There aren’t many pop shows like the one Christine + The Queens is putting on at festivals around Europe this summer.
Sparse and theatrical, it sees the French singer tangle and tussle with her dance troupe, as she brings to life songs of non-conformity and sexual awakening.
Amidst the spartan lighting and plumes of smoke, the muscular, gender-fluid performers occasionally resemble a Caravaggio painting – which, it transpires, is the whole point.
“I wanted to work the show like a painting,” says Chris. “The fireworks create smoke, so it’s almost like painting by explosion.”
“When I first suggested it, my tech guys wanted to kill me, but maybe it’s the fireworks that will kill me in the end,” she adds, laughing. “That would be a fantastic gig: She died! She combusted into spontaneous fire!”
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She’s joking, of course, but Chris’s shows generate enough heat to power a small village. At one point, a dancer even starts smoking – not with a cigarette pressed to their lips, but with literal smoke billowing from beneath their clothes.
There are moments of intense sadness, too. On What’s Her Face, a song about how Letissier still carries the loneliness of the school playground everywhere she goes, she removes her shirt and turns her back to the audience, isolated and vulnerable amongst a crowd of adoring fans.
But the star emerges liberated and unapologetic, comfortable in her skin, shrugging off expectations.
“This is a safe space, free of all judgement,” she announced as she headlined Glastonbury’s Other Stage in June. “Because if there’s no judgment, then anything can happen”.
News caught up with the singer, whose real name is Heloise Letissier, before the show to discuss her “brutally honest” lyrics, and why she “stopped apologising” for making music on her own terms.
It’s eight hours until you headline this stage. How will you fill the time?
It’s a good question, because the odd part of being a performer is that you spend the whole day waiting for night to happen.
I wish I was someone cool who could just enjoy the other gigs and wander around and have a good time; but I’ll just be in my dressing room, sitting, listening to music and concentrating on the show.
After the show, actually, I’ve given everything so I’m just, like, having a herbal tea. I have to be honest with you, the performance is so important that before and after doesn’t really matter.
You go to some dark places. Are you drained by the end?
Yes, but it’s also cathartic. When I was younger, I was always trying to hide the fact that I was very sensitive or fragile, and it was exhausting to hide it. But now that I’m embracing it, it really feels empowering.
A song like Don’t Matter tackles subjects like anorexia and self-loathing that are atypical for pop music. What led you down that path?
Since I started to write my first song, it’s been non-negotiable: I’m going to be brutally honest.
Christine and the Queens was born out of a crazy desire to finally accept everything and own everything about myself including the dark thoughts, including sadness, including the impossibility of fitting in. And I wouldn’t shy away from that… which creates a weird balance.
And honestly, you know, Christine and the Queens was also borne out of something that happened between me and drag queens [she was nursed out of depression by a troupe of drag artists after a catastrophic break-up in her early 20s]. Christine is a drag character – it’s really generous and fun and entertaining, but it’s borne out of wounds.
Drag queens always have stories of their sadness – but they turn it into something that can be shared, and I think that’s something that can be really powerful.
You’ve been called a spokesperson for the LGBT community. Is that a label you’re comfortable with?
I think it’s healthier not to see yourself as a spokesperson for anything. As an artist, I do believe in visibility, in speaking out. I believe in that very much. But it’s good not to think of yourself as a role model, because it can become so solemn; and a bit pretentious also.