“Well, This Is Awkward”: Christine and the Queens and Troye Sivan Make Post-Pandemic Plans

By
Photography Chuck Grant

Published May 28, 2020

Héloïse Adelaïde Letissier couldn’t possibly have predicted a global pandemic, but she’s made the most of it. In the early days of quarantine, the French musician, who writes and performs as Christine and the Queens, was a constant presence on Instagram Live, hosting performances from Ferber studios in Paris. She kicked off the livestreams with a rendition of”People, I’ve Been Sad,” the lead single off her latest EP, La vita nuova. The song is an anthem for introverts, as Christine sings about being gone and missing out for way too long against the backdrop of a jello-thick beat. Her melancholic electro-pop, which she mastered on her 2018 breakout Chris, has always felt both familiar and prophetic. Her queer androgyny calls to mind David Bowie and his spawn of glam-rock gods, while encapsulating a gender-fluid future in which the only rule is honesty.

Christine’s collaborations with Charli XCX and Caroline Polachek, along with her stripped down, choreographed covers of Beyoncé, Neil Young, and more, have skyrocketed her far beyond the confines of her minimalist France apartment, yet it’s unsurprising that it’s there where she thrives. In lockdown by herself for the last month-and-a-half, Christine has found herself at work on a new album, one that she hopes will sound like “the start of a dream.” Last week, she hopped on a transcontinental phone call with fellow queer pop phenom, Troye Sivan, to talk about making new music in isolation, dance therapy, and the freedom of rejecting bad advice.

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TROYE SIVAN: How are you, Chris?

CHRISTINE: I’m okay. How are you? You’re calling from Australia, right?

SIVAN: Yeah. Everything is good here. Our healthcare is awesome. Our COVID cases are low, but our internet is terrible. I think the last time I spoke to you, we were DMing, and you were telling me that you were isolating by yourself. Is that still the case?

CHRISTINE: Well, I kind of broke the rule because in France, we are exiting strict lockdown, so we were allowed to see friends. So I kind of started to see my friends again. Thank god, because it was starting to be a bit too much introspection. I was like, “Maybe I should stop the diving inwards because I don’t know what it did to me.”

SIVAN: Come on. How long were you by yourself for?

CHRISTINE: I think in total, I was alone for a full month-and-a-half. So it’s quite a lot, I guess.

SIVAN: It is. I went to Australia, so I’ve been with my family. I feel like a 17-year-old kid again. I live with my parents and my three siblings and our dog. I just feel like I got transported back in time, but I didn’t have to deal with any of the real loneliness. I’m very relieved. I feel like you’ve been extraordinarily productive and creative during this time. Is that right?

CHRISTINE: Well, yeah. I think the loneliness helped because I was just focused on what I wanted to do as an artist. I had basically nothing left around me. I chose to self-isolate because I needed that time for a second. It’s been crazy for two years, and I never tried to be properly alone. I also covered lots of songs I love. I wanted to maintain a link with people because I felt, as a performer, a bit frustrated. 

SIVAN: I’ve been loving watching your Instagram covers. In fact, I think my favorite was the “Blinding Lights” cover. I’m just flabbergasted because all of us are singing into our mics, and still auto-tuning the shit out of our voices. Then you’re just standing in this room singing into your iPhone and performing. It’s so amazing. 

CHRISTINE: Oh, merci. Means a lot. Have you been writing?

SIVAN: No, I’ve been really lucky because I had wrote a lot before everything got crazy, so I’ve been sitting on music. For me, the process has been much more based around visuals, and planning, and just spending time online communicating with the people that listen to my music because I don’t know that I could write at the moment with the Zoom sessions and stuff. I always co-write because I don’t produce, so Zoom sessions to me just don’t seem very inspiring. I don’t know that I can get my head around it. 

CHRISTINE: I’ve been only starting to. For me, there are two stages. Usually, I work and pre-produce everything, so I work on Logic, and I kind of shape the production and write the song. This is the stage I’m at. I’ve been writing maybe 15 songs. 

SIVAN: Oh my god.

CHRISTINE: Well, what can I say? I don’t have many friends. No, I’m joking.

SIVAN: What’s it sounding like? Can I ask?

CHRISTINE: I actually already have a precise direction, but this is a moment where I don’t want to spoil because it’s going to be fun. We’re so early in the process of talking about it. Actually, in lockdown, I just found the mood. It was kind of surprising, and it turned out quite powerful. It’s a vibe.

SIVAN: I’m very, very, very excited to hear it. If you ever want to leak some music, send it my way. 

CHRISTINE: I’ll probably debrief you and send you a PDF at some point.

SIVAN: What’s been inspiring you while you’re sitting alone in your apartment?

