April has been quite a moment of triumph for French pop sensation Christine and the Queens. Even without making her Coachella debut (which earned praise from the likes of Katy Perry and Tove Lo), the artist (née Heloise Letissier) would still be relishing her stateside takeover now more than ever. This month alone, she enjoyed a sync of her track “iT” on an episode of Girls, played a gig with Grimes, who she called a “breath of fresh air,” and dazzled with a performance of her new single “Titled” and a Prince tribute via Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” on the legendary U.K. program Later… With Jools Holland.
It’s clear that the Nantes-born star is crossing over in a big way, following the release of her acclaimed debut LP Chaleur Humaine last year via Neon Gold Records/Because Records/Atlantic Records. Despite her many recent achievements, Letissier, who used to watch the live feed of Coachella in her apartment in Paris before striking big, describes playing the biggest U.S. festival “the moment of the year for me as a music lover”: “Sometimes when you’re on the road, you don’t actually get what’s happening to you,” she tells Billboard. “But Coachella was one of those moments where I got to enjoy everything. I’m used to being an interior singer, playing in black boxes and empty spaces, and then I’m in the desert like, ‘ok!’”
Billboard caught up with the pop sensation after her El Rey show to talk backstage Coachella encounters, Grimes, her Prince tribute and her plans for album two.
Your headlining show at El Rey was right in the middle of the Coachella dates — how was that for you to get to do a headlining date in between in L.A.?
That was insane and it was really one of my favorite moments. The crowd was really rocking right away. I was expecting people to be kind of checking me out. I was not expecting so much love from the beginning. It was one of those shows where you actually enjoy every second and don’t over think it. It was probably the moment where I realized the impact of this album. I’m not a mainstream artist or anything, but this album is big to some people and the crowd was singing along at times, so that was really emotional, really happy.
I wanted to also ask you about Prince, as I know you took a moment of your set at El Rey to honor him – how did that come together and why was it important for you to do that?
It’s not a cover per se because it’s really more a dance moment on one of his songs, Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You.” I was a bit afraid to cover Prince because he’s certainly one of the best voices and the best performers so it’s always a bit scary. You’re afraid you won’t live up to the intensity of his own performance. Since he was flamboyant and really funky, we wanted to dance on one of his productions and so the Chaka Khan moment was something we did before, but this time it took another color.
Your live show is very dance-heavy and you’ve been described as something of a pop shape shifter before, as Prince was. Were you always influenced by his music and his artistry?
I was influenced by the character but also by the way that he presented himself. It was a different way of being a man, a different way of being a performer and it was really gender-bending. He had this really feminine side and I think what hit me was that it was really sexual, like he had a sexual orientation, but it was towards people. It was like he was just attracted to you, and made you feel sexual. And production wise, he was just an incredible musician. I’m really impressed that he was mixing everything and playing every instrument – that’s something I really admire. I’m not a good musician. I admit, I’m working on a computer. Those are two facets that I really liked about him.
Tell me about your first Coachella. How did you prepare?
It was quite hectic – everyone told me, it’s going to be hard and it’s your turn to be on stage and you don’t have much to rely on except for you, like a rock star, so I did lots of crunches and stuff like that to stay in shape. I really wanted to rely on myself and the muscles and dancing and the singing, I wanted to be really raw and efficient. Coachella is like that – especially in the daytime, you don’t have any lights or anything. I was excited to see how I would do, and I think the fans loved it every weekend, especially the second weekend. I’m not a huge act, but they stayed [laughs] so that’s good, right?
Katy Perry was at your show and is now a big fan of yours – was that pretty surreal to hear?
I actually heard that when I left the states, and someone told me Katy Perry was there and she likes what you’re doing. I was like um, okay!? [laughs] One more piece of information to handle. I’m flattered – I think she’s really a cool girl, she’s one of those girls that’s created a stage character that’s really endearing and she has great pop songs. I really think “Teenage Dream” is a hell of a pop song, it’s insanely catchy, so I was really honored. If I had known she was in the audience before, I probably would have burst out one of her songs!
Did you meet any other musicians backstage or at after parties?
I actually met The Internet, they’re really cool and I’m a big fan of their album Ego Death, I’ve been listening to it a lot and I saw them backstage and we danced together to Rae Sremmurd. We were jamming. It’s always cool to see the music you love made by such cool people as well. I also encountered Frank Ocean…yes I did, yes I did. And he shook my hand, so now I feel a bit different. I feel like something’s happening to me (laughs). He’s a lovely man but I feel at times like the French singer getting lost in the backstage area. I was really shy so I feel like an outsider because I just had this crazy stupid smile on my face.
You didn’t wear your traditional suit jacket uniform onstage – what inspired the desert outfit for you and your dancers?
The jacket was out of the question because I was afraid to faint. The vibe as well — I still love the masculine zone, but I’m quite obsessed now with Bruce Springsteen, a cool white tee-shirt and jeans, really really simple, bare and almost like you’re exposed and have to rely on everything else. It’s that whole rock and roll vibe. The more I’m doing sports I’m seeing my body change and I’m getting a bit of muscle and a big tougher, so I just want to show off my muscles now. I’m dropping the jacket even at the end of my tour, because I just didn’t want to be ruled by clothes anymore. I’m not going to be like a tank top girl now but it’s definitely getting simpler.
You played a show with Grimes as well — are you a big fan?
She’s another artist that I actually got to meet and I’m a fan right away. I’ve been following Grimes for a long time and I’m a huge fan of the new album. Because I love the artist, I was so shy – we said like 10 words tops, but she was really lovely. I think she’s shy as well so we didn’t know what to say to each other because I can get really awkward. It was a great night actually – it was very girl power night because Tei Shi was playing as well. I really like that theme of girls who are really powerful and in charge and presenting a different way of being a woman, a different way of being sexy, and being a producer. It’s really a breath of fresh air as an artist. I feel empowered by Grimes. Sometimes when I lose hope, I just pull up her Instagram and I’m just like ‘oh, so that’s cool, I can continue.’ She’s very important right now.
You are booked on Later… With Jools Holland — that’s such an incredible program. What does that mean to you?
It’s such a great program — one of my favorite TV moment ever was the Kanye West performance where he did “New Slaves” and “Blood On The Leaves.” I was happy to be booked and the show is really cool, they let you do what you want as far as the aesthetic – it’s very respectful as well. You can tell the artists are invited because they know who you are, they like your work and they want to actually make it come to life on TV. There’s not much TV like that — sometimes it’s quite hard to just make your aesthetic fit into a TV performance.
What’s next for Christine?
I’m working on it. I’m writing. I’m thinking, I’m plotting. (laughs] I have mainly festivals, five or six of them, and after that I’m going to really dig into the second album. It’s going to be really interesting because I have the luxury to do what I want and make real choices, and I have to careful to make the right ones. It’s exciting. I think I’m going to experiment with some new things. I think I’m more into a really live vibe, so I want to try to jam with a real band, and we’ll see where it goes.