Christine and the Queens' new album is an operatic exploration of grief and angels
Editor's note on June 12, 2023: This piece has been updated to remove Chris' deadname.
Christine and the Queens is fascinated by angels.
They appear throughout the shape-shifting French pop artist's fourth album, a sprawling 20-track LP called Paranoïa, Angels, True Love.
The creative force behind Christine and the Queens is just one guy, Chris, who describes himself as "a very tiny French man."
When Chris spoke to NPR's Morning Edition, he was about to celebrate his 35th birthday. He sees the day as an opportunity to be both "introspective and festive."
"But what is time?" Chris asks. "What is 35? What is 70? What if I just forget my age as I grow older and then I become 12 again? That'd be fire. I would love that."
He says this album is, essentially, an opera. "It's kind of the best-fitting word in the sense that I wrote this record very fast, like a series of visions, and the whole day was resonating weirdly. Like life became the opera. And the music was just a distillation of that crazy journey."
Paranoïa, Angels, True Love — a co-production with American record producer Mike Dean — features appearances by Madonna and 070 Shake. Unlike his last album, Redcar les Adorables étoiles, this one is written almost entirely in English.
Drawing inspiration from Tony Kushner's play Angels in America, which examines the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Chris presents his own "conversations with the invisible."
The singer-songwriter lost his mother in 2019, and much of the album is about living through that grief — and finding communion with the dead.
In True Love, he sings: "Angel of light/ Take me higher/ Make me forget my mother/ With your dark brown eyes staring at me/ With your dark eyes staring at me."
Chris spoke with A Martinez about what it means to mourn, heal and move forward.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
A: What do angels represent to you, considering what you went through with your mom?
Chris: The shift of energy, losing someone in this physical plane and losing your mom, depending on the relationship you have, but I actually happen to adore my mom. So that experience of love through grief was very impressive because something was gone. For sure, she was gone. But the crazy thing is, I never felt she was truly, absolutely gone. Like my soul always felt still linked to her. And there was dignity in the grief I was having. I think also grief is just another expression of the love you have for someone... So then it can become a celebration of everything, by you staying brave inside of this world for the ones who left it as well. I think angels are also this. She probably finally turned into one angel for me, because she's immaterial. But I feel her.
A: We have to talk about Madonna. I mean, she's kind of like this angel voice on this. How did she end up on this record?
Chris: Very ambivalent voice. Her character is called Big Eye. So it could be this dystopian, almost computer voice of the simulation, because that's what she says. But it might be a trap, because she also might be the angel. She might be my mom. She basically might be everyone. That's what I said to her, because I had to explain the pitch of the whole shenanigan on FaceTime. And I pitched this idea very, very softly and fast. And she said, "You're insane. I'll do it." I felt anointed at that.
A: What does reinvention mean to you in your art and life?
Chris: Yeah, interestingly, the intricacy with me is actually my layers on stage, as I go further in time, actually feel more like me, precising myself, sharpening my blade, arriving. It's a slow Shakespearean arrival, it's a very tiny French man with lots of crazy ideas moving toward you with his masks falling off slowly. And actually, my many names, I often say. It's almost like a poet's way to figure the intricacy of yourself out from the inside. And when I was young, I was always saying, "oh, the stage is the performance." I was lying. I was a bit of a coward. The stage has always been my truth. And the rest of my life was the lie, the performance, the hiding out.
A: I wanted to ask you about your song, "Flowery Days." It's just you, a piano, a bass and drums. You sing: "When I die of love/ All seeds will scatter 'round/ In yellow dusty sounds into the flowery days." What does it mean to "die of love?"
Chris: My heart is so passionate. And then, I fall in love so hard that sometimes I feel I would probably die of that feeling, of heartbreak, of loving someone so hard that it's impossible to just move on. I wrote that song in a very precise moment. I was just sitting at my desk. And I was feeling the pain of heartbreak, which is also one of the losses of this record. There was some dignity there in just imagining myself into the flowers. Into the forest like a knight who decided to die for his love. It's a very literal song. It's a very exposing one.
A: Have you ever come close to dying of love or feeling like you wanted to die of love?
Chris: Yes, yes. I'm very romantic, I guess. But I'm still alive. So, onwards.
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