Chris is not here to explain herself. Born Héloïse Letissier and also known as Christine and the Queens, the 30-year-old French pop star has reinvented herself many times over. She no longer has time to explain her many personas to fans nor critics. Chris, her most recent, gender-defying incarnation, is introduced to the world in her sophomore album Chris (2018). Unapologetically funky and erotic, Chris is the product of a belated sexual awakening and debut on the world pop stage happening at the same time.
Any profile of Chris begins with her legendary origin story. She was raised in Nantes, France, by a professor and a teacher, and used to adopt a hyper-feminine look that earned her the name “Marie Antoinette.” After a catastrophic break-up and expulsion from theatre school, Chris — still Héloïse at the time — went to London. There, she met three drag queens at the now-defunct Madame Jojo’s nightclub. The trio taught the lost twenty-something how to reinvent herself, and Héloïse renamed herself Christine, adding “and the Queens” as an homage to the performers who helped her find herself.
Following her transformation, Christine started recording and producing her own music. The next few years were a blur. After the release of her hit single “Tilted,” Christine released her critically-acclaimed debut Chaleur Humaine (2015). The phase that followed included a Brexit-hangover performance at Glastonbury 2016 and a tour supporting Madonna.
Christine’s Chaleur Humaine tour was transformative. A passionate dancer, Christine realized she had developed a muscular physique due to her dance-heavy show. In an interview with The Guardian, Christine explained how the physical change modified other parts of her life: “Before Christine and the Queens I was a bit self-conscious…But I became more confident to try things. I took the adrenaline of the stage into my love life.” Leaning into her new look and newfound confidence, Christine developed a new persona for her sophomore album: Chris.
While Christine wore suits and shiny oxfords and danced like MJ, Christine is straight out of Hollywood. After photographer Paolo Roversi suggested she cut her hair for her first shoot in her new look, Chris emerged fully-formed in a muscle tank and sneakers. Dancing on rebars high in the air in the video for “Girlfriend,” Chris flexes and gyrates while declaring, “Girlfriend / Don’t feel like a girlfriend / But lover / Damn, I’d be your lover.” In “5 Dollars,” she dons bondage gear under a suit and leather gloves. Chris is at once masculine and feminine, confident and coy. She slides easily between French and English, and indeed, Chris is recorded in both. One could characterize Chris by dualities, but she’s more than that: she’s not one thing or another.
In response to her recent transformation, Chris’ French audience was confused. “When you’re a woman working on a masculine energy,” Chris explained to GQ, “either you’re transitioning or you’re a butch lesbian. Fluidity is impossible.” She looks to male stars of rock’s heyday for inspiration. “They can be sexual, flawed, and incredibly charismatic. Complexity and intricacy is reserved to men…I wish I could be Nick Cave or Mick Jagger.” Chris takes joy in playing with the rules and being shamelessly herself. She’ll explain her pansexuality to a reporter — after being mislabeled as gay and/or bisexual in her native France — but likes to leave interpretation up to her audience. She joins other current pop stars like Janelle Monáe and Lady Gaga, who play irreverently with gender and genre conventions. This new record is the extraordinary reintroduction of a singer already breaking boundaries. Chris has arrived, and she isn’t going anywhere.
Writing and graphics by Hannah Lowe