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Vive la revolution: a Gallic new wave

French singer songwriter Christine and the Queens is a pop diva with a difference

By John Meagher

Madonna's Rebel Heart world tour called in to Paris last December and she invited Heloise Letissier on stage for a joint performance that culminated in Madge playfully spanking the younger woman. The crowd roared approval - the union between pop veteran and new pretender was the highlight of the night.

For anybody not residing in France for the past few years, there's a strong possibility they had no idea who the 20-something who calls herself Christine and the Queens was.

But there's a chance they know now, and Madonna isn't the only veteran who sees something special: Elton John has apparently been in touch, too.

A two-time winner of the Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent of the Grammys, the 28-year-old has had a spectacular 2016 outside France.

A modified version of 2014 debut album, Chaleur Humaine, received glowing reviews in February, followed by a star-making performance on Later ... With Jools Holland in April.

But it was her turn on The Graham Norton Show that really changed the game for the Paris-based, Nantes-born performer. Superstar Drake had been booked, but had to cancel and Christine was drafted in at short notice and she certainly seized her opportunity to impress on the biggest chat-show on TV.

Her album enjoyed chart success last month with the album debuting in this country at a lofty number three.

The Guardian, in its five-star review of a performance at Koko, London, in March, called her set "pop at its transformative best", noting "she goes all out to impress with a potent mix of sincerity and absolute authenticity", while the Daily Telegraph said of a show in the larger Roundhouse that "she may deliberately lack the aesthetic polish of those two millennial divas (Beyonce and Taylor Swift), but she certainly shares their ability to sing, dance and put on a show." Her set at Glastonbury was among the most acclaimed of the entire weekend.

Part of her appeal is that she's far less manufactured than most.

Christine had a road to Damascus conversion in London in 2010. The young drama student's encounter with a trio of drag artists - who live on in her stage name - gave her the confidence to embrace full-on theatricality, tinker with her identity and conceive of art and music that looks at sexuality with a tad more sophistication than the usual bump-and-grind approach.

Album Chaleur Humaine (Human Warmth) captures her considerable gifts, and not just an ability to concoct memorable synthpop songs to connect with heart and feet. She also produced it.

The recent new edition isn't hugely different to the original. There are more English lyrics and some songs are renamed, including standout Christine, now called Tilted, which with the album's other high-water mark, Saint Claude, is fast becoming one of the songs of summer.

The biggest differences arrive in the form of two (inspired) US collaborators: rapper Tunji Ige on No Harm is Done and Perfume Genius who helps make Jonathan one of the album's most beguiling cuts.

"Perfect has never been my thing," Christine told a newspaper last weekend. "So I had to find another way. I always say on stage that I am like a broken flower compared to those perfect pop singers like Beyonce, who I love. I am trying to create a new version, a new way to be a woman in this industry and on stage.

If Christine and the Queens is helping to put French pop music back on the map again, she's by no means the only one. There's a new generation of Gallic stars whose effervescent tunes really should be in your life right now.

Hyphen Hyphen, a boy-girl four-piece from Nice, do a fine line in pulse-quickening electro-pop, while Toulouse native Jain embraces north African and Middle Eastern sounds on her smart and playful album Zanaka.

But Christine isn't sure if there's a French new wave and doesn't appear keen to fly the blue, white and red flag either.

"I'm not trying to be an exotic French pop person," she said. "I don't want anyone to say, 'Oh, that's so cute, she's French'. I want the songs to resonate. I want to get my message across. I want to be a voice in pop that's about who I am and what I have to say, not where I'm from."

Well, her bewitching songs certainly resonate and she is getting her message across, but her nationality is stamped all over her songs, and not just because she sings in French and in heavily accented English.

In a world where so many of those who occupy the upper reaches of the charts sound the same, Christine and the Queens offers a very welcome respite.

Belfast Telegraph


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