CHRISTINE: I think in lockdown I emerged with kind of like a teenage-y feeling. I reminisced a lot about what music meant to me at that point, and why I fell in love with it, and the concept of dreaming. I wanted to make something that could make people properly fantasize and dream. When I listened to Björk, I was just like, “Oh, this is a dream.” You fall asleep listening to the music. I was like, “Oh, let’s make a record that could be the start of a dream for people.”

SIVAN: That’s so beautiful. If anything, this time has just made me feel so grateful to—it sounds cheesy to say, but for the creative spirit that I think we’re lucky enough to have in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we’ve both sort of gone insane being locked up without being able to make something.

CHRISTINE: Definitely. I found myself grateful to have songwriting as something that could help me through. I feel that the albums that are coming out, like the Fiona Apple album, arrived perfectly. It kind of soothed me really intensely, and the Perfume Genius one, too. You actually released a track sooner than decided, right? Was it because you felt that people could receive it at that moment?

SIVAN: I think it was a mixture of things. There was the very selfish reason that I felt like I needed something at that moment to keep my brain occupied. I guess when you feel like everything is spinning out of control, there’s something about being able to give yourself some sort of project and, hopefully, also give people something to think about and feel. I had this song that was not at all about what was going on in the world. I wrote it a few months before all of this started happening, but then re-listening to it, it completely changed meanings to me. It was kind of like a coping mechanism, and also, I really wanted to employ a bunch of people because I’m still so worried about my band, my crew, and everyone. Our industry’s taken a real hit.

I want to talk to you about dance because I would pay infinite dollars to be able to move like you can move. I want to know if you can relate it to me in music form. Singing is something that I’ve just always done around the house. It’s something that I do when I’m in my feelings or whatever. Does dance feel similar? When you need to release, what’s the first thing that you do? Do you get up, put on music, and start moving just because you can? 

CHRISTINE:  Well, first of all, you can move. I saw the video of “My My My!” and it’s swaggy as hell. 

SIVAN: Thank you.

CHRISTINE: To be honest, at my house, my mom was dancing a lot, but really spontaneously. Sometimes if she loved the music, she would stand up and dance. When I was a teenager, I was super embarrassed about it, but actually, I realize I’m exactly the same. Before I made music, I wanted to be a set director, so I went to see lots of different plays. I saw a piece by Pina Bausch , and it changed my life. I was like, “Dancing can express something that words cannot contain.” It can help with everything—with sex, with grief, with love. It’s like poetry. You like it. You practice it. You think about it. You hate it, and then you take it again. 

SIVAN: I think it’s almost impossible to not be joyous when you dance. Or not even joyous, just getting that release. 

CHRISTINE: Well, I think the concept of release is really well-expressed because there is something cathartic about it. 

SIVAN: Do you dance when you’re writing in the studio?

CHRISTINE: When I know the song is good. It’s like a detector of if the song is going to work for me. If I start to bounce, it’s usually a really good sign. If I’m not moving, that song is not going to make the cut. 

SIVAN: I feel like that’s the greatest feeling in the world, when you’re in the studio, and suddenly, you don’t know how it happens, but everyone’s on their feet. You’ve collaborated with Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek, and Perfume Genius. I love all of these people so much. How are you picking these incredible people?

CHRISTINE: It’s true that they are incredible. Every time, it was really different. I used to be a solid loner and quite insecure about collaborating because I was like, “I’m not a proper singer.” I was riddled with insecurities, so I ended up collaborating with people with whom I felt really comfortable with on the human scale. For example, the Perfume Genius collaboration was something that I had to try because I know him, and it’s a problem. When we were doing the song, I just wanted to wave at him for some reason. Then with Charli, it became a really fluid conversation that ended up in a song. She was one of the first people who made me super comfortable about being myself and collaborating freely without the pressure of something that has to work. 

SIVAN: At the end of day, I love that we’re all sort of pop music nerds. Those are the people that I want to collaborate with—the people that you can really geek out with and get excited over what you’re doing. This is the most annoying question in the entire world because I also get it all the time, but I genuinely am so curious. Is there somebody that you haven’t collaborated with yet that you really want to?

CHRISTINE: Well, this is awkward because you’re on the line, and I could say it’s you, so now you feel cornered. 

SIVAN: You do not have to say that. You can give the real answer.

CHRISTINE: Well, it’s part of the real answer. I’ve been waiting. Sorry, I have to be honest and transparent. It feels like I’m cornering you, but you’re on my list of people I’d really like to collaborate with one day.

SIVAN: Thank you so much. Are you kidding me? 

CHRISTINE: No, my team can confirm. 

SIVAN: I’d say in a heartbeat we should make it happen. I’ll DM you after we get off the phone. One thing I really love about your work is it all feels very, very free and very, very queer to me. I wanted to talk to you about the queer musical landscape at the moment. I really want to know how it was performing at the Drag Race finale. 

