Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christine and the Queens | Christine and the Queens

As a queer woman who operates through an androgynous alter-ego, Héloïse Letissier has good reason to feel out of place in the mainstream music environment. "I've got it: I'm a man now," she sings in the opening track of the self-titled debut album from her synthpop project, Christine and the Queens. Masked as a statement on gender identity, the comment marks a celebration for her successful penetration of the largely English-speaking, male-dominated industry she longed to thrive in for so long.

Inspired by the late Michael Jackson and endorsed by Madonna with an on-stage slap on the ass, she shares a similar showmanship that spares the latter's flamboyant hypersexuality and emphasizes the former's alluring mystique. The three find commonalities in being self-sufficient songwriters, producers, dancers, and entertainers in singular bodies, but whereas Jackson was and Madge still is on the search for the bigger, better, and bolder, Christine finds power in both modesty and simplicity. Her attire gets no more ornate than a well-fitted pantsuit and no more risqué than an off-white undershirt and grey jersey shorts, as not to distract from the infectious creative energy emanating from the woman underneath those outfits.

Christine and the Queens, the bilingual repackage of her self-produced, French-tongued debut album, makes proud display of its GarageBand demo roots. Its skittering electronic beats are chunky and calculated to a tee, yet those inorganic beats create a warm and inviting home for all of their creator's thoughts and wonders. Despite being the result of vigorous study of the superficial mirror of society that is pop music and completed with a sample of a 2008 Kanye West hit, it's a well-versed dance record for modern-day philosophers who can never stop thinking and artists who can never stop creating.

Making histrionic lyrical cornerstones out of topics such as stardom, sexuality, gender and self identities, creative processes, love, and mortality, Christine is perhaps among the most idiosyncratic and introspective of her cohort. On what can construed as an ode to her craft, productivity, and relationship with her fans, she sings, "Trample over beauty while singing their thoughts." While the sentiment from "Tilted" is strong, it is arguably untrue in her own case. With an album that is both perceptive and danceable, she manages to marry two elements that are often thought of as mutually exclusive: the need for realistic thought and the desire for upbeat sonic appeal. It's a recipe that yields pop music that masks its great intelligence with glamour – but bears that intelligence nonetheless.

Christine and the Queens is available now under Atlantic Records.

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