Christine and the Queens: Chris review – An artist transformed
Christine and the Queens
To convey a drastic change in mindset, sometimes a physical alteration is necessary to enhance the point. For French singer Héloïse Letissier, she reintroduces herself as Chris, the curious, gender-flexing character with a new Cry Baby greaser-styled haircut, tailored suits and a strong body on her second album as Christine and the Queens.
The first music she has released since coming out as pansexual, Letissier is on a mission to readjust how people publicly express sexual identity and desires, while toying with gender politics as throwback 1980s, synth-ridden beats and 1990s G-funk flair pulsate throughout.
Girlfriend, the album’s lead single, sees Letissier challenging what it means to be a girlfriend when you don’t typically feel effeminate. Comparing herself to cartoonishly macho men – who flex their muscles like Popeye to impress their suitors – she rolls her eyes at the pantomime of it all, knowing that she is just as strong, if not stronger, as they are.
“With salted skin, rash for no reason, boys are loading their arms, girls gasp with envy,” she sings, “For whom are they mimicking endlessly?” The Paula Abdul-style bounce of the music lightens the tone, making it a perfectly smooth song to dance to, and laced with a little of envy towards their freedom to be so performative in their brawnish ways, she lets go of her own inhibitions and explores how she can equally share the same space as them.
Physicality plays a huge part in Letissier’s role as a pop star. Her live performances include perfectly choreographed routines that are just as recognisable as the songs themselves. Her 2015 single Titled – which was initially released in French as Christine in 2014 – its choreography and a certain Jools Holland performance propelled the singer and her moves to a bigger spotlight, marking her as an all-round, magnetic performer. This physicality is the heart of Chris, as the 30-year-old dissects how people use their bodies to communicate.
The Walker is an expression of anxiety, with feelings of repression revealing themselves physically. As she walks through the streets at night with fists clenched, she is looking for a fight, looking for someone to challenge who she is so that she can finally fully express herself. On Damn (What Must a Woman Do), she vents her frustrations towards the forced societal shame of female sexual desire and plays out the conflict of letting go of your old self as the past continues to catch up with you.
Letissier cites dancing as “her second language” in a recent interview with the New York Times – after French and ahead of English – and Chris will get a new lease of life once she is onstage with the theatrics of her choreography and new image adding to the narrative.
Chris, released as a double album of sorts – with the English version flowing into the French – captures what happens when we decide to challenge rigid gender roles and change how we are perceived without changing who we are at our core.
Borrowing sentiments and musical stylings from George Michael’s 1987 single I Want Your Sex and the personal freedom explored on Janet Jackson’s 1985 conceptual album Control, Chris is a darker, more introverted and intentionally confused offering than her debut 2014 album, Chaleur Humaine.
Despite the new hair and shortened name, Chris is not a total reinvention of Letissier as an artist, it’s simply a proclamation that she’s one step closer to finding out who she really is.