×

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

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Greyson Chance -Gabby Barrett Alejandro Aranda

    Greyson Chance, 'Idol' Alums Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda Sign Major Label Deals

    Two “American Idol” alumni — Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda — as well as viral star Greyson Chance all announced new major label recording contracts this week. Barrett, who finished in third place of the first season of the rebooted ABC version of “Idol,” has joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. The singer had [...]

  • BTS World

    BTS World Mobile Game From K-Pop Group Rockets to No. 1 Spot on App Charts Worldwide

    BTS, the biggest K-pop group in the world, now has the biggest app in the world. “BTS World,” a mobile simulation game that lets fans virtually become the South Korean pop stars’ manager, quickly rose to the top of Apple’s App Store charts in multiple countries just hours after its release on Wednesday, June 26. [...]

  • Disney Pandora World Of Avatar, Lake

    The Piano Guys Play 'Avatar' Theme in Disney World (Watch)

    The YouTube sensation The Piano Guys have taken a trip to the world of Pandora for a performance of the theme to “Avatar.” Shot in the bioluminescent floating forest in Disney World, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and pianist Jon Schmidt put their spin on the score to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster. The video immerses the [...]

  • usa, california, palm springs, windmills san

    Agua Caliente, Oak View Group Partner to Build New Arena in Palm Springs

    A new sports and entertainment arena is coming to downtown Palm Springs. Today it was announced that the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Oak View Group (OVG) will partner to build a new state-of-the-art sports and live entertainment venue. Live Nation Entertainment also boards as a strategic partner. The venue’s capacity will seat at [...]

  • MadonnaThe Costume Institute Benefit celebrating the

    Madonna Revives Nightmarish Imagery of Orlando Nightclub Massacre in New Music Video

    Any thoughts that Madonna’s provocative streak might be taking a time-out in 2019 were put to a halt with her release Wednesday of a new music video for her song “God Control,” which portrays a bloody massacre in a nightclub and is peppered with slogans advocating for gun control. Filmed by director Jonas Åkerlund largely in [...]

  • Miley Cyrus

    Miley Cyrus Teases 'Charlie's Angels' Collaboration with Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey

    Three of the biggest female pop stars have joined forces in a new song for the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot of “Charlie’s Angels.” In a tweet posted Wednesday, Miley Cyrus hinted at a collaboration between herself, Lana Del Rey, and Ariana Grande in the forthcoming film. Alongside a 14-second teaser, originally posted by Sony Pictures, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content