‘I Felt More Comfortable Raging in English’
‘I Felt More Comfortable Raging in English’
Recently, Chris — a.k.a. Christine and the Queens, or Redcar, or Red — began talking to angels. It had been a difficult few years for the 34-year-old French singer: He lost his beloved mother, went through a breakup, officially adopted he/him pronouns at an excruciatingly transphobic moment in history, and released an eccentric concept album (2022’s Redcar les adorables ètoiles) that, by his own account, baffled fans and critics alike. Calling on spirits was a way to gain wisdom and guidance through grief, and the practice eventually served as the inspiration for his latest project, Paranoia, Angels, True Love.
Chris’s music has always been tinged with the avant-garde, defying easy categorization and pushing the boundaries of pop. 2014’s Chaleur Humaine, a sparkling debut that vaulted him to stardom in his home country, saw him singing about “draw[ing] her own crotch, by herself” and “dying before Methuselah”; on 2018’s confident, sultry Chris, he mused cheekily about not “feeling like a girlfriend,” but “damn, I’d be your lover”; and his pandemic-era EP La Vita Nuova dug into bone-deep sadness and featured an accompanying short film in which he morphs into a seductive vampire. Paranoia, Angels, True Love (out June 9) is equally ambitious. Loosely based on Tony Kushner’s 1991 opus, Angels in America, about gay men manifesting their own angelic visions amid the AIDS epidemic, the album is overflowing with fresh, heady ideas and contradictions both sonic and philosophical.
When Chris hops on Zoom with me from Paris a few weeks before its release, he tells me he specifically identifies with Prior Walter, one of Kushner’s protagonists, who directly engages with — and ultimately wrestles — an angel who tries to get him to halt all earthly progress. “I like his flamboyance,” says Chris, who is by turns goofily expressive and contemplative during our conversation. “I think he has such great humor and shiny anger. There’s something very dignifying in his fright and his emotions. He has a deliciously human texture. And he’s introduced to the higher dimension — I guess I was calling that fate on myself.”
That dimension is where Paranoia, Angels, True Love lives. The 20-track LP is hyperpersonal but enigmatic, spiritually minded but extremely horny, extraterrestrial but grounded. It’s about grief and sex and fear and hope and Madonna, who pops up on several tracks in voice-over as an omnipotent, Angels-esque presence known as Big Eye. The whole thing is potent and poetically discursive — and, much like the seven-and-a-half-hour Angels, if you’re patient, it rewards you with deep catharsis.
I spoke with Chris about performing while grieving, recording his new album in a haunted house in Los Angeles, and why he felt more comfortable rage-singing in English.
Angels in America is my favorite play of all time, and I was thrilled to read that it was your primary inspiration for this. When did you first see it?Every time I work, there’s an all-encompassing thing that happens where life just nudges me in a direction and inspires me. I knew the play when I was younger because I got my start in theater; I wanted to be a stage director, so I was obsessed with plays, and that one really caught my eye because of the writing. It was very Jean Genet, this French writer whom I love, and very Shakespearean. I was struck by the dramaturgy. And watching the Mike Nichols HBO adaptation during lockdown reintroduced me to the genius idea of angels being embraced as a presence, the grand gesture of what it means when an angel appears and disrupts your life — they’re terrifying and brutal.
What I think is brilliant, though, is the happy end of the play. We know Prior is doomed — men dying of AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s are so doomed in the collective imagination. I thought the great solace was to choose a happy ending. Subconsciously I picked that play because I wanted to manifest that for myself.
How so?I was praying to angels, and thinking about the invisible, because of my grief. I had just written a song called “We Have to Be Friends,” and it felt administered by a voice that didn’t belong to me in a way that I understood. I felt summoned to lucidity. And I started to be intentional about everything I loved about the invisible: Oftentimes in my career, the songs I kept on my records have been the ones that arrived to me, like “Doesn’t Matter” or “Saint Claude,” little miracles I can’t fully explain. This record was very much me surrendering to that process. I wanted to make it even more like friction in the fabric of space and time. To quest deeper because I was very heartbroken.
