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“Weird” is a favourite English word for Héloïse Letissier, leader of Christine and the Queens — as in “This job is weird” (meaning being a pop star), or “That was the weirdest gig I ever played and perhaps also the best”.
Both utterances came during her show at the Roundhouse, where a capacity crowd of 1,700 had gathered to witness the French chart-topper in action. A proportion of those present were from her homeland, but many were not. The first Christine and the Queens album, Chaleur Humaine, has been re-recorded partly in English and warmly received in the UK and the US.
Christine and the Queens make what Letissier describes as “freakpop”. “If everyone is a disguise, I choose my own way to arise,” she sang in the opening number, “Starshipper”. In the next song, “Half Ladies”, she announced, “I’m one of the guys,” while neatly dancing in formation with several male dancers. With her long hair and black trouser suit, singing bilingually in English and French, Letissier personified the track’s androgynous title.
Her songs treat identity and gender as a performance. An earlier visit to London was the inspiration, when Letissier was befriended by drag queens at a Soho burlesque club. But for all the sexually amorphous lyrics — “She’s a man now”, “I walk like a boy” — her act is less weird than those of like-minded performers such as FKA Twigs or Grimes.
At the Roundhouse her singing was impeccable, forceful but not overwrought. The stage lighting was artful, summed up by the array of sloping neon tubes that was arranged above her for the pulsing electronic pop of “Tilted”. Three backing musicians played guitar, keyboards, synthesisers and drum pads. They moved fluently through a well-structured set, from the smooth 1980s synth-pop of “iT” to a vibrant techno reworking of “Ugly-Pretty”.
Letissier was a charismatic frontwoman, out to please rather than provoke. A wardrobe malfunction during the house music-themed “Intranquillité” resulted in her trousers splitting, a PJ Proby-esque mishap which she overcame with good humour. That was why she called it the “weirdest” gig of her career. But it wasn’t really a bizarre evening, more a stylish and highly entertaining one.