“Queer is taking the shame and anger and taking it as a fuel for it to be something else,” singer-songwriter says ahead of U.S. tour
“Everything is wonderful,” says Christine and the Queens’ Héloïse Letissier, “but at the same time it’s been intense.” The French singer has just returned from a week of shows, TV appearances (including a talked-up cover of Beyoncé’s “Sorry” on the BBC) and festivals in London, after a whirlwind year that’s seen her duet live onstage with both Elton John and Madonna, the latter of whom even administered a ceremonial spanking to this eccentric, exhilarating pop star in the making.
On the verge of her first major American headlining tour – which kicks off tonight in Chicago – Letissier invites Rolling Stone to her quiet, airy house in Paris to talk about the events that transformed her, irrevocably, into her current alter ego. She’s a bona fide sensation in Europe (the Belgian gold disc of her 2014 debut album, Chaleur Humaine, hangs in the bathroom), and her path to success has already become something of a rock & roll fairy tale – replete with a clutch of kindly British drag queens taking a downcast Letissier into their London home and helping her find her real identity as Christine.
“Christine is just me choosing everything,” says the queer artist, and her genuine delight in her art is what makes Christine so magnetic as a performer. Leading a troupe of identically dressed male dancers onstage, she mixes up Michael Jackson–style dance moves with expressive vogue-ing flourishes, singing lines like, “I’m doing my face with a magic marker/I’m in my right place, don’t be a downer” (“Tilted”). There is, simply, no one quite like her in contemporary pop.
In person, Letissier’s English is not only impeccable, it’s also elegant: She describes Chaleur Humaine as being melancholy “and at the same time luminous.” She is warm and funny; reflecting on her early gigs, she shrugs, “In some cities, I was just this girl singing onstage about having a dick.” She is horrified by Donald Trump’s political success, pulls silly faces often and has a love of awkwardness: “No one is normal,” she tells RS, “but some people are made to feel that they are not.” It’s this phenomenon that she seeks to address via the mighty vehicle of pristine, heartfelt pop.
Letissier spoke to Rolling Stone about the otherworldly appeal of Michael Jackson, why she’s afraid of a Trump victory and what queerness means to her.