Angels are all over the album, and you have a website called “Time of the Angels.” What’s going on there?Time of the Angels is where I just post poetry and pictures. We all know there’s such an overload of everything — we lead really agitated lives saturated with content. I wanted to create a space of contemplation and open hearts, where someone can just meet the art. This is me trying to find ways to be online, leaving little nudges here and there.
It’s more than an album for me, it is a distillation of the choices I was making in my life. I’ve been shifting my energy toward music as a way to question the deeper questions. I surrendered to things I was writing without fully understanding them as a way to make my artistry more precise. I’m praying to angels every day; it’s an all-encompassing process, and the record is a resonance of that. It changed my music as well. I was taken to new places harmonically. I was singing everything in one take. When it’s written in 20 minutes, the overthinking is gone.
You wrote some of these songs in 20 minutes? Yeah. I rarely write lyrics first; I work on the production. I just turn the mic on and launch the horses. There’s devotion in that practice that infuses my life — I started working on how to be a better human so that the music could resonate with something greater. And I put more faith into my practice. I was not just trying to write songs. I was trying to understand something, waiting for visions. I was thinking a lot about non-artists who are struck by something invisible and moved to produce art. As I wrote the songs, I was in a state of self-hypnosis almost all the time. I’d wake up really early and write. And the rest of the day I was praying and walking for hours in L.A., doing poetry on my own, for no one.
When you say pray, is there a religious dimension? Who or what are you praying to?I’m praying to the spiritual dimension of my work and my life. Religion is so interesting and tragic because it’s a language of power, made to install rules. For me, that’s not what spirituality is about. But I definitely love the form of praying as a way to believe in, notice, and observe energy. I became interested in the study of how music can create a cradle for everybody’s emotions. I started to think heavily about rock and roll, actually. I started really listening deeply to Led Zeppelin, which I didn’t know much about. I was like, What a fantastic piece of catharsis for someone to receive. The singer is a shaman, going wild, telling a story, telling the truth.
I’m always trying to think about how artists are relevant. Fame obliterates the function of an artist and of art, which is for me, coming from theater, a place for everybody to process their emotions. It’s hard to let yourself cry. Sometimes, I need a piece of music — maybe one that’s 12 minutes long, where I have the space to unwind — to help. So I thought, If I want to be that kind of performer who’s cathartic for other people, I have to be somebody who can surrender to music and see what happens.
You performed at Coachella this year after canceling your weekend two set in 2019 because of your mother’s sudden death. What was it like to return to that stage?I knew I had to come back. At one point, earlier in my journey with losing my mom, I was really struck by grief. I thought I couldn’t be of service anymore on stage. I got the fright of, My heart is dead. I was so numb. But now I’m ready to come back and share. I was also armed with some new songs from this record, which is helping me solidify and understand my grief. So I felt like it was the time to do it. I actually prayed … [Laughs.] People are going to be like, Is he praying all the time? Sometimes! I delineated the space of the performance as one of celebration. So it felt very special, intense, and mineral inside those big mountains. I asked the big mountains to protect me, so I felt very … [Roars] And the people were very hippie. They were receiving the music like plants. [Chris begins playfully waving like a palm tree in the breeze.]
When did that change for you — feeling like your heart was dead to feeling like you had something to give an audience?Just shortly after I lost my mother; I had to go back onstage fast. I had one gig where I felt very numb. But in every painful thing, there is something to be grateful for. We don’t like to talk about that in our society — things have to be so gleaming and accomplished. But some things do hurt. Grief can be ugly and terrible. And I felt lonely. But I addressed this pain and celebrated it: Let’s see what kind of man I am in this grief. And it turns out, I was a true man. [Laughs.]
