Chiming in from France is Christine and the Queens, a dreamy but beat-driven electro-pop treat with a refreshingly fluid representation of being. If the name is new to you, you’re not behind: The group is relatively new to the States, having toured the nation with Marina and the Diamonds last year, and hitting big-time festivals like Coachella and Governor’s Ball just this season. Whether or not it’s your kind of sound — which Pandora suggests alongside Lykke Li and Sia — you should tune in to the act’s larger message of self-invention, perception, and being whoever you want to be (and whatever that is, it doesn’t have to be a radical, complicated statement).
I wanted to be everything, and people wanted me to be just one thing.
Watching the queens — and now you get the rest of the band name — was the example of freedom and self-acceptance she now realizes she needed growing up. "As a young, queer girl, I was [not surrounded by] people existing the way they were without censoring themselves,” she says in retrospect. “Drag queens [are] sometimes even more feminine than I know how to be. They play with this idea of being a woman, and so you’re like, Oh, I’m not trapped in it. I can actually do something that maybe would resemble me more.”
Today, Letissier uses she/her pronouns and identifies as pansexual. "Sometimes I feel like a hetero girl, and the next hour I feel so gay," she says. Not being able to fit one description or another used to be frustrating. ("I never felt like a constructed person that could have one name”). Now it’s fuel.
Stepping into Christine mode is Letissier’s way of declaring the moment a purposeful performance; not just in song and dance, but in identity. It’s a sense of stability for someone obsessed with naming feelings but terrified of being forced to tick an already-established box. Christine is permission. “It’s about putting a name on something that happens onstage that doesn’t happen elsewhere for me,” she explains of the difference between Christine and Héloïse. “Christine is a will to be daring, and I like the idea of spreading that.”
The payoff comes in seeing a diverse audience at her live shows. “There are grannies, young queer girls, young gay men, dudes, kids,” she smiles. “Some of the grannies don’t even get this queer vibe,” which is totally fine by Letissier; an assurance of her quality product, even. “They just come because they think the songs are good.”
Identity is much more complex than those simple codes society gives us. If you subvert them, play with them, change them…you can be free.
Creating a character allowed Letissier to shed ingrained notions of what was off-limits, and build a new image from the bottom up. “When I thought about Christine, I thought about silhouette: a really strong, genderless-shaped character,” Letissier recalls. Early influence came from German performer Klaus Nomi, active in the late '70s and early '80s. Nomi’s uniform was tuxedo-like, but with an amplified triangular shape extending from hugely exaggerated shoulders, a defined waist, and skin-tight bottoms. “He looked like a drawing, he didn’t even look human,” she says excitedly, “and I thought of Christine like that: really strong shoulders, aggressive lines. I either like to work with precise shapes, to underline the dancing, or I like to get lost in proportions.” Everything is rooted, though, in suits. “The character was born with this gender-bending thing. She has very precise clothing, and it was born with suiting,” Letissier explains. “I was immediately drawn to people who could make really masculine suits, like Kris van Assche and Dior Homme. Kris was one of the first to actually trust me and tailor men’s suits for me.”
A girl in a suit, what’s the big deal, right? We see that on the red carpet and the runway all the time. But contrary to Paris’ reputation as a fashion city, she got pushback when she began performing there. “In France, I felt like sometimes I was being really extreme by the simple choice to wear a suit,” she recalls. “[Suits] make me feel confident, like I’m owning it. It feels like my body is made for that.” She’d show up for photoshoots and have dresses pushed on her. “It was like, ‘We get it, you like suits, but here is a skirt!’ And, like, no, you don’t get it, actually. I think the gender conversation in Paris is less advanced,” she said, comparing it to other major culture capitals. “In New York and London, it clicked immediately. Sometimes in New York, they liked me really raw. I would arrive on set and they were like, ‘That’s good!’ They weren’t trying to make me pretty or anything.”
The release of her music in France was rocky, too. "When I released the album in France, people were advising me not to talk about who I was,” she remembers. “‘Oh, don’t talk about you being pansexual.’ And I thought, Why? Why would I hide? I didn’t hide in my album so I wouldn’t know how to hide elsewhere.”
I’m trying to occupy this gray zone of girls that can be pretty in their own way, and can invent a new way to be sexy and desire people.
That swagger is materializing onstage this summer, where suits are taking a hiatus in favor of T-shirts and jeans. Letissier is chalking it up to a Springsteen moment, but it’s also a proud reflection of new strength (and not just the internal kind this time). “I’ve been touring a lot, so my body has changed. I have more muscles now,” she reports. Another icon on the mind is Madonna. “[She’s] really shaped, muscular, but at the same time she’s a woman. You can see the tits, but you can see the muscles, as well.” The pop queen is a fan of CATQ, too: She invited the group onstage for a show in Paris late last year.
All of this is just the latest iteration of what feels right, what feels true. Letissier is a shining example of the new representation of being whoever you want to be — and not stressing over giving it rules, a name, or identifying it as a thing at all. "It’s weird how people always have to define themselves," she says now. "I don’t know how to do it! I have no idea who I am now; I could be Willy Wonka if I wanted to."