Bow Down, Bitches

Christine and the Queens is the art-pop heroine we need.

Héloïse Letissier — you know her as Christine and the Queens — doesn’t have the most conventional guardian angels. In fact, “guardian queens” might be a more accurate term.

It was in 2010 during a visit to London when the French-born singer-songwriter met the gaggle of drag queens who would become her mentors and, for a brief time, her backing band. Fresh out of college, Letissier was reeling from a painful breakup and feeling directionless. All her life, she’d had a persistent desire to be onstage, but was unsure as to how to go about it. Turns out, her chance encounter with the drag queens at the now-closed club Madame Jojo’s was exactly the push she’d needed.

“They just said, ‘We feel that you are attractive and you should just try to get onstage and stop caring what people think,’ ” she recounts.

Emboldened by their encouragement and confidence in her, Letissier adopted the character of Christine and decided to try her hand at songwriting. “From that very moment, I decided to be exposed and bare,” she says. “It came all of a sudden and it is hasn’t stopped. It’s weird.”

The rest — which includes international acclaim, a breakout Glastonbury performance, playing live with Elton John, and a marvelous duet with Perfume Genius — is history.

Not that Letissier expected any of this. In fact, she just wanted her debut album — which was first released in France as Chaleur Humaine (Human Warmth, for the non-Francophonic) in 2014, and then in the United States in 2016 as Christine and the Queens — to not suck. She describes the writing process as “quite painful and intense and deep,” and admits she wasn’t hoping for any grand response.

“I never thought in terms of territories,” she says. “I wasn’t even expecting anything from France. I was like, ‘Hopefully they don’t smash it in my face and say it’s crap.’ ”

Not only did they not smash it in Letissier’s face, they elevated her to national pop stardom. Her rhythmic, synth-driven art-pop caught the ears of the rest of the world next (the video for “Christine,” her third single, has more than 26 million YouTube views), and she became a must-see performer and festival highlight thanks to her dynamic, exuberant style of dancing.

The first incarnation of Christine, however, did not dance. During her early performances, Letissier would stand on stage for minutes at a time, staring at people and saying nothing. That quickly changed.

“The more I performed as that character, the more I became open and generous,” she says. “I began to dance a lot more. I am now a dancing little boy onstage.”

Dancing aside, it’s hard to fully differentiate Christine from Letissier, and she insists that Christine isn’t her alter ego. “Christine is this amalgamation of who I am at the moment,” she says.

But Christine also seems to possess a boldness that Letissier lacks. “When I choose to be Christine, I choose to be really unfiltered. It’s my obsessions and my love and who I am, but I feel stronger and more daring. With Christine, I go further.”

How much further remains to be seen, but Letissier’s rising star seems all but unstoppable of late. This year has proven to be a landmark in queer visibility in music, and Letissier, who identifies as pansexual and plays with androgyny in her costuming and live performance, is leading the charge alongside acts like PWR BTTM, Mykki Blanco, ANOHNI, and Against Me!

And although she’s only two years removed from her debut, Letissier already seems to know exactly how she wants her musical career to unfold.

“I want to be the old male rock star sitting in the corner with lots of rings on his fingers,” she says with a laugh. “I want people to say, ‘Oh, that’s Christine. She’s been around. She never dies. She’s still here.’ ”

Christine and the Queens performs on Sunday, Oct. 16.

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