Christine and The Queens on Taking New York By Storm, Why 'Weird' Is the Best Compliment

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Christine And The Queens, aka Heloise Letissier, performs on stage at the 27th Eurockeennes music festival in Belfort on July 4, 2015. A

The performer tells Billboard why she's using her "scars and mistakes and fears" to forge her way onto the American music scene.

French pop sensation Christine and The Queens recently concluded a very big week in New York City. First singer/songwriter Heloise Letissier, who performs under the moniker of “Christine,” wrapped up her North American tour opening for Marina and the Diamonds with two shows at Terminal 5. She then switched back into headliner mode, which is her normal status back in France, to play a sold-out show at Webster Hall to promote her new self-titled debut album. Finally, she wrapped the week with a shiny bow by performing on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Thursday -- only the second artist to appear so far under Noah’s watch. Noah was so taken with her performance that he had to pause in between performances to tell her so, which you can watch below. 

Before jetting back to Paris, Letissier spoke with Billboard about why “weird” is the best compliment, how to handle a crotch tear in front of a packed house, and why turning shame into strength is what makes us all "Christine." [Ed note: This interview was conducted before the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.]

Congrats on this big week you’ve had. Webster Hall was completely packed from wall to wall. It was pretty overwhelming, even from the audience.

It was quite emotional, even for me. I didn’t want to properly cry onstage because I always think it’s a bit cheesy but it just happened at some point because it was a bit overwhelming for me to play that venue and for it to go that well with people cheering. I sometimes wanted to pinch myself. It was unexpected.

How was performing on The Daily Show?

TV is always a challenge for me because you know you’re going to be seen by lots of people but you’re not going to have the proper energy of a venue. So you have to introduce yourself to make people want to see more. The more I’m doing TV the more I’m trying to think of it as a stage performance and just enjoy it.

I was really happy to be on this show in particular because it’s a show that, if I was living in the U.S., I would probably watch, so I was quite happy to be on it. 

Trevor Noah said, "You guys are absolutely amazing. You're weird, but amazing." That's a compliment, right?

That’s the best compliment ever! “Amazing” and “weird” in the same sentence is like the best PR ever.

He also asked about your switching between French and English within a single song. Will you keep doing that on the next album or was that just to help you cross over to an English-speaking audience?

I have to say I’m writing new songs right now and this is a question I’m asking myself. It’s still happening, I’m still switching. I wish I could learn even more languages to switch in between all of them because what I like about pop music is that language is just like an instrument. It doesn’t sound the same in French and in English. It’s like taking a violin and dropping in saxophone.

You just finished touring North America with Marina and the Diamonds. What did you learn from going on the road with her?

Well first I got to witness Marina and the Diamonds on tour, which was quite impressive I have to say, because she’s playing like five or six shows a week which is really physical for her and she has really demanding songs vocally and she’s just nailing every show every time. In France I did a tour myself where I did no more than three shows a week, so I was impressed to witness six shows a week and her still doing it quite well. 

It was interesting for me because I was back to being an opener in a country where nobody really knows me so I was back from being known to being unknown. I have to say I kind of like being an opener. I like not being expected and getting to win an audience over. It was quite refreshing for me. And I got to discover the U.S. I saw all the cities I didn’t know yet and I just want to come back now and see more!

Do you have to change up your performance for an audience who doesn’t know you yet?

I think because I was an opener in France for so long before I became a headliner that I try to keep the energy of an opener all the time because, for me, it’s the best energy. You just want to engage people and at the same time you want to be true to what you’re performing. I wish I could keep this fire, the fire you have when you’re starting things and you just want to be heard.

You played New York earlier this year in a couple of smaller venues but you were still under the radar here. Did you feel a difference being back this time?

I saw the difference because I played at Webster Hall! I feel I’m a little more identified as an artist. But I still feel like I’m just lucky to have some good reviews and some media interested in me and to have American people coming to see me more and more. I’m actually starting to think that maybe I can make my way in the U.S. a little bit more. I think the last time I was here in April I thought maybe I’m not even needed here. 

Onstage you were talking about other women performers you admire like Rihanna and Beyonce, and said you feel like the weird cousin at the dinner table playing with her fork, looking over at them. I don’t think your fans see you as the weird cousin anymore.

I will always feel like the weird cousin, you know? I’m playing with this idea that no matter what you achieve you will always have the state of mind of when you were a teenager because that’s when you were building your personality. For me I will always feel a bit out of place but it keeps me in this energy of performing how I do. I used to be ashamed of feeling weird all the time and now I just want to embrace it and use it as a strength.

Did you really rip your pants during the show?

I did! I don’t know if people saw it. I was a little afraid because of Snapchat and everything. I felt the tear and I had a hole in my pants. They’re ruined and I have to sew them into shape. But that was the end of the tour so I have a month to learn how to sew and repair them. 

You do have some dance moves that are very reminiscent of Michael Jackson, or even Elvis. How conscious of that are you?

When I’m dancing it’s like when I’m making music – I just want people to feel what influenced me. I’m a big fan of Michael Jackson, I can’t hide it. I don’t want to challenge him, because nobody can, but I just want to tell a story of who I am and what built me, and Michael Jackson was a part of it. I’m influenced as well by Pina Bausch. I’m watching artists like FKA Twigs.

You ended the show by saying, "I'm Christine. You are all Christine." What does "Christine" mean to you?

From the very start it was like putting a name on an emotion or an energy for me. It was a character of course but it was more like the vibe I had of wanting to be daring. I wanted to embrace everything I was, including the scars and mistakes and fears, and Christine was more like this energy that would make everything okay. The best thing about this project for me is that people have found “Christine” as well. They sometimes come to me after a gig and they’re like, “My own personal Christine made me do this...” I’m not someone they admire but I’m someone contagious in a way. I’m not the only Christine in the room. That’s what I love about pop music, that a song can become your song, or a moment in your life. It’s the best part of it for me.

Are you going back to Paris or taking a vacation?

I’m back to Paris [Ed note: She was in New York during the Nov. 13 attacks]. I’m going to sleep for three weeks, with my cats, in a dark room. And then I will get up and write new songs, and hopefully be back in the U.S. next year.

You also apologized at the end of your show for not having more songs to perform. How far into writing the new album are you?

I have 12 songs underway, but you can sometimes write 30 songs for an album so maybe I’m not even there yet. I just want to write to feel good. I think I’ll write 10 songs next week. It’s like a muscle. You have to train your muscle.

 

 

 

 

 


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