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Review: Christine & the Queens Sly, Seductive ‘Chris’

Hélöise Letissier creates a polyglot pop that transcends gender, international borders and musical categories.

Jamie Morgan

“Yes sir, I am wet,” declares Hélöise Letissier on “Girlfriend,” a non-binary lust-fest with slithering keytar from Cali synth scientist Dâm-Funk. The lead single from the French pop heroine’s second album under the moniker Christine & The Queens arrived with a striking video – the only sort Letissier makes – riffing visually off Charles C. Ebbets’ famous 1932 photograph Lunch Atop A Skyscraper, full of muscular choreography, the singer conjuring vintage Madonna with a touch of Jean-Paul Belmondo and rebranding Christine as Chris, a roughneck in a wifebeater who doesn’t so much blur genders as transcend them. It’s the sort of free-play that, in hindsight, seemed to hover just beyond Christine’s sharp pantsuits in the clips for Letissier’s moody 2014 debut Chaleur Humaine. And it runs throughout her follow-up, a record more extroverted, flamboyant and hooky across the board, and which, depending on how you categorize Dirty Computer, feels like a frontrunner for the year’s hottest pop album.

Chris is an LP doubled. First, there’s a mostly English-language set, with heavily accented lyrics, charmingly off-kilter syntax, and polyglot asides. “Let me taste/On a butch babe in LA,” she pleads on “Damn (What A Woman Must Do),” lamenting the extremes of “what must a woman do/Para follarse” (sure, look it up). Then there’s a nearly-identical set sung in French, as the singer sucks, chews, and tongues verses in ways that communicate plenty, even if you don’t know a baguette from a bistouquette.

The bilingual two-fer doesn’t feel superfluous; in fact, by having both sets share the spotlight, she effectively makes a case for internationalism as our so-called world leaders dismantle it. Each version has its merits. In truth, the hook of “5 Dollars” sounds way-better sung as “cinq dols,” even if it is American currency (the EU has always made prettier money), and “The Walker” has a more supple and voluptuous flow as “La Marcheuse,” though the French version misses the visceral “violent hits”/“violet blossoms” echo. Mirroring the music’s throwback electropop flavor, the English phrasing has clearer echoes of ‘80s giants: Prince, Michael Jackson, and especially Madonna, though the tempo’s generally more measured, and the vibe more atmospheric, than those artists in their hitmaking prime. Letissier’s brand of seduction is less hard sell, more cerebral and sly, subverting gender normativity and pop culture imperialism simultaneously. C’est tres francaise. 

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