Héloïse Letissier has lost her passport. Well, forgotten, rather; she knows its last location (the Spotify offices, from where she has just come), but for the time being, the French native is without identification.
Not that she shows any concern; Letissier, the 30-year-old pop sensation known as Christine and the Queens, is weeks away from releasing “Chris,” the follow-up to her 2014 debut album “Chaleur Humaine” and despite that — and the missing passport — she’s as relaxed as they come. Letissier gives a disclaimer about her English, then proceeds to speak more eloquently and thoughtfully than most of her contemporaries.
“There’s a sense of excitement — and also, I really, honestly don’t know what is going to happen,” she says candidly of “Chris,” which is out today. “Especially because I’m out of something normal. The first record was normal in the way that we didn’t expect such a success with that record, and it was a debut album, and I had low expectations, and it kind of blew up in France and it brought me here. And the second one, it kind of resisted the narrative of, ‘I’m successful now so I’ve worked with many famous producers.’ I’ve actually narrowed it down to being even more raw and exposed and personal. And I honestly don’t know what to expect. Especially since I feel that I’m complicating the narrative — but deliberately. And I’m trying to work on being vulnerable and raw.”
Letissier has the ability to be at once articulately intimidating about her creative process, deeply intellectual in the way she speaks to how she uses gender and self-expression, and also self-deprecating and disarmingly genuine. “Chris” is as personal a product as anything; she writes the music and the video treatments herself, all coming off a multiyear tour promoting the debut record.
“Hence the dark circles,” she says coyly.
“The more I was touring and talking about ‘Chaleur Humaine,’ the more I noticed that it could be an act of resistance for a woman to complicate the narrative,” she says. It’s a topic on which she speaks naturally and easily, one that is central to the kind of pop star she is.
“I feel like sometimes women are still made to choose and refuse some kind of complexity or multifaceted character that sometimes men have naturally. And I was kind of like, ‘Oh, well that’s actually something I want to work on,’ especially since it’s such a personal project — I’m the only one writing the tracks. I kind of wanted to address the contradictions. I wanted to resist branding, if that means anything. And if it’s too tiring then well, I’m not going to make it easy either. Because as a woman, a feminist and a queer woman, I kind of need complexity and I need nuances and I want them.”
She sought inspiration in music like the 1997 Janet Jackson album “The Velvet Rope,” where she found a complex female narrator who sings of empowerment and of abuse, “and it’s all the same person,” Letissier says. “So writing about Chris was also about empowerment in that regard; I’m powerful enough to address all those doubts and zones of friction and uncertainties.”
The character of Christine and the Queens — and it is very much a character she adapts, as artistic expression — has evolved into Chris for the second record: a more fluid, gender-bending, casual and comfortable version of the Christine she introduced in 2014.
“There is more confidence and more looseness and more defiance. It’s kind of like a looser version of Christine — Chris is actually the nickname,” she says. “It’s like I can shed some skin and run faster, and also in the way I present myself, with the shorter hair and the looser clothing, I’m just trying to be comfortable and ready to escape and run if I can.”
One thing that hasn’t changed between albums is her commitment to recording in both French and English.
“Me writing in English is me trying to relate to an English-speaking audience. I don’t know if my English is pristine or anything, but it’s me trying,” she explains. “I think I just want to be understood, really.”
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