Chris, one of two albums that Hèloïse Letissier recorded this year under the moniker Christine and the Queens, aims to subvert the male gaze. But not necessarily in the way we’re often used to seeing. Female artists have attempted to subvert this gaze in a number of ways throughout their music and videos—infantilizing themselves to mirror the way men patronize women, changing their appearance to appear more traditionally masculine, appearing scary, gross or violent to ward off suitors, to use a female gaze to objectify males’ bodies, etc.
But the approach she takes on Chris feels fresh, especially powerful and provocative. She reclaims female sexuality by adopting the physical movements and overtly sexual lyrics typically attributed to a dominant, horny male. On “Girlfriend,” she points out men’s selfishness to only satisfy their own needs during intercourse, highlights the tired real-life question she gets about her own gender and sexual identities, and even “manspreads” in the track’s video. The track, which features Dam-Funk, pairs her glossy pop vocals with a funky Nile Rodgers-like guitar riff and hi-fi ‘80s synths, making for a slick ultra-modern yet classic pop sound.
The persona that she takes on with Chris isn’t a costume she puts on and later discards and it’s not a vehicle for escape or hiding. This adopted persona is a more fully realized version of herself—confident, sensual, unruffled and not conforming to anyone else’s ideas of gender or sexuality. Timeliness of her lyrics aside, these are compelling, danceable pop songs with flickers of R&B and bass lines that any pop group would be jealous of.
“Comme si” portrays the relationship between artist and consumers as an erotic spark—an artist’s smooth, seductive reaching out to an unsuspecting listener. Like Courtney Barnett’s “Nameless, Faceless” (“I hold my keys between my fingers”), “The Walker” chronicles a female stroll down the street, but she takes a domineering approach (“If they’re looking down I’m offering my chin”). It’s a radical statement, given that a lot women actively avoid eye contact when out and about as a means of self-protection. While a light rain of cymbals and divine backing vocals are equally refreshing, they give an outward veneer of innocence to the song’s cocksure lyrical muscles.
On the piano-laden “5 Dollars,” with its ungodly beautiful chorus vocals, she empowers frequently-demeaned sex workers (“You’re eager and unashamed / Aggrieved by dying every night baby / Prove them wrong when you get / Five dollars”) and on “Goya Soda,” she pulls sexual imagery from the works of Spanish painter Francisco Goya with a pop chorus that’s bubbly and sweet enough to justify the title.
The majority of the record’s second half is noticeably less upbeat, though she doesn’t squander the remaining tracks—they’re equally contemplative and sometimes brooding (“What’s-Her-Face”). Her dance-pop and funky synth-pop easily parallels the intrigue of her brawny lyrics and though she may feel frustration from the record’s narrative being solely steered towards her pansexuality, new short hairdo or the record’s relevant themes in the wake of #MeToo, let it be known that this is one of the finest pop works of the year.