Christine and the Queens @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 24 Nov
Performing under her new alter ego Chris, Héloïse Letissier blurs the lines of gender and the boundaries of pop in a show of complete theatrical decadence
As the house lights dim, a single spotlight shines in the centre of the stage. Héloïse Letissier, aka Christine and the Queens, slides into the spotlight, throwing one arm in the air and kicking one leg out, resembling a certain King of Pop – not for the only time tonight.
The influence of both Michael and Janet Jackson weighs heavy on Letissier’s live show, but while Michael may have been known as the King of Pop and Janet one of the Queens, Letissier is our modern-day ungendered reigning overlord; not so much androgynous as completely unboundaried. Letissier blurs the lines of traditional gender stereotypes, at once hyper-feminine and the epitome of machismo, but never dominantly one way or the other.
Beginning with the opening duo of tracks taken from her second album Chris – Comme si and Girlfriend – released in both English and French, Letissier fully embodies the album’s title character. "Yeah, that was some French on top a G-Funk song. That’s how I roll," she announces after performing Le G, a track exclusive to the French version of Chris. Not only does Letissier play with gender boundaries, but also with the boundaries of pop; singing in French over a G-Funk beat is how she rolls, and it’s genius.
Movement has always been an important element of Letissier’s performance too, and collaborating with French dance troupe (La) Horde on the choreography for Chris has turned it up to 11. Flitting between dance battle style group interactions and solo breaks, Letissier’s presence amongst it all is interesting. At times, she's the central focus, others a placeholder for the dancers to move around her or very much blending into the foray, but always on par with her dancers in terms of skill.
She takes things down a notch and performs sans dance troupe for the emotional double hitter of Make Some Sense and Paradis perdus – a track taken from her debut album Chaleur humaine, which samples Kanye West’s Heartless. Later, she asks the crowd to join her in an acapella sing along to a French ballad – "we all have a sad French song inside us," she quips – which morphs into MJ’s Man in the Mirror. "Preach," she yells after singing 'If you want to make the world a better place / Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.'
The staging too is deeply considered, and as Paradis perdus ends, the screen behind her – originally showing a vast, dark country landscape – drops and switches to an image of dark clouds, as the opening notes of iT kick in. In the lead up to Goya Soda, the screen drops again and snow begins to fall on the stage; a green flare is lit by one of the dancers before they all escape from the stage except Letissier and one other dancer, who begins emitting smoke from his body halfway through the song.
There is barely a song Letissier sings tonight that she doesn’t introduce or provide some sort of chat on. It’s equally as theatrical as it is personal, bringing the audience closer to her and increasing our understanding of her music. For her encore though she, quite literally, gets even closer, performing Saint Claude in the rafters before heading back downstairs and working her way through the crowd to the stage, carried by her dancers.
With Chris, Letissier has taken her brand of pop music to new levels of grandeur, and her live performance is nothing short of theatrical pop decadence.