Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier’s alter-ego, Christine & The Queens, was born during a transitional stage in her life. After going through a traumatic break-up, Letissier moved to London, and it revitalised her perspective on life.
The French avant-garde pop star isn’t the first artist to seek inspiration in an unknown land. It’s a common trope that can save a musician if they should find themselves in a state of despair or artistic flux. Theatre was her first love, and Letissier studied at the Lyon Regional Conservatory before arriving in England to benefit her mental wellbeing.
Lou Reed’s story doesn’t share a myriad of correlations with Letissier’s, but he also found a muse within a European capital. The only difference was Reed didn’t visit Berlin before making a concept album situated in the German city. “I love the idea of a divided city,” Reed famously stated. “It was purely metaphorical,” he added. Whenever Letissier has needed to escape the woes of her own life, she jumps into Berlin. It’s an album that continues to offer her a crutch at the most pressing times.
Berlin sees Reed autobiographically explore the heartbreaking story of his broken relationship with his then-wife, Bettye Kronstad, through the album’s protagonists Caroline and Jim. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the French singer explained that she moved to London because she “wanted to feel welcomed somewhere” and discussed how Berlin made the perfect travel companion on that blood-curdling Eurostar journey.
“Lou Reed, Berlin, trying to match the mood,” she told the publication about what she listened to on the journey. “My face looked like Berlin – people were like, ‘Oh, she’s not in a good place right now.’ [Laughs] But I was searching for joy as well, and to trigger something, so that was me being a bit more alive.
That train ride in 2010 between Europe’s shiniest utopian metropolises would inadvertently lead to the start of a glittering pop career. After returning to France, Letissier only had eyes for music, and Christine & The Queens became her chosen form of artistic expression.
After the re-released English version of her debut album, Chaleur humaine sent her into the stratosphere in 2015, Christine opened up further to ELLE about the astronomical impact that Berlin had on her from the very first time she wrapped her ears around its celestial sound. “It’s not just an album to me; it’s like a movie,” she explained. “It’s a whole story—there’s cruel, tragic storytelling. I listened to it for the first time in Berlin. Sometimes when I travel, I like to find things that relate to where I am. So I listened to this, and for the whole afternoon, I was like, Oh man. How am I going to leave the apartment?
“Something changed after I listened to this album. I love Lou Reed, because his voice sounds like your inner conscience. When I read a book, it’s Lou Reed’s voice narrating it. It’s very intimate. I can’t really listen to this album casually. It’s like going to a museum and seeing a painting that really means something to you—a sacred moment. I don’t have many albums that do that for me.”
Berlin is an album that goes above and beyond the realms of expectation of its art form. The devastating tale that Reed expertly executes across ten tracks is a seminar in songwriting. The record has been there for Letissier when she had nothing else to cling to, and even now, it remains an immovable object in her life that she holds dear to her heart.