CHRISTINE: It was a blast as expected. Honestly, the vibe was mind-blowing. You were a jury member at some point, right? 

SIVAN: It was literally the best day of my life.

CHRISTINE: I know. Every single person on the team is lovely, and the crowd was amazing and then they were so nice to me. They were like, “You can do a runway now.” I was like, “What?” They were like, “Yeah, do the runway,” and the whole venue clapped. I was like, “Okay. Okay. This is a bit too much for me.”

SIVAN: Oh my god.

CHRISTINE: I feel like I was bathed in love and acceptance for a whole night. It fueled me in energy for two months after that. This was the only time in my career where Christine and the Queens actually made sense as a name. It was finally happening. I was like, “Yes, Christine and the Queens. That’s what I’m talking about.”

SIVAN: That’s so good.

CHRISTINE: Yeah, I know. I don’t really know how to establish a state of queer music because I don’t know what queer music is, because I don’t know what queer means. I think queer should be a question. So I’m always a bit wary of those digests: “queer artists to watch out for” and “new queer music,” because I think sometimes there’s something deeply queer happening inside something quite patriarchal. I think something disruptive is deeply queer, and sometimes I think when we gloss over the concept of queerness, it kind of dissolves. So I’m really just watching and observing, but I’m not really sure I know where it stands.

For me, being queer means that at some point, I had to disrupt something to exist because the existing norm is what’s suffocating me. There’s this element of breaking free. I think what is queer in music and artists are the element of disruption, and hybridity, and the assertion of doubt. For example, someone like Arca has a whole gesture that starts with sound, but ends with her body. It’s all about mutating, in a way. I think the element of mutation, of shape-shifting, is really important for me.

SIVAN: I feel like all of the nuance, the beautiful individuality that is queerness, you’ve just stated that in such a perfect way. I struggle to do that. So I’m just really blown away. I think that’s totally on the money. What is the worst piece of advice that anyone has ever given you?

CHRISTINE: I remember precisely what it was. I was starting to be noticed a bit in France, so I had meetings with record labels. This guy looked at me and he was like, “Well, you should be more sexy. You’re not sexy enough. You’ll never sign anywhere.” And look what happened next. I don’t know if the guy is still around. Of course, it’s a white guy who told me that.

SIVAN: Oh my god. 

CHRISTINE: I know.

SIVAN: I mean, there’s two approaches. Number one, reach across the table, or, number two, just leave and go absolutely kill it everywhere else. I feel like you did the latter.

CHRISTINE: What he was really saying was “be more in the male gaze,” but then what happened after that was deeply satisfying, because I didn’t have to play the male gaze to succeed as an artist. What was your worst advice you ever received?

SIVAN: Right after I came out of the closet, I had a person in my life tell me , “I’m very proud of you that you came out, but that doesn’t mean you should go around and shove it in everyone’s face, and be candid and flamboyant and all that stuff.” I’m thankful that, even at that time, at 15 or 16, I had enough of a sense of self that I thought, “Fuck you.” Then I got off the phone and never thought about it again. 

SIVAN: Have you been listening to anything inspiring while you’ve been in isolation? 

CHRISTINE: I discovered an artist called Lyra Pramuk. She released a record just at the beginning of lockdown. Also, I’ve been listening a lot to the new Tame Impala. I’m a huge fan of Tame Impala, just as everyone is. 

SIVAN: I’m very proud that you said Tame Impala because Kevin Parker’s from Perth, which is where I’m from as well. Something cool about having all of this time on our hands is being able to just dig into stuff that you love, stuff that you’ve been meaning to dig into. To be able to have this feeling of intimate time on your hands is such a new feeling for all of us. There’s something very youthful about it. 

CHRISTINE: It’s true. Are you in contact with nature a bit?

SIVAN: I’ve been going to this forest that’s 45 minutes away from where my parents live, but you feel like you’re on another planet. It feels like Jurassic Park.

CHRISTINE: Wow.

SIVAN: Once all of this calms down, what’s the first thing you’re going to do?

CHRISTINE: Honestly, I just miss doing a gig. I’m an addict. I need the stage, and the possibility of the stage, and sharing songs with faces and human beings. Sometimes I hear discussions in the industry about, “Oh, well, maybe people are not going to come at gigs anymore, and we have to think of another way.” I was like, “What? Another way? I don’t want to do Zoom for the rest of my life. I just want to perform.” 

SIVAN: I know in Australia, the plan is you can have gatherings of 100 people in a place in, I think it’s going to be, July. So if you want, you can just come and do a house show for me and my 99 friends that I’m going to have to quickly make. 

CHRISTINE: If the planes are flying, I’ll hop in. 

SIVAN: That’s another thing to consider. You go to get to Australia somehow.

CHRISTINE: I’ll swim. I’m leaving now. If I swim fast, I can be in Australia by July.