“I’m playing around with the male gaze and confusing heterosexual dudes. I love the scam of a macho man. I wrote this record because I wanted to address the taboo of a woman being blunt and forward.” Christine told the Guardian recently. Chris is about the spectrum of female sexuality, the blurring of gender identity, Chris is Héloïse Letissier shedding her previous moniker Christine and the Queens and embodying her nickname as ‘a grown-ass women’. It’s also a hook-laden, pulsing suite of patriarchy-smashing pop anthems that grabs 2018’s zeitgeist, in an age where the blurring of sexuality and gender identity is being challenged by a rise in far-right populism and binary thinking, that seeks to roll back hard-won progress.
Taking everything up a notch from 2015’s hit debut ‘Chaleur Humaine’ (Human Warmth), this is most intensely personal and overtly sexual work yet. Chris, the athlete performer, who found her (inner strength) having spent three years on the road, choreographing stage shows, singing, and growing as an artist and person and is here to tell us about it.
Emerging from the reclusive, bookish young Nantes woman Christine who travelled to London and befriended drag queens, Chris sits in contrast to some of the billowy production of that debut record, her oeuvre condensed down to its essence: sleek, hungry and most importantly sexy, challenging binaries and stereotypes. She now possesses the control usually reserved for male performers, her minimal electro tapping into an early 90s pop sound, a time before multitrack and overproduction when pop sounded fresh, naive, eager and got ambitious. So her touchstones are Madonna‘s feminist iconography in her Express Yourself era, the sound of Michael Jackson on 1992’s Dangerous and Janet Jackson’s 1997 album ‘Velvet Rope’. These eleven groove-laden tracks are laced with her duality of the French and English language, her words more brazen, it is her most powerful statement yet.
The fantastic bass bounds and twitching shudders of the infectious and quite brilliant standout ’Doesn’t Matter (voleur de soleil)’ Tissier effortlessly switching back and forth from quickly flicked couplets to the empowered cascading notes with choruses like full lungs invested of an indestructibility that throws off the shackles. Literally wrestling, with God, faith and existence (‘Run if you stole a shard of sunlight’) in one evening where she sings one exhilarating crisis anthem to the heavens.
If Le Tissier previously nodded towards her gender-bending and pansexuality, on her debut within its couched metaphors and her character, then Chris is more unapologetic for its themes of queerness, sex, machismo and otherness: “I’m not going to be exactly the queer you want me to be. With this album, it’s me living my fluid life even more, as well. First I went to smash against macho culture and macho men, and then I went to other ways of living my sexuality.”
So when Le Tissier sings about conquests on the infectious sleek funk-pop of ‘Girlfriend'(Feat Dâm-Funk), her new boyish look, freshly cropped hair and muscles in the accompanying video lead many to wonder if she was transitioning, she was embodying her masculine side with more brazenness than before, both a ballerina and a thug she’s ‘muscling in’ on the action in a video that references West Side Story. Singing of trysts from the night before the way a man would in clipped refrains, but in the playful push and pull of the chorus, she’s teasing, is she my Girlfriend or isn’t she? It’s also a pulsing horny G-funk dance floor filler with its samples and keyboards and echoes the futurism of early Daft Punk, that strips away everything but the bare bones, the bits that matter. most of all its a fantastic tune, its one of the year’s best so far.
‘Para dollars’ she sings on ‘Damn (What A Woman Must Do)’ which means ‘to fuck“It’s a song addressing pure horniness and I notice people are uncomfortable with that, so that’s a good sign. So many songs are about being horny as a man.”
She doesn’t just get down and dirty, she gets deep too. The subtle ‘The Walker‘ takes a midnight stride on the outskirts of the city dealing with being outcast or on the margin of society. While the catchy and enveloping ‘Five Dollars‘ with its finger clicks and synth washes, might on the face of it be just be built around a catchy refrain that echoes of half-remembered melodies of the 60s, the counter refrain of ‘baby blue’ could be a not so veiled reference to Madonna‘s ‘True Blue’. But it’s also ripe with illusions to poverty struggle and her family’s backstory. ‘My parents are the first ones to emancipate tough working-class conditions by becoming teachers,” she says, her own success brought guilt “The shame of the working class is something that infuses through generations.”
The Terry and Lewis era Michael Jackson inspired chunky beats and synth splashes of ‘Feels So Good’ are fantastically exciting, pierced by Le Tissier’s layered notes at once soulful, and bracing informed by relationship confusion. The slow-motion pulses and slinky r’n’b textures of ‘Make Some Sense’ meanwhile find Le Tissier’s hypnotic voice at its most sensitive, embracing a vulnerability, its hooks juxtaposed by a meditative end of the night quality.
Yes, it’s a confident, sleek, direct, funky and precise album but peel back the layers with repeated listens and Chris is that rarest of things: a potentially mainstream record that can challenge your preconceptions, one that can move your heart as much as your body. Chris confirms that Le Tissier is the kind of genre and gender blurring pop star with the artistic ambition to process the world around her, that we need. By heck, she can also crank out the tunes when she pleases too!