Review of the new album Chris from gender-bending, queer musician Christine and the Queens which features new music, new vibes, and a new persona: 4 out of 5 Stars
Gender and sexual fluidity are more widely discussed today than ever before. That being said, this discussion of social construct could be greatly improved, although we’ll take the little victories where we can. We look for representation in the media to dictate what is “the new normal” or for what “hot buzzword” those “millennials” will be using next. It is here that we send out the signal for our hopeful heroes: who will answer the call to break down heteronormative stereotypes and tear apart the constructs of gender and sexuality?
Enter French-born singer, songwriter, and producer Heloise Letissier, performing under the stage name Christine and the Queens, is no stranger to the front lines of queer-dom. The “Queens” portion of her name is in reference to her early days of performing in Europe with a backing band made entirely of drag queens. With origins like that, you can imagine what kind of subject her music might address.
If you guessed visual and musical explorations of the depth and intricacies of living and loving authentically, you’d be correct. With her full-length debut album dropping in 2014 Chaleur humaine(re-released in the US in 2015 as a self-titled album) we saw affirmations and unapologetic anthems of the difficulties and triumphs of love and life as a queer person(?) such as “Titled”, “Saint Claude”, and “Narcissus Is Back”. Each of these songs was accompanied by stunning music videos complete with beautiful dance numbers, as well as poignant and thoughtful artistic direction informed by Christine’s university background studying theatre and movement at ENS Lyon in Paris.
Thankfully, none of this is lost in her latest release, Chris. However, the music has gotten a sensual, funky, makeover. While still performing and recording under the moniker Christine and the Queens, this new album introduces a new “character” and “expression” of Christine that is simply just Chris. She was quoted as saying “Chris is a survival technique; a character created out of exasperation…” Surely she is referencing the exasperation of how women are still viewed in our society. Men still take issue with strong women or women who may embrace their “masculine” side in personality traits or outward expression. Whether that be a shorter hairstyle or more masculine dress, this is somehow still deemed alien and unattractive to men who are not secure in themselves or who have other issues that we could spend pages addressing.
However, in this album, the concern is not pleasing men; quite the contrary, in fact. Christine is more concerned with using “Chris” to grab the attention of women, or really whoever she sees fit in the moment. It’s much less about the binary, and more about embracing all the facets of gender expression and identity. In the making of this album, Christine said that she “became obsessed with being a macho man, but still being a women” and “making this album like the cinema” With this in mind, the first single, “Girlfriend”, seems to be the perfect fit. A sensual, cool, crooning tune set to a synth-funk soundscape produced by the Cali G-Funk master Dam Funk, “Girlfriend” sets the tone for the album’s overall vibe. The track is a call to action with Chris seeking the affection and attention of both the boys and girls and struggling as to why what pleases one does not please the other. A fair question indeed. A fresh and funky music video accompanies this single, as well. Set in a construction site with Fosse-style dance moves and cinematic nods to Newsies and West Side Story, it plays like a queer spin on iconic movie musicals.
The lust and romance doesn’t stop there. Getting into the album itself we open with “Comme si” or the full French title “Comme si on s’aimait” which roughly translates to “As if we loved each other”. Another lustful and sensual track asking her lover to just “focus on her voice and let go” and to “play her loud and fast.” This is just a taste of the departure of this album compared to its predecessor. It’s much less sensitive and a lot of more up-front and confident in its approach. In one of the following tracks, “The Walker”, this confidence appears shaken and examined. A tale of taking a walk to think about the ailments of the body and mind and what to do when you can’t hold your head high. Yet, just as we felt down, we get back to taking control and exploring our sensual desires on playfully flirty tracks like “5 Dollars”, “Damn (What Must a Woman Do)”, and “Goya Soda”. The latter track is of particular interest in it’s familiarity for fans of Christine’s older art-pop and synth-pop sounds on her debut and older releases. Fans of that sound will find a follow-through in this track and should seek it out.
Christine hits the home stretch of album with a look back into her past on “What’s-Her-Face”. This track is another relatable anthem to those that have lived the queer experience and remember being taunted or uncomfortable with themselves in childhood or their adolescence. We then conclude the album with a call back to the funky opening with tracks “Feels So Good”, “Make Some Sense”, and the bouncy closer “The Stranger”. At about 45 minutes, this album luckily does not overstay its welcome. Christine tells the story of this facet of her being in a very concise and powerful way. While Christine always divides her time singing both in French and in English, you can also listen to this album entirely in French, if you’re into that.
The album is cohesive and even on a casual listen it all blends together well and no song seems out of place in this universe. Chris delivers a message of empowerment and sexual liberation. You can express all the parts of yourself on all ends of the spectrum. Some days, you may want to embrace your feminine side; some days, you want to embrace your masculine side. Or, maybe all in one day, you’d like to embrace both. Or maybe a little bit of both every day. That’s the message of Chris: it doesn’t matter! But what does matter is that the never-ending quest for authenticity and owning every part of what makes you you.
Favorite Tracks: “5 Dollar”, “Goya Soda”, “The Walker”.
If you like Christine and the Queens you may like: Perfume Genius, Blood Orange, Dam Funk, Solange, Chromeo.