Since adopting the Christine moniker in 2010, Letissier, 30, has used music to examine intimate topics, often in ways that prompt more questions than answers. Her 2015 self-titled debut, the English version of 2014’s French-language Chaleur Humaine, features songs as brainy as they are catchy: On the sparse “iT,” she cryptically declares, “I’ve got it/I’m a man now.” The album wasn't a commercial hit stateside, but it debuted in the top 10 of a half-dozen European countries; made fans of Elton John and Madonna; and cast Letissier as the next great outsider-pop cult star in the tradition of Robyn and Marina & The Diamonds.
On her new album, Chris, out Sept. 21, she’s exploring her “same obsessions” from a new perspective. The music, mostly self-produced, is tougher and dancier, inspired by ’80s electronica, ’90s G-funk and classic Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis beats. The delivery is also notably different: This past spring, Letissier unveiled Chris, the macho, gender-bending evolution of Christine, and traded the long hair and androgynous suits of the last album for a boyish ’do and revealing wardrobe.
The move puzzled many. Some wondered on Twitter if she was coming out as trans. And when she dropped the choreo-heavy video for the album’s first single, the Dâm-Funk collaboration “Girlfriend,” she noticed “lots of really confused heterosexual dudes writing desperate comments like, ‘I’m horny, but I don’t understand why!’” She wants people to examine those reactions further. “Every morning, we choose a way to perform our identity,” says Letissier, who identifies as pansexual. “By being a woman differently, I can be a sign that it’s all a construction. I’m trying to be freer myself so [I can] give a hint of freedom to someone else.”
Letissier bristled at gender roles from an early age, especially in high school. “I was like, ‘Fine, I’m a girl, but I don’t want to be that type of girl, and I do want to be a bit like a dude, but I’m not a dude,’” she recalls. Home was a safe space -- her parents, both teachers, recommended books like Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble -- as was the theater. Before making music, she hoped to become a stage director, but encountered resistance in a university program that, says Letissier, barred female students from directing and eventually expelled her for trying. Not long after, she endured a tough breakup and defected to London, where she met three drag queens who taught her that if she didn't like her reality, she could invent a new one. She created the Christine character to inhabit a bolder, more daring version of herself.
Songs from her first album reflect that fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude, with lyrics about drawing on crotches and making up your face in Magic Marker. At the time, explains Letissier, “I was fantasizing about canceling femininity because it was a problem for me.” But touring and developing muscles from the intensive, conceptual choreography of her live shows helped her reconnect with her own body. As a result, Chris tracks like “Girlfriend” and “Damn (What Must a Woman Do)” explore desire and queerness with lyrics that celebrate all things physical: sweat, saliva, flushed cheeks. “My eroticism is full of the imperfections,” she says. “The human body is a gorgeous mechanism of wonder and ingenuity.”