“I initially set out to smash against macho culture and macho men […] what does it mean if I’m still this figure, and I’m a woman? Does it make me an aberration? Is it joyful?”
Héloïse Letissier, aka Christine and the Queens, is daring. In reference to her first single in over two years, ‘Girlfriend’, the above quote from an interview with Pitchfork is highly evocative of her sophomore record, Chris. Despite the worries of that ‘difficult second album’, Chris is an exploration and reflection on sexuality, philosophy, identity and sex itself in an unabashed sense that far surpasses the delights of French-language debut Chaleur Humaine. On this record, she dares to ask difficult questions, bend norms and to see how far she can take her listeners along such a journey.
Opening with ‘Comme si’, a pop banger with a raunchy French chorus, it is not long before lead single ‘Girlfriend’ is introduced, the first true glance into the new and mysterious world of Chris. Is this a reinvention of Letissier, or perhaps simply a discovery, an evolution? To this particular listener, it sounds like a soaring transformation as she swaggers through this G-funk-infused number featuring Dam-Funk.
Chris experiments profusely throughout this album, using the pathway of metaphor and imagery as is her style. The haunting and stark ‘Goya Soda’ is inspired by the brutal ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’ painting, with single ‘Doesn’t matter’ being a tour-de-force track questioning religion, faith and suicidal thoughts.
Perhaps the most blunt and revealing on the record is ‘Damn (what must a woman do)’, the chorus asking “What must a woman do / para follarse […] / para joderse?” – the Spanish for ‘to fuck’ or ‘to screw’. On this rare occasion of shying away from metaphor, the track addresses the complexities and contradictions of womanhood and within one listen of the album becomes perhaps one of the most memorable of her tracks to date. ‘Damn’ is a relatable offering of frustration and longing, its sentiments like a thread through the record as a whole and it is unsurprising that she was inspired throughout the making of this record by Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope; its production and vocals would not feel entirely out of place on the LP.
The album is a far deeper exploration of Letissier’s own personal feelings and experiences. ‘The walker’, a far more minimal track, explains that “there’s a way to truly be seen”. The narrative takes us on a walk into the dead of night with Chris as she confesses she is looking for “violent blossoms”, her “sense of self wearing thin / such pains can be a delight / far from when I could drown in my shame”.
The dark and ethereal ‘What’s-her-face’ recalls the bullying she encountered in her younger years and admits the track is“about always feeling like the lonely kid sitting on the bench despite your success”. For all the record’s exploration and subversion of complex themes, this track is perhaps the most revealing of Letissier’s character, of something that majority of her listeners can relate to. “I’m forever what’s-her-face” she states, an echoing “ever, ever” imprinting just how deep these scars are.
In short, Chris is a masterpiece – pure and simple. It straddles several themes with verve, passion and is an incredibly smart piece of pop. Constant shades of light and dark touch this experimental and strikingly different album with a beauty and wonder that you cannot help but marvel at, as each track takes you down an entirely new path. Ultimately, Chris has proven herself as a pop stalwart with perhaps the best album of the year thus far.
[Originally written for The National Student]