November 18, 2019
Culture & Music
“Well, the way of paradoxes is the way of truth. To test reality we must see it on the tight rope. When the verities become acrobats, we can judge them” – Oscar Wilde. Velvet and steel, erudite and pop, a loner and gang leader… Chris (FKA Christine and the Queens, née Héloïse Letissier) and her records are full of contradictions. Like many of us Héloïse was once a randy nerd reading Jean Genet under the covers. Unlike any of of Christine sold over a million copies of her debut album. For her second album Chris cut her hair and got luridly sweaty, celebrating female eroticism and masculine swagger in one perfect pop package.
Trousers & blouse by Gucci, bra by Eres
JW: I’ve read you are a bit of a loner. I imagine it’s a bit of a luxury for you now, to have moments of solitude.
C: Yes it is more of a luxury than before, definitely. I used to be so familiar with being totally lonely. Now, when I’m back to my good old solitude I’m like, “Oh, the old friend is back again,” but sometimes I’m a bit more scared of that friend than before. If I’m super honest, loneliness for me is the moment when I create. I’m writing on my own, I’m co-producing my stuff on my own, I’m writing a lot of diaries, I have mood boards like crazy. It has to start with a point of extreme loneliness with me crafting something out of nothing on my own. I’ve tried to create with other people in the room and I didn’t know how to do it. My resolution for this year actually is to embrace a bit more togetherness in the creation, to see if I can actually write a song with someone else from the start in a room. I think it should be interesting.
JW: And you continue to challenge yourself and push yourself.
C: I think it’s important, yeah. When I started the whole thing of Christine and the Queens and writing the first song, it was kind of to wake me up [Laughs] and if you always do what you know, then you just fall asleep again. I like the element of fear when you do something new.
JW: It gets the blood pumping. Talking of blood pumping… I’m a fellow bookworm, I lived in the library. I did more reading about things that doing them. There’s so much sexuality coursing through your music. Do you think that your sexuality was originally stirred by books or by images or was it music?
C: I think books were a huge part of it actually, because I was reading avidly and I was exposed to more mature, erotic literature quite young. My parents are teachers and books emancipated them. The house was full of lots of different books and I read – I don’t know how to say it in English – Marquis de Sade. So I was like, “That’s interesting.” I think I read it at maybe eleven. I wanted to assimilate lots of different information, so I took that book and I was like, “Apparently it’s scandalous,” and I started to read it and I was like, “Oh that is scandalous actually!” Also really young I was exposed to Polar Fantasy books, which are about the wildness. They are beautifully written so I think I was exposed to a different kind of eroticism quite young. Then later on I read a great queer erotic book called Tipping The Velvet.
Coat & shirt by Christian Dior, turtleneck by Wolford, boots by Maison Margiela, earring (right) by Alexander McQueen, earring (left) by Celine
Trousers & blouse by Gucci, bra by Eres
JW: Yeah, Sarah Waters. Classic.
C: I read it at say like thirteen or fourteen. So before I even had sex with someone I knew so many things because I had read about them. My imagination was wild. I read Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. For me eroticism is full of intricacies, imperfections, beauties, scars, different types of bodies. In real life I was surrounded with boring versions of sexuality… I was falling in love with people with a twitch or people with scars. I was always attracted to something that was a bit intriguing.
JW: I know that you’re a fan of Laurie Anderson. She was such a voice in the wilderness. How did she rewire you or inspire you?
C: It was on Youtube, the short performance of the show called Home of The Brave. I don’t know how I ended up there, but I watched it and I was like, “How is it possible to have something so demanding and so generous at the same time?” It’s pop but it’s also contemporary art and philosophy. Also I had a huge crush on her, because she was super desirable but super clever and she was not an object but the subject and I was like, “Oh my God.” When I create something, I still always go back to what she does, because for me she’s the perfect encounter of something super accessible. For me she has the immediacy of a novelist or a thinker that doesn’t make it too complicated for you to understand, and at the same time she just takes you in places that are so interesting and it widens your life, and I think it’s so rare to do that. You don’t know where you are when you’re just with her. She takes you places you have no idea where you’re actually going and I think it’s so rare now.
JW: There’s such a generosity and openness as well to her. When you can produce something that has the immediacy and the pop and the joy but that also is layered as a mille-feuille. I think that’s a challenge. How does it work when you are setting out to make something?
C: It really depends, because to me my creativity takes different channels. I’m most known for my musician life, and in music it’s true that I have this discipline. I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna write a song.” And often I’m starting with the music, the production, the bass-line, shaping the drums and then I improvise on it musically. But I like to do music as if I’m flexing a muscle, every day if I can. If it’s not working today, it’s okay I tried. Also I’m writing a lot and the writing is just a disease I have. I can’t help it. It’s a problem. It shapes my life in a weird way. [Laughs] Sometimes I can run towards pain because I know it’s going to be a fucking great part of my diary. Writing it’s not even like a conscious thing it’s just like breathing. And then I’m drawing in art and dancing because it links to the music for me, it’s like an extension of the music. I dance because I want to be ready to dance to my music.
JW: When you just want to really get out of your head and dance, what music do you put on?
C: James Blake is great for dancing, for improvising. James Blake has that quality because it’s really mental, not crazy but interior. You have to follow it through with your body.
JW: So this idea of togetherness. When did you first find a tribe?
