"For me, everything is a performance," says Héloïse Letissier, the French singer known by her stage name Christine and the Queens, ahead of her Coachella debut. She's not exaggerating: Ever since dropping her five-track EP, Saint Claude—a beautiful melange of dreamy melodies and pulsating synths—last spring, Letissier has both charmed and intrigued audiences with her gravelly voice and sexual ambiguity. On Saint Claude's opening track, "iT" (recently featured during the end credits of HBO's Girls), she repeatedly croons, "I'm a man now."
"I wish I could change bodies and destinies," she adds, before confessing that she's "always wanted to be a shape-shifter." A self-proclaimed pansexual, the 27-year-old moved to London after studying theater at École normale supérieure de Lyon in France and quickly immersed herself in the local drag scene. There, she found a backing band (her "Queens") before adopting her gender-neutral alter-ego and signing to Because Music, the trendy indie label home to Justice and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Below, we talked to Letissier about festival fashion, gender fluidity, and the enduring sartorial legacy of Prince.
How does it feel to play Coachella? You mentioned onstage that you used to stream it live from abroad.
I was such a music geek; I followed the live stream and stayed up late to see all the bands. ... I remember seeing Azealia Banks perform and she had total command of the stage. It feels unreal to be here now. Before I started making music, I never felt like I belonged at Coachella. The trajectory from then to now is quite dizzying sometimes, but it's beautiful. I feel like I'm part of something, and it feels quite good.
Now that you're here, is it what you expected?
Well, people warned me about the fact that it would be hot, and that's a very good thing to know! I was prepared for a really physical festival with bare bones performances, so I arrived like a boxer with a white T-shirt and jeans ready to go. I didn't expect so many famous people to be backstage, but I was trying to keep my cool. Then I saw Sky Ferreira and had to freak out in silence.
Your set was full of stage theatrics—you even emerged on stilts at one point. How important are visuals to your performance?
I'm always obsessed with how I can embody the song. I have amazing dancers with me, and I like to find small tricks that work efficiently. The costume is one of those. I'm all for danger!
Can you explain the significance of your moniker?
Christine was created out of my own obsession with gender. Now I feel like the topics I've been obsessed with for so long are finally starting to become a conversation. The first step is to make things visible. Now we have to do things. It's not only about talking—it's about trying to change things for real.
Your single, "iT" addresses gender issues too. Would you say the message of that song is both political and personal?
The capital letter "T" looks a bit like a dick, so it's quite phallic, actually! It's about owning the contradiction I have for wanting to be a man and having the same space, opportunities, and liberties as men. I didn't necessary want to change who I was, but I wanted to be a boss, free of any judgment. For me, it seemed easier to be a man. But I wrote that song four years ago. Now I would choose to be a woman and fight for every woman to have the same rights as a man.
Your androgynous alter-ego extends to your style as well. What is the importance of fashion to you as a person and as an artist?
Fashion is a way to transform yourself. By choosing your own silhouette and shape, you can constantly change who you are.
What are your thoughts on festival fashion? What did you pack in your suitcase?
I admire people here. It's a total hippie, owning-your-body vibe, but it's not something I know how to do. I'm a French girl: In April, we wear trench coats and T-shirts, and suddenly I'm in this environment of pure summer. I'm like Annie Hall dripping in sweat because I'm trying to keep my cool with jeans. I prefer to keep it simple—if you have the right white T-shirt with rolled up sleeves, the right sunnies, and the right trousers, you're good to go. The simpler I am, the more efficient I feel.
Who influences you sartorially?
I'm kind of obsessed with Bruce Springsteen—the T-shirt and jeans look for me is appealing. Prince was great as well. He designed all of his outfits himself and looked exactly how he wanted to look. He was in complete control of his image.
Listen to "iT" above, and buy Christine and the Queens for $8 through the iTunes Store.