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Christine and the Queens - Manchester Apollo: The View from Far Out

Christine and the Queens presents a tailored front, in performance and style. S[he] has claimed ‘the suit’ for herself, Héloïse Letissier. Clothing evocative of a deeply patriarchal and Victorian 19th century is an outlet for all things androgynous and pansexual, a currency of freedom empowering the unique persona of every human being. Although this may seem like a contradiction in terms, ‘the suit’ to ensnare, surely? Not at all. It is in each venue that maestro, Christine [un]defines a better world.

Letissier makes clear that (stage name) Christine and the Queens is her optimum creative persona. She has all but left her previous self behind (though shares that she keeps the dresses). Christine and the Queens was born of a broken heart, feeling down and out, and consequently Héloïse moving (some years ago) from Paris to London. The welcoming warmth and guidance shown by accredited London/Soho-based drag queens fed Christine’s subsequent identification, and desire to spread warmth to her audience. Thus, the album Chaleur Humaine was born (translating, Human Warmth).

After roughly two and a half years, Christine and the Queens have finished touring the debut album. Friday’s was the penultimate UK tour performance, at the O2 Apollo in Manchester. The past week has felt conclusive and explosive. In Letissier’s words, it feels apt that Christine and the Queens would conclude this chapter in the UK.

She professes that she feels a particular affinity with this country. Amid an ever more turbulent world, it is heart-warming to experience such enthusiasm for international relations, in sound and speech. Over the past weekend, Because Music released a Deluxe Edition of Chaleur Humaine, including track ‘Christine’ (‘Tilted’ in French). It is sometimes hard to tell which of her languages Christine is thinking in, as they alternate so beautifully in her music. However, recent studies have shown that the languages of bilingual minds work together in parallel.

 Throughout the performance, Christine jokingly alludes to her artistic mission to turn us all [on] French. Especially through the addictive percussiveness of ‘Science Fiction’, her ‘beginners guide’ to French discothèque, advanced in the Deluxe track, ‘Intranquilité’. I can’t speak for other places, but the Manchester contingent seems more than willing. Her strong, routine performance taps into an idea of utopian space of infinite possibility. Gesticulating at the entire auditorium, she describes the ‘free space’ that it would be that night. She then segues deliciously into the first track from the album, ‘IT’, saying that she is “a little boy, tonight”.

Her performance and album are imaginative, honest, and encouraging. Conceptional, in terms of their engagement and outreach, yet down to earth and rooted in an almost frustrating simplicity, in terms of messages. Why can’t reality always be this harmonious? ‘Safe and Holy’ is a particularly affecting performance, with a dramatic use of spotlight as power chords explode periodically. The light breaks and widens on Christine as she “heavy collapses when [she is] dancing”.

Those familiar with her work are aware of the running themes including [gender] fluidity. This pervades not just the lyrics, but the dance, musical production, lighting and contemporary art visuals of the seamless event that is Christine and the Queens. Her vocals are as strong live (of particular note at this point in the tour) as they are punchy, in the network of synth-pop and instrumentation of the band recorded.

There are a number of elements, clearly, that make Christine and the Queens unique. The integration of voguing and contemporary dance into the routines are sets of simple and effective motifs, intimately interwoven with the rest of the act. Much like the lyrics they accentuate. Voguing in particular – implicitly socio-political – Christine and the Queens are also that. She deals directly, though somewhat retrospectively, with a case of bullying she witnessed on the streets of Paris, towards a boy who ‘dared’ to be himself. Saint Claude is her apology for doing nothing as Héloïse, but being active as Christine and the Queens – the antidote. The album is a variety of styles, tempi, and tones. Heralding a supreme talent on the global music scene.

There is so much to get excited about with Christine and the Queens, too much to express here.. But I will leave you with what was a stand out artistic performance and a stand out group to watch and enjoy. There is musical input aplenty to tide us over for the time being, stylised videography, and an addictive personality to celebrate, as Christine and the Queens may slightly retreat now to work on broadening her repertoire. But for now, she continues to broaden the outlook of thousands across the world.

Imogen Webb