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‘I’m working on a different version of femininity’

Christine & the Queens at Hammersmith Apollo, London. Photor: Gaelle Beri

Hélöise Letissier, referred to as Christine and the Queens, has simply scored a exceptional succession of 5 star evaluations for her present. It was a spectacular present, that includes snow, sand, and Letissier on the centre of a cohort of dancers theatrically bringing to life the themes of id and lust of her highly effective album Chris.

It seems that she is simply as playfully theatrical in individual. In her lodge room down the street from the London Hammersmith Apollo, the Nantes-born artist bounces as much as make espresso, a neckerchief including Gallic aptitude to a monochrome sweatshirt which swamps her petite, however muscular, body.

“I’m hosting”, she broadcasts emphatically. Then, on seeing my sheets of questions, she says, archly: “Ooh, all for me?”

Learn extra: Christine and the Queens, Hammersmith Apollo: sublimely odd and blissfully free

Earlier than she established Christine and the Queens, Letissier studied theatre. “I wanted to be a stage director,” she says. When she first began planning the present, it was for arenas again house. “I didn’t want to rely on what could be expected from an arena, I wanted to go the opposite. It was linked to the physicality of the album; I wanted something organic that could be more impressive than LED screens.”

So she appeared to her theatre background and the choreographer Alain Platel whose radical dances rely closely on muscularity. “It’s true that my references are almost more linked to theatre and opera than classic gig stage designs”, she says, referring to the technical problem of utilizing snow and sand, in different venues of different sizes every night time. “Because it’s crazy, everyone got invested in it like crazy.”

Christine & the Queens at Hammersmith Apollo, London. Photor: Gaelle BeriChristine & the Queens at Hammersmith Apollo, London. Photor: Gaelle Beri

It was inevitable that everybody would spend money on Letissier’s masterplans wholeheartedly. Her album Chaleur Humaine turned the biggest-selling debut within the UK in 2016, following her breakout efficiency at Glastonbury that yr, and located her onstage with Madonna, championed by Paul McCartney and performing with Elton John, the latter of whom repeatedly sends supportive emails. (“I’ve never met someone so adorable,” she says).

Whereas her electro-pop bilingual debut introduced her as Christine, and introduced queer id and gender fluidity into the mainstream, her follow-up, ramping up her sound with irresistible Eighties funk and squelchy synths impressed by Michael Jackson, noticed her undertake newfound swagger as Chris.

Some prompt it was a advertising ploy, which Chris laughs off. “It was actually a really bad marketing thing to do. Even my record label was a bit scared: they were like ‘are you sure you want to do that?’”

Learn extra: Anna Calvi, interview – ‘I am tired of women being hunted by men’

For Chris who cites David Bowie and Kanye West as inspirations as a result of they “never got comfortable” and “push things a bit further”, taking dangers is important. “I had two options: I could comfortably sit, or I could risk it all. If I’m a bit scared, it means that I’m challenging things a bit more. And also I had to be true to who I became, and thanks to everything that happened, I was in a slightly different place; I was more Chris than Christine.”

In addition to lopping off the top of her identify, she additionally cropped her hair. “I always wanted to have short hair, but I was afraid because my jaw is quite square,” she says. “I can’t believe I didn’t do it before; it made me more confident with the playfulness of identity, but also connected me with a part of femininity that I enjoy more now.”

Chris identifies as pansexual, and was amused at how, when she reemerged with brief hair, individuals assumed that she was transitioning. “Are you continue to in that slender definition of masculinity? I feel individuals are infuriated whenever you don’t select – it’s like, is she a man now? No, I’m simply working on a different version of femininity. With brief hair I can play much more.

“If I dress really masculine, I can totally be mistaken for a man, but also if I want to be a badass woman in a dress with short hair, I can. So it’s kind of empowering.” She factors out that even her preliminary character Christine was, at first, “born out of a way to break free”.

London is a particular place for Chris, as a result of it’s the place all of it started. Christine and the Queens shaped after a breakup prompted her to go for the town, the place at a time that she was grappling with expressing her id, she discovered consolation in a group of drag queens on the venue Madame Jojo’s.

‘I cannot not write songs. It became like a coping mechanism or a way to express things I couldn’t categorical in any other case. It sort of turned a freaky strategy to breathe’

“Earlier than Chaleur Humaine, I had big vanity points. Chaleur Humaine was like a option to introduce myself. It’s like a shy-people heaven as a result of the songs have been already telling my story, and other people listened and accepted me for who I used to be making an attempt to be. I used to be like ‘ok, maybe I can breathe a bit looser now and accept myself a bit more.’

