We normally fill this intro with reasoning as to why we’ve chosen our record of the month but, to be honest, that doesn’t seem necessary this time – it’s one of the most anticipated releases of the year by an artist that feels vital right now. That being the case, we asked LiS writers Emma Madden and Charlotte Krol to sit down with Danny Wright and talk all things Chris.
To start, what did you make of the singles?
Emma: I wasn’t keen on the singles for some reason, but now I’ve listened to the whole album I’m really into it.
Charlotte: Really? I was blown away by them.
Emma: I felt a bit alienated by them. I couldn’t work out what she was trying to do or what message she was trying to get across but that’s changed now I’ve had a deeper dive. I think this is an album you have to give at least a few chances to.
Charlotte: I wasn’t expecting such an invigorating new sound. This was everything I love about her voice, bolstered by ’80s pop and infectious ’90s G-funk. And it makes total sense with her new persona: Chris. This is a bolder, brasher direction. She’s experimenting with a really interesting feminine machismo. She basically had to adopt a new sound and name to make it obvious that she’s evolved.
So has the album lived up to what you were anticipating?
Emma: Absolutely. Speaking as a lesbian, this is just about the first time I’ve felt sexually frustrated by pop stars. Marika Hackman, Torres, St. Vincent – now Chris is the ultimate ‘look but don’t touch’ musician for girls who like girls. And she revels in it. She even understands her own sexual currency. On the first verse she sings “Let’s for the whole song just pretend that all along I’ve been there, infectious, that’s what I dream of when penning this verse.” She’s the ultimate clit tease.
Charlotte: In many ways yes, because I expected nothing less! I think she’s without a doubt one of the most talented, challenging pop stars of the moment so I was waiting for something impressive. Still, I’ve been wowed by the consistency of quality. Nearly every track is a knock-out – be it lyrical probings of desire against fluid, muscular synth-pop tracks or genuinely heartbreaking ballads. And despite the obvious sonic changes, there’s plenty of ‘Letissierisms’ (if you want to call it that, ha). I always admire evolution that doesn’t completely erase the sounds that we originally fell in love with.
She’s said a lot of the record is about identity. What did you read into the change to Chris?
Emma: It reminded me of Lena Waithe’s recent comment about the reason she cut her hair. She said that it severed her from femininity – and that’s actually a terrifying prospect as a woman. As you grow up you learn that your femininity is your only value and it helps you to move through the world. That Christine has become Chris is a similar thing. She’s shortened her name, she’s shortened her hair. She’s deliberately made herself less of a mystery. Now she’s a blunt statement, and she’s completely in control.
Charlotte: Yeah, I took it as Letissier exerting control. She’s spoken in interviews about the gulf between gender norms (to look and act like a ‘normal’, ‘pretty’ girl) and how she’s always felt different to that. Instead she’s a queer woman who wants to freely express herself and play with the rules. Right now, it seems she’s experimenting with this persona, ‘Chris’, to provoke debate. Women have the same dirty desires as men and yet there’s a stigma around it. She explores this so acutely on tracks like ‘Damn’ where she questions why more women don’t pay for sex like men do.
Emma: I also think she’s become even more wordy. But because English is her second language she’s more playful and less precious about it. She can fit these intensely delicate and poetic sentiment inside of a standard disco beat.
How would you describe the sound? I hear a lot of Michael Jackson.
Emma: Ooh that’s really interesting! I was actually thinking maybe more Janet than Michael.
Charlotte: I hear loads of Michael Jackson too (the mirror smashes, squelchy sub-bass, cowbell dings etc.) But also a lot of Annie Lennox – especially on ‘Girlfriend’ with those carnal wails.
Which song grabbed you most when you first heard the record?
Emma: ‘Goya Soda’ grabbed me immediately which is interesting because I think it’s the only one on the album that deals specifically with the feeling of desiring and being desired by a man.
Charlotte: I think I still love ‘Girlfriend’ the most, even if I’ve overplayed it! But I’d also like to say that ‘Goya Soda’ was a standout, as well as ‘The Stranger’.
How much do you think these songs were written with performance in mind?
Emma: That’s interesting because I feel like this album sort of has a musical theatre aspect to it yet it’s so cool and effortless and lackadaisical and, well, French at the same time. I can imagine that it’s not just an album but an entire spectacle. I’m expecting lots of tight choreography.
Charlotte: I think the live shows were a huge influence. (I attest: her gigs are 10/10) and agree with Emma on the choreography. I read somewhere, she’s stage directing the new shows. Just like she’s been in complete control of this album (she’s self-produced it). It looks like she’s going to use her background in theatre for a true spectacle.
What song are you most excited to hear live?
Emma: I was thinking of ‘Girlfriend’ in particular when typing that answer so I’m most excited to see that song live.
Charlotte: Yeah, I can’t wait to see ‘Girlfriend’ live (did you see the Jools Holland performance? Proper West Side Story vibes).
Emma: Yes!! So good!!!
How important is it as an artist she’s taken control and followed her own path?
Emma: This is her second album after a very successful debut. Most other artists would have gone to LA and paired up with Max Martin or someone of that calibre but instead, she’s made an album that’s even more personal and depraved and exquisite than her first, and all on her own terms. Is that important? Yes, it will be to a lot of women who want to make music. I think this sophomore album and the success of it will show that there’s not only one avenue of success for emerging musicians.
Charlotte: It’s pretty much vital. She clearly has a vision and doesn’t want it compromised by conforming. It means that she remains in control – her integrity remains intact. I think that approach is needed to offset muddled, super-produced pop.
Photo by Suffo Moncloa.