman. Pants by Ma Ra Mi. Sneakers by Converse.