CHRIS: An album review and identity exploration

Héloïse Letissier may not be a household name yet, but she has made several names for herself in recent months. Letissier, formally known as Christine and the Queens, is a French pop artist with a unique sound and a restless desire for transformation as a musician and an individual. Her latest transformation is one which pushes the limits of gender conventions that many artists strive to break. Letissier’s newest release, “Chris” is a musical and aesthetic journey of identity–not so much an identity crisis as an identity insight.

In “Chris,” full of punchy, beat-oriented tunes, ethereal harmonies, and her classically angsty lyrics, Letissier makes no effort to be understated. It’s clear from the start that identity is a most significant motif in this album. In the third song on the album, The Walker, she sings:

“It hurts, I feel everything

As my sense of self’s wearing thin

Such pains can be a delight

Far from when I could drown in my shame”

A profound commentary on herself complimented by her effortlessly melifluous pop sound, each song is an interesting reflection about the way Letissier relates to gender, identity, and music, begging the audience to do the same.

Pop legends like Prince, Madonna, and David Bowie have flirted with the strict boundaries of gender that American pop culture often enforces. In this respect, Christine and the Queens is merely following a tradition of social commentary through her music. On the contrary, it seems Letissier is less concerned about societal standards and more interested in introspection.

On her website, there is a segment entitled “Chris Self Portrait” which begins with the word egoïste, meaning ‘selfish’ in French. In this self portrait, Letissier articulates brilliantly her struggles with identity throughout her life. Her story is filled with repressed anger, masked by a deep curiosity of all identities besides her own.

“I still regularly fantasize about identity theft,” she confesses.

And it seems Letissier has successfully pulled off the greatest heist of identity of this generation. She’s consciously embodied the masculinity she admires in others and in doing so has abandoned the essence of the female musician: feminine beauty. The self portrait talks a lot about beauty and the meaning we give to it: acne, scars, unconventional features–how superficial these things are and yet how important they are in our day-to-day lives.

“What do instagram’s goddesses do? They’re anointed – there’s always new pigments.  

Cautiously sticking some flowers on the craters of their cheeks, they ornate the ravages of youth as much as they can,” Letissier writes.

With her new album and persona, Letissier relinquishes any trace of delicate femininity that she felt suffocated by in the past. The album cover of “Chris” is a portrait of Letissier in which her hair is cut short, making prominent her sharp jawline and sultry eyes in an incredibly raw embrace of her own masculinity. It’s a stunning portrait of a woman who is not an outcome of oppressive ideals, and more importantly, it’s a statement that other women can be the same.

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