The drag queens of Soho saved Héloïse Letissier’s life. In 2010, down and out in London after a break-up, she read about Madame Jojo’s nightclub in a copy of Time Out. There she met a band of drag performers who picked her up, turned her round and inspired her to start writing songs under the name Christine And The Queens. Now her debut album ‘Chaleur Humaine’, her stunning use of visuals and dance and her subversive gender politics – she identifies as pansexual and rejects femininity – have made her France’s most fascinating pop star. Maybe.
‘I’m not a pop star,’ says Letissier, sipping a mug of hot water and honey (for her voice) in a Shoreditch hotel. ‘I don’t feel like one. I’m always joking that I’m actually an eight-year-old boy dreaming about being a pop star.’
Whatever. ‘Chaleur Humaine’, with its taut songs, inventive production and breathtaking vocals in French and English, has scaled the French charts. Her debut London headline show sold out months ago. Most impressive of all, she’s already influenced the Queen (Mother) of Pop: Madonna’s levitating finale at the 2015 Grammys was inspired by Christine’s ‘Saint Claude’ music video. Sounds pretty pop star to us.
Christine And The Queens © Maciek Pozoga
‘On stage I feel invincible. I can be myself’
You’re 30 years younger than Madonna. What was it like to see her imitate you on stage?
‘That was insane. It didn’t feel real. I was flattered because she’s the mother of all the female badass pop stars we have now. What’s a bit sad is that nothing has really changed since Madonna. It’s still the same questions: are we sluts? Are we mothers?’
Are there any pop stars working nowadays that you look up to?
‘I would have loved to grow up with Lorde, because of all my insecurities and awkwardness as a girl. And Perfume Genius – I’m moved by everything he does. I love people who go on stage and blossom like a weird flower.’
Does that apply to you as well?
‘For sure. On stage I feel like I’m invincible, like nothing bad can happen. I can be myself. I feel like I shrink when I’m off stage.’
Madame Jojo’s shut at the end of 2014. How did you feel when you found out?
‘I have a strange relationship with that place. Something really important happened to me there, but it was a one-time, surreal thing. I actually never went back. So for me it’s not dead, because it’s not real. I was in such bad shape when I went in and met those incredible people, so it has this dream-like quality.’
How important is drag to you?
‘It saved me. And drag queens have a social and political utility, as every performer does I think, because they’re questioning the norm all the time: playing with codes, gender, identity – [asking] important questions.’
Is there a drag scene in Paris?
‘There is, but it’s a really closed bubble. You have to know people to know it happens. I was searching for it, knocking on doors! “Are there any drag queens in there?”’
As pop singers go you’re very progressive. Has there been a backlash?
‘I have an obsession with haters: the great mess of the internet expressing itself. I love to type my name on Twitter and read everything. It’s always enlightening to see what they hate about you: I’m not pretty enough to be on stage, or my music doesn’t make any sense. It feels good to read that, like I’m heading in the right direction!’
As a female performer, do you worry about the way you’ll be treated when you’re older?
‘People have started to tell me to worry. “Because of your career, you can’t have children.” I don’t give a fuck! I can’t wait to be old and wrinkled with grey hair and lots of charisma and rings on my fingers, like Keith Richards. I’ll enjoy doing interviews like that: an old woman, sitting, waiting. Stroking a cat.’