Beyond the big names, free stuff and non-stop parties, the real reason everyone comes to SxSW is to discover The Next Big Thing.
This year, that is most definitely Christine and the Queens.
Already a star in her native France, Christine (born Héloïse Letissier) is making her US debut at SxSW after signing to Neon Gold Records. To see Christine live is to become a believer and join the ranks of fans such as Lorde, Mark Ronson and Madonna. Her mix of modern pop and killer choreography seduces and slays in equal measure, with refrains of "Who's that girl?" echoing throughout each new crowd she has performed for here in Austin.
Her concert at the Neon Gold records showcase on Saturday night is no exception to this rule. With the queue stretching down two blocks and many people waiting upwards of three hours to see a stellar line-up including such established acts as Marina and The Diamonds, Ms Mr and The Knocks, Christine more than holds her own, all rock star swagger and MJ moves.
This contrasts with the Christine I meet earlier in the day for an interview. Off stage she is a thoughtful intellectual whose bookish Clark Kent charm barely hints at her onstage pop persona. Speaking impeccable English, she gives forthright answers in a manner many other pop stars shy away from. When asked if she is a feminist, her answer in unequivocal: "I am a confirmed, firm and vigorous one." Christine is the very definition of one of her favorite words in English: fierce.
Following are a few excerpts from our chat.
You can watch the full interview below in my final SxSW video report made with support from Spotify, which includes a special playlist with Christine. You can also check out the music playlist here:
As a woman in pop music, there seem to be basic paradigms one has to choose from, having either a "sexy image" or a "punk rock" image, but you seem to have invented something new. Is that something you really had to think of?
Christine was born because of that. Because of me basically being tired of being a young woman in this society. I know it's a bit cheesy to say it like that, but the character in itself was born because I wanted to break free from lots of things. And I didn't want to be pretty anymore, and I didn't want to be worried about being pretty. Christine was basically a major "fuck [you]" to all that.
I [said to myself] ok, so I don't have to worry about being pretty and nice and polite the whole time. And so I wanted her to be this character, this free woman, who could be free to desire whomever she wanted, instead of being desirable herself.
So this is why she wears men's suits and uses that symbol. Because I wanted to be the one who desires and who leads.
Basically Christine is a feminist character for me. It's a way I found to be more daring.
You seem to be transformed when you're on stage, was it always this way?
I have this stage disease, in a good way - when I'm on stage, I'm good. I don't know how to explain it. People come up to me and say "you looked taller on stage" and I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that I'm [standing] above them, I think it's a way of behaving. And it fades away when I'm off stage and I'm back to this awkward, shy, tiny persona.
I don't know why it happens, but it feels like nothing can go wrong when I'm on stage.
I have a few tracks to play which hopefully you'll like (Perfume Genius - Queen)
An amazing songwriter. I'm in love with the way he expresses his difference and his queerness. The song is beautiful because it's about self-hatred, but it becomes glorious at some point. And I think it's something that really moves me, something that can be related to the drag scene as well. It comes from sufferings and wounds, which you transform into crowns. This is how it all started for me, this idea of working with your scars in a way. That's a bit dramatic...