By Kat Bein
Does art imitate life, or is it the other way around? Héloïse Letissier, better known to music fans as Christine and the Queens, can no longer be sure. In 2014, she wowed the world with her raw power of her debut album Chaleur humaine. It was lyrically poetic and emotionally vulnerable, challenging of society's approach to gender and sexuality. Onstage, she captivated audiences with her movements, so angular and agile but somehow aggressive.
Her all-in approach to performance left her body more lean and muscular, and the power she felt on stage as a successful artist fueled her second album, Chris, the self-produced LP exploring '80s synth-pop sounds. She cut her hair off, and explored androgyny as she became even more sexually empowered.
Last Saturday night (April 13), she brought raw power to Coachella's Outdoor Theatre. The bare stage used thoughtful fireworks to amplify the theatrical movements of Letissier and her group of dancers. She climbed the rafters and let her voice boom through the night air.
However, after losing her mother earlier this week, Letissier is no longer playing Coachella's second weekend. (She is currently scheduled to return to the States in May for a tour with Florence and The Machine). On Weekend 1, we sat backstage with her to talk about the performance and where her art is headed next.
MTV News: Thanks for taking some time to speak with me. How are you feeling? How did you wake up today?
Héloïse Letissier: I woke up like this [laughs]. Actually, I didn't. I feel excited because, of course it's Coachella, and it's madness, blah blah blah, but it's the second time for me. The first time is really about discovering the whole thing, people freaking out around you, and you slightly freaking out as well. I will freak out at some point, but you get to come back knowing a bit what to expect, and as a performer, it feels a bit more comfortable. I have a fantastic slot this time also, the outdoor theatre just before Billie Eilish. It's kind of like stamina-infused in a good way. Like, let's do it.
MTV News: You have this theatrical show planned. Somebody called it “weird Shakespeare” in another interview. Did you have Coachella in mind when you're putting it together?
Letissier: It's actually slightly adapted from the tour. I did work on the stage design, and we've got huge paintings, but it was too fragile for open air. I mean, I love theater and I always have theatrical ideas, and open air is a nightmare for theatrical ideas. So I have to give up my paintings, and I was like, how can I work on something kind of pictorial and really raw and bare? Pyrotechnics! Still pretty simple but hopefully a bit moving. I want people to be a bit moved. I don't know if it means anything. I don't really want to impress them. I mean, Coachella is all about that anyway, but I'll be the tiny thing that tries to move your heart.
MTV News: I was just watching the “Comme si” video that you recently put out, and that is Shakespearean-inspired, taking the story of Ophelia and retelling it. Did you choreograph that dance yourself?
Letissier: Sometimes I do, but on this, I collaborated with a fantastic crump dancer called Cyborg. He's one of the best crump dancers, and he's French. In France, we have a fantastic dance scene. I wanted to crump as a woman, because not a lot of women are crumping. It's not “pretty.”
MTV News: There were so many moments I loved. Sometimes, you're almost like a gorilla showing your power.
Letissier: I do want to work that energy as a woman. Also, the idea to twist the end of Ophelia was a feminist statement: “Let's bring Ophelia back from the dead.” Because in the play, she's dead because she's unwanted, which is such a violent statement. I want to be dumped but enjoying that.
MTV News: I've read the physicality you experienced and the strengthening in your body partly drove the character of Chris, but I've also spoken to artists about how the act of performing sometimes changes the music they make. Chris is a little more angular in its sound. Did you want that in your performance?
Letissier: I think I did. I wrote the second album really shortly after I finished the first one, and I think I was still oozing what happened to me on the first tour. I wanted to write songs that I could inhabit physically with lots of new stamina, and it was deliberate. I did want to work on minimalism, but in a way that could be more gripping physically and immediately. At the same time, I didn't overproduce it. I was always removing layers instead of adding them, so it feels like a spinal cord moving sometimes. Even on “Comme si,” it's like a heart pulsing.
I wanted that sound, that physicality for the second chapter — almost like you're a novelist. If you fantasize about the dream career, you have like 10 chapters, right? Every time you write a chapter, you're scaring yourself a bit. You're giving yourself a dare, and my dare for the second album is like, I'm going to own that sensuality I've been afraid to own when I was younger. I'm going to own my female body lusting after someone.
MTV News: You're working on some more music now. Where's it going?
Letissier: It's already kind of shifting. I'm working on songs that are like a weird addendum to Chris. It's like an epilogue. Chris is really an intense record. I always joked about how the record is like working on something that is too much. Then, releasing that recording and touring it, my life became too much also. It almost became a mirror of the record. Owning so much of my desire and my carnal personality, I got faced with sometimes blunt rejection and I really became like this meta — I should pitch it to Netflix because it became that on stage. Life becomes crazy.
MTV News: There are so many facets that you are in control of, from the production to the writing, the dancing, the stage design. It's consuming. How do you find escape?
Letissier: I have to say, I'm kind of obsessive. It shapes my life, which becomes interesting and dangerous at the same time. You fall in love with the work and everything infuses the work. My favorite movie of all time is All That Jazz by Bob Fosse. It's about a stage director who lets everything become a part of the work. People are like, “Just get out of your stage.” At one point, I was like, I can't believe I'm reenacting that. I can maybe control that now. Maybe the next album I'll be a bit calm before the storm. I felt everything for my art. The new songs are a bit different in terms of production, but they kind of resonate with Chris. I don't want to spoil it, but I think it's going to shift again.
MTV News: Is there anything on your mind that you just want to share? Any musings that have been swirling around in there or anything that you just woke up today wanting to say?
Letissier: I woke up today [and I] just wanted to perform. I am becoming a performer. It shapes everything around you which is a bit comforting, because you have that obsession again. When you stop touring, that's the bad part. You don't have that catharsis every night. This is why you write new songs. My label is like, “Maybe not so soon?” And I'm like, please let me tour again.