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45 at 33: Say bonjour to Christine And The Queens

Everyone loves a pop fairytale, and when it comes to the previous decade’s most fantastical fable, the crown surely goes to Christine And The Queens.

After being expelled from a theatre programme in 2010 for staging her own play without permission – remarkably, women were not allowed to direct at her school – Nantes-born Hélöise Adelaïde Letissier, who celebrates their 33rd birthday today, locked herself in her flat and spewed out barbed scripts articulating her fury. Her protagonist was named Christine: representing a bolder, braver, and more transgressive version of her gallic creator.

CATQ blurs the lines between theatre, dance and 21st Century chanson as singer, songwriter, choreographer and dancer Letissier plays with the concepts of gender, sexuality, and identity. The evolvingly generfluid French “freakpop” is indelibly influenced by the theatricality of David Bowie and Laurie Anderson, and she often combines her atmospheric music with computer-based multimedia presentations. 

She even ropes in Perfume Genius on 2014’s debut album, Chaleur Humaine. More of him here.

Throughout the tender avant ballad Jonathan, the pair maintain a heartbreaking poise, matched by the utterly exquisite balance of strings, percussive pop and hiss, and delicate, otherworldly synths that gather to fill the song with mournful elegance. Christine is the strawberry girl:

“I got lucky enough to ask Perfume Genius if he would like to sing with me. He cannot be ignored, because his voice melts every stone, because he doesn’t hide; without him, the song felt like dying, but now, it’s more like the promise of something healing through the pain. This is what I learned with artists like Klaus Nomi, and still love with ones like Perfume Genius: you’re never as strong as when you allow yourself to be the most vulnerable person you can be.”

With its poignant, thought-provoking electronica, the disque pulses within irresistible independence as it explores Létissier’s turbulent adolescence as a queer woman building herself up to a more ambiguous pansexuality.

The set’s strangeness and strength amply introduced CATQ as a distinctively vulnerable talent, largely on the strength of the enchanting singles Tilted and, my personal favourite, the gorgeous, hypnotic St. Claude, which depicts the moment of walking away or committing entirely with heart-stopping beauty.

Létissier delved even deeper on 2018’s Chris, a visceral examination of gender stereotypes set to an ’80s R&B groove that underscored her commitment to making listeners think, feel, and move. And in case you’re wondering, the moniker is an homage to the drag queens who would dance with her while she performed. Very Eurythmic.

If their March 2019 show at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre is anything to go by, Christine And The Queens are also a masterclass in live performance art. From the exquisite stage presence to the expert choreography and immersive genre-defying sound, this was an experience, not a show.

Songs like the G-funk strut of brilliant single Girlfriend — an early highlight of the show — become intense dance workouts on stage, Chris expertly leading thr six-strong dance troupe

For the uninitiated it’s kind of a magnificent amalgamation of the best bits of Michael Jackson’s showmanship, Pet Shop Boys’ theatricality and something yet to be invented. While the musical style is eclectic, the choreography almost threatens to eclipse the eccentricity of the songs. At times it could have been pulled together by Bob Fosse, other times Ethan Stiefel, and sometimes it felt like you were watching a deleted scene from ‘80s musicals Fame and Flashdance.

It all sounds like a hot mess, but somehow it’s utterly spellbinding. Imbuing every element of her music and performance with her unabashed queerness only adds to the overall brilliance. Christine And The Queens are a joy to watch perform, precisely because their own joy in performance is so evident.

Joyeux anniversaire, Héloïse.

Steve Pafford

Christine And The Queens’ EP La vita nuova was out last year

An earlier version of this article was published here

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