Music Review: ‘Chris’ is French Pop with Soft Butch Swagger

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With her debut album, Christine and the Queens became a global sensation in 2015. Her catchy synthetic beats, uniquely French charm, and earnest lyrics made for a winning combination. And now she returns as Chris.

Héloïse Letissier is back with a brand new persona and twenty-three tracks to go with it – the songs are delivered first in English, then in her native language, the translation seamless.

Chris opens with Comme si, bringing an early Prince vibe that filters through the album. Her renegade approach to gender and bilingual songwriting process create fertile ground to explore the in-between spaces that characterize her life. Through the lead single, Girlfriend, Chris explores what it means to desire another woman without being a feminine lover. In Damn (What Must a Woman Do?), Chris describes herself as a “butch babe in L.A” and rails against the restrictions of femininity.

There are moments when Chris lacks the svelte sophistication of its predecessor. And yet the artist has clearly grown into herself in the time it has taken to write and record a new album. Chris is assertive from start to finish, diving headfirst into every song. There’s a confidence to Chris, with her cropped hair and androgynous swagger, that was missing in Christine. And there is an undeniable sensuality to Chris, pulled together by pulsing electronica and a sultry French accent.

Letissier, the 30 year old behind Christine and the Queens, vowed that her new record would “redefine what it means to be sexy.” And that she certainly does. We live in an era when countless music videos mimic softcore pornography, serving an endless parade of female musicians naked and seductively posed. Patriarchy and capitalism have set hyper femininity as the price of success for many women in the music industry. So it’s refreshing to see an artist who rejects the confines of femininity finding mainstream popularity.

“I’d rather stay a woman and fight, and try to control this male gaze by wearing unsexualised suits and speaking about my own desire without worrying about being desirable on someone else’s terms.”

Not only does Chris reject the male gaze, but she centers her own vision. Drawing on her background in theatre, Letissier has created a visually stunning series of music videos to go with the album. The contrast between her influences, dramatic 80s synthpop, and stark industrial spaces, makes for a highly original concept album. Chris dances with a gawky sort of ugency that matches her lyrics, wearing plain jeans and t-shirts. She blends in with the puckish young men who make up her dance troupe – with Chris, Letissier has adopted a soft butch aesthetic.

In interviews, Letissier is candid about her sexuality. She has spoken about how her mother was early to notice her interest in girls extending beyond friendship. Letissier’s approach to gender also explains the butch vibe: “When I’ve fallen in love with a man, I wish I could be a man myself. I’m kind of obsessed with navigating different identities.”

Letissier’s experiment more than pays off. Like the persona that gives it life, Chris is full of fun and daring. The album contains an infectious joie de vivre. Whether or not the persona Chris sticks around, Héloïse Letissier has found her footing as an artist and reached a new level of self-expression.

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