“To use a metaphor, it’s like I got out of my room and I just could breathe fresh air.”

‘I always wanted to have short hair but I was afraid’: Héloïse Letissier, aka Chris

She writes songs continually. Much less on a tour as bodily demanding as this (she final wrote a track 5 days earlier than we meet), however in any other case it will be day by day (“at worst once a week, at best everyday”). Earlier than she started writing music aged 20, she was writing all the things else – diaries, novels, poems – compulsively, on a regular basis.

“There is a sense of emancipation which is why I cannot not write songs. It became like a coping mechanism or a way to express things I couldn’t express otherwise. It kind of became a freaky way to breathe.”

Her vanity points went again additional. A self-professed introvert with two educational mother and father and early fantasies of being a novelist, she was mocked at college for her self-expression which noticed her gown up as Marie Antoinette. It’s a interval of life that she examines within the music “What’s-her-face”, describing the ache of playground bullying that lingers even to today. It stands out as probably the most affecting second of her reside present.

‘Trauma never really goes away. And actually I built myself on that trauma’

“Performing that song is always ‘oh, here we come’. Bah. Yeah, every night you revisit that…” she says. “Trauma never really goes away. And actually I built myself on that trauma, also it made me look for a way to relate to feeling like an outsider.”

Did her shyness stem from this trauma? “I think sometimes my shyness came from being sorry for who I am when I was younger. They were mocking me harshly, so you go back in your shell – I was afraid some people would think I was a monster or someone really weird. But then Christine and Chris are about shedding that away and embracing things, and it helps. I think it’s because it started on stage that I can be better now in my life.”

Music has additionally helped her to emancipate the “eruptions of eroticism”, that are displayed nowhere extra evocatively than on the lustful strut and sweaty swagger of “Damn (What Must a Woman Do)”. On the first London present, a feverish response resulted in a pair of purple knickers being thrown at her. The present is definitely empowering for anybody drained of seeing ladies’s our bodies flaunted for the male gaze, I inform her. “Ah man, that’s wonderful”, she says.

“For me also. It’s a question I’m asking myself in my work…the representation of the female body: how do I want to exist? I’m going to be the one who desires first. I was lacking representation of other ways to perform femininity and to be a woman, and I was tired of seeing passivity.”

‘I wanted to play all the masculine parts, and as girls we had to do auditions for theatre school with shitty parts for women. No!’

Throughout her theatre days she recognized extra with males onscreen, and in literature, and lamented the truth that all the perfect elements have been for males. Leaning in the direction of comedy, she a lot most popular to play the idiot in Shakespeare. “I needed to play all of the masculine elements, and as women we needed to do auditions for theatre faculty with shitty elements for ladies. No!

“I was like, ‘how come it’s impossible for us to have parts that we can identify with, that we can be complex?’ Making the record was about addressing intricacy as a male character would be able to address it.”

Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty‘The more I’m getting older, the extra I slot in’: Heloise Letissier, photograph by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty

Now 30, she subscribes to the stereotype of life turning into simpler for ladies with age. “I don’t remember the 20s as a good place”, she says. “I feel like the more I’m getting older, the more I fit in.” What she fears just isn’t having the stamina to bop in addition to she will as we speak. However then she remembers Pina Bausch, who danced via her 60s, and is immediately buoyed.

‘I do love the idea of getting old in that industry. I’m going to remain! With the wrinkles and every thing’

She turns mischievously to the feminist perspective: “I do love the idea of getting old in that industry. Oh yes. They’re going to want me to hide at some point because I’ll be too old and”, she switches to a stage whisper, “I’m going to stay! With the wrinkles and everything. They’ll be like ‘I don’t know how to film you’. And I’ll be like, ‘You film my face!’” She laughs loudly, with glee.

“Age is sexy on a man: silver fox. I’m going to be a silver fox myself, I’m going to stay with lots of jewellery on my hands, coloured sunglasses, and maybe I’ll fake smoking.” She takes a distinguished, sideways poise, gripping the imagined cigarette between her fingers, her creativeness and comedic mischief on overdrive.

“There will be a cloud of smoke and an old lady and they’ll say ‘This is Chris!’ and I’ll go ‘yeah’. I can’t wait to rock that.”

Chris is out now on As a result of