C: Well, my whole project was born out of me meeting the tribe first. Christine and the Queens is basically me meeting drag queens and being helped by them. So they were not my tribe, per se but they nurtured me and it was my first introduction to how a tribe could save you. Before I was relying on myself all the time and it really got me to a low point, so I was like, “Actually I need help!” They came up to me and they were like, “We should help you.” We can actually help each other. So this was my introduction to the concept of a tribe that could save you. I also think of my family also because we are very few people, my Mum and my Dad and my brother, this really nuclear solid place of love. I think the strongest discovery I made later on in life is how to build a tribe around things you love doing, around things you want to defend. It kind of happened around the second record, because you know you have a tribe when people stick together when it’s hard. It’s a trope, but I really lived it this year, because I realised that I have a tribe and I feel stronger with them. The end of the tour was a disaster because we were just so loathe to stop it. We can’t help but to see each other all the time, we just create excuses to have dinners all the time. This family was created on stage and so creation is at the centre of it.
JW: So if we’re gonna talk about creative collaboration. Who do you like to get sexy with and make work with?
C: Well, you know it’s so new for me. The first real collaboration I actually achieved recently was working with Charlie XCX and it was a really joyful, effortless, great collaboration and it was actually a revelation to me because before that I never really collaborated with another artist. I worked once with Perfume Genius, and I love him, but it was different because I wrote a whole song and he sang it with me, but with Charlie we wrote together, we created together. It was such a huge step for me. I’m seeing a shrink you know. How Parisian of me. Really early in the morning.
JW: That’s another form of creative collaboration. [Both laugh]
C: Exactly! Sometimes she’s like, “Tell me about your dreams.” I’m like, “Oh. Are we doing that? Okay.” [Both laugh] Then I have a coffee in a Parisian brasserie and I just work. The only thing I’m missing now is cigarette. Really Parisian.
JW: Did you never smoke or did you quit?
C: No, no, I never smoked.
JW: Oh my God, I wish I never did. I’m terrible. I’m the only Londoner who still smokes. I’m alone.
C: You’re alone in that. Yes. I see what you mean. Come to Paris!
Jacket, trousers & belt by Givenchy, turtleneck Wolford, earring by Celine
JW: Oui Oui! Your image has become iconic. Do you enjoy the photoshoots and the dressing up?
C: Yeah I really love it actually. It’s really playful and if I’m really honest with you, I love the performance of fashion. I love how it involves reinvention, playfulness, versatility. It’s like pure theatre and also through theatre and performance sometimes you get something really true because you have to let someone capture you. There is a sense of surrendering. I like that because it speaks to me on like a particular level and also because I love dancing. I love all the aesthetics of posing.
JW: Do you remember your first gig?
C: It was basically one month after I wrote my first track. So it was quite sudden. I brought my laptop and I had these crazy accessories that were very Cabaret Noir, Berlin. I was putting these mad hats on my head like, “I’m a teapot!” French people were like, “What the fuck is happening?!” Because I was feeling myself, I was a huge fan of Andy Kaufman, weird theatrical performances and at the beginning my project was really about that character, like Edward Scissorhands. Arriving on stage I was like, “I’m weird! Let’s be freaky together!” the audience were like, “Oh my God, what’s happening?” So this is how it started. They just clapped in the end, which is weird.
JW: I think the rest of the world has started to wake up to the transformative powers of being a bit freaky, the power of drag. In these ten years since you started performing aspects of queer culture have become mainstream staples and celebrated in such a more open way. Recently the media tried to create a feud between you and Taylor Swift because of comments you made to a magazine about queer autonomy. Do you think that as your fame continues to rise, you feel like you are having to become more guarded or more wary?
C: I didn’t comment on that situation because as it happened I thought “Oh, there it goes.” The old trope of women being pitting against each other. This was not even a conversation aimed at someone specific. When I said, “Queer cannot be sold,” I really truly do believe it. It’s not even a diss. It’s just a reality [Laughs] because I do believe that queer itself is a deconstruction of capitalism, so it cannot be digested. So then I was like, “Oh, really original. To make it about two women hating each other when it’s actually not the case because I do believe in sisterhood.” I don’t want to stop saying those things though. When I started I remember it was actually tougher to talk about those issues, especially in France. I started explaining for hours to journalists what queer was about, how I could define myself as queer, how sexuality is not a defiant constraint. Now it has become more fashionable, but you can sense still that it is a curiosity. It is not a conversation, do you see what I mean? I noticed it, and I thought, this is another way to diffuse what is at it’s core dangerous, in the best way. I will always remember that queer is dangerous and talk about that because it saved me at a point in my life, and I can’t really relate to everything that is now labelled as queer. I’m like, “Well, is it?” [Both laugh] But I don’t want to be like the bitter queer artist either, so it’s hard to know when to stop talking about that. I mean it’s cool if it’s fashionable, but it will never not be dangerous to me.
Trousers & belt by Chanel, leather bra by Acne Studios, earring by Celine
Left: Trousers & blouse by Gucci, bra by Eres
Right: Trousers & belt by Chanel, leather bra by Acne Studios, earring by Celine
“I think the strongest discovery I made later on in life is how to build a tribe around things you love doing, around things you want to defend.”
Jacket, trousers, & belt by Louis Vuitton, turtleneck by Wolford, earring by Celine