Embracing the sheer, queer power of Christine and the Queens

‘I want my body to be even more androgynous...to have muscles...to defend myself’

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Christine & the Queens
Christine & the QueensPhotography by Maciek Pozoga

Héloïse Letissier’s connection to London started seven years ago, when she came to the city from France to recover from a disastrous break up. Shortly after arriving, she found herself taken in, fed and spoiled by three Soho drag queens, before returning home three weeks later. This short-lived experience inspired Letissier’s pop moniker ‘Christine and the Queens’, a persona she describes as a “survival technique” against the boxes in which we put each other, and the false options we get given by society.

Now, in a cyclical move, she is returning to London to launch the English version of her 2014 debut album Chaleur Humaine (translated as “Human Warmth”), which combines fractured, glitch-ridden electro-pop production with Letissier’s distinctively fluid, ice-clear voice. Contrasting an intensity of emotion with a kind of delicateness, her music feels startlingly intimate, like a touch or a half-confided secret.

At 27, she hopes to be the “Trojan Horse” of pop culture; dazzling with her performances, while also dropping questions about feminism, gender and queer culture – issues that she is passionate and vocal about. After two albums, it’s a hope that is quickly materialising. Strong, sharp and open, Christine and the Queens is a bold yet unassuming voice, marking a refreshing and timely presence within the pop music landscape.

What was the first song you ever wrote?

Christine and the Queens: My first song “iT” was about wanting to have a dick just in order to have an easier life. I wrote it when I got expelled from drama school in Lyon seven years ago because I put on my own play. My teachers allowed boys to do stage directing but told girls they had to learn about acting first. Those teachers are still lecturing today.

Now I wouldn’t write “iT”. I’d rather stay a woman and fight, and try to control this male gaze by wearing unsexualised suits and speaking about my own desire without worrying about being desirable on someone else’s terms.

Around that time you ran away to London and became inspired to start again. What happened?

Christine and the Queens: I ended up at a drag night at (now defunct London club) Madame Jojo’s and this weird performance happened. It didn't make any sense and musically speaking it was terrible. One of the performers was playing drums very badly, one of them was playing the guitar terribly, and the other one was cooking pancakes. It was trashy fun drag, messy but so good to watch. I remember thinking: ‘Gosh, I wish I could find a way to feel like that on stage’ because you could tell that these characters were rough on the edges but everything felt fun.

I looked like shit and I was on my own at the table. They just came to me and asked “Are you okay?”, I said “no” and everything that was wrong started pouring out of me. I was searching for someone to talk to. They just fed me with food and ideas. Sometimes they weren’t saying “Oh, you poor thing” but “Come on. Just stop crying” and I was like “okay”. I never saw them after that trip. We still write to each other from time to time, but it felt so perfect like that – it would feel weird to just have coffee or something.

How have you been influenced by the music you listen to?

Christine and the Queens: I was obsessed with Björk, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. They’re all creatures and they’re all self-created – this thrills me. You get to enter into a mind. Even Michael Jackson’s desire for a new face I can understand. I wouldn’t do it myself because I'm scared of dying, but I can understand wanting to create your face and to choose it.

You’ve been candid about your pansexual orientation. Is this perhaps a way of creating yourself?

Christine and the Queens: I don’t know if I chose it, but it’s something I embraced. I fell in love with a girl, then I fell in love with a boy, then I fell in love with somebody who’s trans. And I was like, “What the fuck?! Feelings created this.” But it’s mainly about not knowing what your next love will be and having no idea what I desire. It’s just changing all the time.

I'm always very honest about what I'm feeling. In France, people laugh about the term ‘pansexual’ because ‘pan’ also means ‘bird’. So what? They can laugh about it but maybe later they’ll go Google it and think that it’s interesting. I dropped a new word.

Growing up, was it difficult to navigate that side of your identity if your peers didn’t even understand the concept?

Christine and the Queens: I was always really lucky. My father teaches Gender Studies alongside English. My parents gave me books and movies and they opened me up to lots of beautiful things. Because of them, I never felt weird. That’s quite unusual, and I know people who got kicked out of the house because they were gay. It changes everything when your parents say “bring your girlfriend over to dinner”. The only person who didn’t accept me was me.

Why?

Christine and the Queens:  I felt monstrous and ugly. I wasn’t able to relate to the magazines and advertising I was seeing and their depictions of women. I was polluted by all of that and Christine and the Queens was a way to escape, a survival technique. I’m still not over it, because we as girls are surrounded with ideas of perfection. And I still feel like an ugly chick – I feel insulted by those ideas, and I don’t think I'm the only one. Never perfect enough. Christine is like a button I can push and say “Wait a minute. This is all bullshit”.

Do you think the pop culture landscape is a good place to address ideas about gender and sexuality?

Christine and the Queens: It’s about occupying space and being visible. I feel comfortable doing pop music because this is what I know how to do. So I’ll bring everything I am and everything I believe in on the table.

I’m thinking of doing work in the field as well. Sometimes feel like it’s only working because I'm a pop character but I see people beaten up on the streets or in jails. I’ve been thinking about working with an association, a charity along with doing gigs quite a lot recently.

Tell me about the English version of your debut album.

Christine and the Queens: It’s fifty per cent new and includes collaborations with Perfume Genius and Tunji Ige. It’s about being a teenager.

How would you describe your experience of being a teenager?

Christine and the Queens: Not knowing who I am. I still don’t know, but now I don't care – that’s the difference; Feeling like a monster; Wanting to be loved constantly, but hating to be looked at; Craving to fall in love so hard and falling out of love so quickly. I was on my own with my books and my computer. I don't want to be cheesy, but I found a way to talk to people through music. Before that, I didn't know how to talk to people. It’s such a classic image now – the pop artist who used to be really shy!

I think about the things I missed when I was a teenager – Lorde, for example. I would have loved to have Lorde as a pop star when I was younger. She’s gifted, intelligent, embracing her body, her face, her acne. For my next album, I’m thinking about not being defined as a girl anymore – just being considered as a voice and an artist. I want my body to be even more androgynous...to have muscles...to defend myself.

Chaleur Humaine is due 26 February 2016 via Because Music, and her first London headline show, at Koko, is on 15 March.

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