La vita nuova: Drawing strength with Christine and the Queens
With a fully-realised new EP and an accompanying short film, Christine and the Queens makes it known that there’s no-one quite like her.
Any fan of Christine and the Queens will be quick to tell you how she’s unlike anyone else. Her debut album, 2014’s Chaleur Humaine, brought charming soft-pop to life in three different forms (English and French versions of the original version, plus a deluxe edition), welcoming a new face to pop at a time where the world was realising that the best pop music doesn’t always have to come from the same-looking, same-speaking pop forces that have dominated for so long. Then there was her second album Chris, a career-encapsulating record that placed Christine and the Queens’ rich, sensual synth-pop in centre frame, without any dilution whatsoever.
Brought to life by a hyper-masculinsed persona titled Chris, the record saw Héloïse Letissier tackle identity, sensuality, sexuality and gender with a synth-painted jackhammer: Girlfriend saw her reject identities placed upon her by those trying to categorise her; 5 dollars speaks of love (“the kind you can buy,” Christine mentions in an interview); Doesn’t matter battles mental health’s unspoken relationship with sex (“Cause the suicidal thoughts that are still in my head / Give her that awful side-smile when I lay in bed,” she sings).
It was a record that placed Christine and the Queens in the limelight. No longer was she the softly-spoken new face of French pop music, most likely known from advertising syncs and indie film soundtracks. From Chris’ release, Christine and the Queens was something else: words like “confident”, “sexual” and “powerful” littered album reviews, and a sense of ‘stan culture’ - typically reserved for hyper-femme, English-speaking pop women - began to revolve around Christine personifying someone ‘macho’, dominative and (obviously) French. She’s since appeared on songs by Charli XCX, become a go-to weapon of festival stages and sold-out headline shows, and her next moves are always in-demand, even if it’s by a cult-adoring audience.
La vita nuova doesn’t just keep this cult audience fed, but it’s also the most potent and identity-rich exploration of Christine and the Queens thus far. If Chaleur Humaine was a sonic introduction and Chris is an introduction of Christine and the Queens’ identity, then La vita nuova is a record that takes this to the next step, exploring every crevice and facet of Christine and the Queens and the artist behind her.
Switching between French and English, it’s a release that ushers Christine and the Queens into its most realised form, further exploring the sense of identity with the knowledge learned from Christine in analysing herself for Chris and its eventual success. People, I’ve been sad is an aching, bilingual ballad that places Christine in the centre limelight, where she can’t be hidden - “Been taking calls I should have missing out / Forsaking things for way too long,” she sings - while its title track, assisted by Caroline Polachek, modernises a medieval conception of love into the current day, keeping the central story at its core: “I want you to touch me with your anger / I want you to touch me with your fury,” Polachek sings in Italian.
Arriving with a short film, La vita nuova expands on Chris to show Christine and the Queens’ many facets. She dominative, strong-handed and masculine - as showed on Chris - but she’s also the opposite, and this balance is bringing itself to life. It’s rich with the emotions you’d expect from someone exploring a devastating break-up, and the down-below complexities that often don’t find themselves in surface-level pop music designed to be accessible and easy-to-digest. That is, however, what makes La vita nuova so impactful. There are very little people in pop exploring emotive intensity as heavy as this, let alone in a way that makes it digestible - bar Chris, of course, and collaborators and friends such as Polachek.
Sonically, La vita nuova is paced to the tempo you’d expect from a more reflective record, built on emotions and balance. It’s slower moving than Chris, with just as heavier of a lean on synth but instead, through soft ripples and slow-crashing waves. Mountains (we met) pushes with an emotional intensity that makes you feel like Christine is attempting to move mountains themselves; a sparse production pushing and pulling, back and forth, amongst her swelling vocals. Nada positions deep-voiced spoken vocal with chiming melodies and soft soundscapes, while Je disparais dans tes bras - the English version being the EP’s bonus track, I disappear in your arms - moves with a more upbeat pace, but still encapsulates the pain shared throughout.
In its short film accompaniment, you get a more fleshed-out idea of La vita nuova’s story. It’s an EP built on love, romance and its crossroads with ideas such as sex, mental health and identity. Set in Paris’ Palais Garnier Opera House, you see Christine and the Queens move with the haunting pace the album presents sound-wise, balancing the darkness with lightness - later on, Chris is joined by Polachek for a strange, vampire ball - and balancing La vita nuova’s highs with lows.
Pitchfork brings up a good point, in their review of La vita nuova. In an interview with The Guardian, Christine and the Queens once spoke on the male dominance in theatre, and how she directed her own piece at an arts school where only males could direct. Skip forward, and Christine and the Queens has a platform that the rest would no doubt dream for, and it’s an empowering moment that summarises everything remarkable about La vita nuova and the fleshed-out, fully realised vision it brings.
Now, the only question is what vision Christine gives us next.
Christine and the Queens' new EP and short film, La vita nuova, is out now via Because Music / Caroline Australia.
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