You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Christine and the Queens Bring ‘Pansexual’ Pop Into the Mainstream

For French-born pop maven Christine and the Queens (née Heloise Letissier), a Best New Artist nod at the Grammy Awards would be “surreal,” as she says, to say the least. “When you’re a music nerd, the Grammys are kind of a mythical thing, especially when you’re not American,” she tells Variety. “You see engineers with a Grammy on the shelf and you’re like, ‘What?! Is it real? Can I touch it?’ It’s like this fetish.”

If nominated — she’s got a cosign from Variety — Letissier would be the second-ever French artist named in the category, following the long-running vocal group the Swingle Sisters’ nod (and win) in 1963. While her sophomore full-length, “Chris,” was released late in September, within the 2019 Grammys’ window of eligibility, the Parisienne is not quite a new artist, but that’s often the case with the category: 2018 nominees Alessia Cara and SZA both had established careers — and hits — prior to their nomination, and there are many previous similar examples. Letissier’s 2014 eponymous debut LP (titled “Chaleur Humain” in France) sold 1.3 million units worldwide and earned the 30-year-old a global fanbase, including praise from the likes of Elton John, Madonna, Lorde and Katy Perry, as well as synchs on HBO’s “Girls” and FX’s “Better Things,” and sets at Coachella and Glastonbury.

A nomination alone would be enough for the young singer (who is a solo artist, despite the group name). Letissier isn’t concerned with reaching a certain echelon of fame, but rather with building a cohesive discography, with distinct eras. “I don’t know if it’s going to make me a huge artist, but I do like the idea of being a consistent one,” she says. “When you think of David Bowie you have images, songs, and they are like monuments.”

In that spirit, Letissier opted to write, produce, and arrange “Chris,” which is available in both English and French, in its entirety. “It’s such a solitary and intimate process, I wanted to be the captain of the ship, and my record label actually trusted me to do it,” she says. She intentionally shaped the album’s aesthetic as a nod to ‘90s pop and R&B. “Productions by Cameo or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, [like] Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation.’ There is a minimalism but everything is striking really hard,” she says. “There’s still something human behind it: it’s analog and warm and sweaty, but you’re discovering the power of machinery for the first time as well. I wanted the record to feel like flesh and blood and pure excitement.”

Preceded by early singles like the slinking summer bop “Girlfriend” (feat. Dâm-Funk) and the existential anthem “Doesn’t Matter,” “Chris” has already earned praise from RuPaul, which left her feeling “anointed,” and Paul McCartney, who named her as one of three contemporary artists — alongside Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West — that he looks up to during a Facebook Live Q&A last summer. Letissier thinks it’s better not to process the latter co-sign for now. “I’m keeping it close, in case I need it if I’m really sad,” she says. “There’s lots of work to be done still, but it warms my heart.”

The new album as a whole is more or less about acceptance. “’Chaleur Humain’ was me reading books and dreaming about living, and ‘Chris’ is living to write about it. It’s wilder,” she explains. Her own journey to self-acceptance as an LGBTQ icon has been a major force in her artistic process. Identifying herself as pansexual, Letissier sees the tag as a way to opt out of boxes altogether with regard to sexuality and gender.

“This album talks about desire as a form of chaos, a constant surprise and a welcomed one,” she says. “You don’t know why you are attracted by someone, you have to learn why, and then you learn about yourself. I don’t care if I’m giving satisfying answers to people, I care more about exploring further what it means to me. Being queer is about resisting structures, I don’t believe that it’s just a trend.”

As the streaming era continues to unfold, industry’s top artists are taking more and more sonic risks, something that’s a welcome surprise to Letissier. “I love how diverse the landscape is getting, especially when you think about female performers,” she says. “They’re loud and proud in a way that feels really empowering, and there is defiance.” She’s even a fan of Taylor Swift’s polarizing “Reputation” LP. “I actually loved the fact that she didn’t care anymore about being lovable. It was really interesting from the feminist perspective. She didn’t want to work on something soft and unthreatening.”

For her current headlining tour, Letissier is leaning into operatic and contemporary dance influences in the stage production and choreography. “There’s something humbling in touring. You have to reaffirm something every night,” she says of the “monastic” live experience. “How can I be poignant but quite bare also? It’s a job to be able to work a big stage. You have to start small and repeat and repeat. The show is a muscle, you have to own it all.”

More Music

  • Taylor Swift performs on her 30th

    Taylor Swift Celebrates Her 30th Birthday Onstage at New York Jingle Ball

    Taylor Swift celebrated her 30th birthday with over 20,000 of her closest friends onstage at Madison Square Garden for iHeartRadio’s annual Jingle Ball, hosted by New York City’s Z100. Swift took a moment to thank fans for coming to her party. “I had a choice,” she said. “Where would I want to spend my 30th [...]

  • Harry Styles Stevie Nicks

    Harry Styles Brings Out Stevie Nicks, Reworks One Direction Classic at the Forum (Watch)

    Harry Styles strutted, sashayed and transfixed the crowd at the Forum on Friday night (Dec. 13) for his combination record release party and one-night-only superfan affair. “Fine Line,” as his album is titled and the engagement touted on the outside of the venue, featured the live debuts of nine new songs including standout stunners “Golden,” [...]

  • Pete York and Rain Phoenix

    Rain Phoenix Joins Pete Yorn for 'Relator,' Originally Sung With Scarlett Johansson (Watch)

    Ten years before “Señorita,” another famous twosome recorded a romantic duet together: Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, who joined forces on “Relator.” It was the first single from an entire album of collaborations, 2009’s “Break Up,” which was inspired by the songs of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, but fans hardly ever got to hear [...]

  • US Capitol

    The Sneaky Long Game of ALI’s Restatement of Copyright (Guest Column)

    Last week, Senator Thom Tillis and four other members of Congress sent a letter to an organization you may never have heard of, the American Law Institute (ALI).  The letter questions the ALI’s ongoing project to publish a competing version of the Copyright Act – or, as the ALI calls it, a “Restatement” of copyright [...]

  • Tom Petty’s Daughters, Widow Settle Legal

    Tom Petty’s Daughters, Widow Settle Legal Battle Over Estate

    Tom Petty’s widow and daughters from a previous marriage have settled their bitter legal battle, according to a report in Rolling Stone. Earlier this year, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, the late singer’s daughters with his former wife Jane, sued his second wife, Dana York, for $5 million, alleging that she had deprived them of [...]

  • Desiree Perez attends the Billboard Magazine:

    Desiree Perez Named CEO of Roc Nation

    Desiree Perez has been elevated to CEO of Roc Nation after serving as chief operating officer since 2009. Along with Jay-Z, Perez is a co-founder of Roc Nation. In her new position, Perez is tasked with overseeing all 14 Roc Nation verticals, which includes music management, publishing, sports agency among a slew of diversified businesses, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content