What does that mean to you?Just to relax into what I always felt. This is something I have been fighting with my entire life, before I was able to accept it. And by the way, my music has always been very prescient. The second song I ever wrote was “iT.” Inside the music was everything I needed. It was a huge moment in therapy, realizing that the stage was not just a stage. I was compartmentalizing. It was very cute trying to understand myself.
What took you from “iT” to that moment in therapy?I’ve been singing with my heart since the beginning. My heart started to sing first because I got it broken when I started writing music. I think it just poured out. My heart sang the truth. Which feels good. I feel like a man of value. I’m talking too much about it. But it’s also so personal. I think it was that I didn’t have to be a daughter anymore. That’s really the change.
That’s powerful, to let go of that performance.We all have so many things to perform for everybody — I’m not the only one. It’s complicated, because I also loved my mother so much. When you lose people, you sometimes become more yourself, which is terrible. Because you have nothing to lose; you’ve lost them. And as you become more you, you love them more and you understand them better. The good thing about healing your heart is you can truly learn to love and forgive so many things.
“I had one gig where I felt very numb,” says Chris, about returning to the stage shortly after losing his mother. “But in every painful thing, there is something to be grateful for.”Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella
The concept of performance is so embedded in your work. I love how you’ve taken on several names and personae over the course of your career: Heloise, Christine and the Queens, Chris, Joseph, Redcar. Is there a persona or specific name tied to this record?It’s very funny, people talk a lot about performance onstage in my art — when I truly feel my stage is my stream, as clear as water. My many names are just an expression of my multitude, which we all have. My life outside my work is the performance. The exhausting performance. I jump in a cab in France, and they call me by my birth name and it’s triggering. I am trying to become more myself. And “myself” is Redcar plus Chris plus Christine and the Queens. Christine and the Queens is actually the mechanism of my imagination, saving me. Finding a Shakespearean way to tell the truth, like in Angels in America. I’ve always been flourishing with many names. My reality now is all of those names in one. But I love that people call me “Red.” And I’m aware it’s kind of, like, exhausting. But so many rappers can alternate with so many facets. Why can’t I have five or more cards in my game? [Laughs.] Or more!
I don’t think it’s exhausting. It reminds me again of Angels in America, the idea of morphing and shedding skins. Yes. And each actor plays several parts. It feels like my many names just deepen my character.
Your last album was almost entirely in French. This one is almost entirely in English. You’ve swapped back and forth over the course of your work. What does each language mean to you artistically?This record was made in America. So I surrendered to who I could be in America, which was more myself, at the stage that I was at. Sometimes you have to go where nobody knows you to have a different name. I started to use my pronouns. I feel like English is also a space for me to explore further away from my past. The French language is loaded for me. It’s a maternal language. It’s beautiful but intricate. English gives me new possibilities without losing my poetry. I wrote the whole record in English probably because I felt more comfortable raging in English. And I wrote Redcar as a letter to France; it was a distillation of my research in French, for the French people. But it got misunderstood, of course. I always joke that I did an experimental ’80s French record in France. They tend to chastise first, then embrace. [Laughs.] I always say, “Redcar 2026.”
As in Redcar wasn’t understood in its time?Oh, yeah. I was working with a very rough sound, like a dirty cathedral. And I’m talking about actually being a knight. It was risqué, for the dandyism of being risqué. I mean, I loved doing Redcar. I loved it as a piece of theater. It was only three nights of performance, and I wanted the record and the performances to be like a Jodoroswky-infused setup, where I was inserting myself like a key in a lock, to just understand why I wrote that record. It was dashingly experimental, raw but energized by hallucinations. Sparks from the beyond. Like, What exactly did we take?
Also, my body broke at that time. My leg folded in two during dress rehearsals. It was like Terry Gilliam’s movie about donkey hunting. Full of crazy imagination, and I felt like I had to prove myself. Like, “Okay, my leg is broken, I’ll do Redcar limping!” My team was like, “Can you stop?!” I was like, “No! This is Redcar. Redcar is a limper!” [Laughs] They were like, “Oh my God.”
There’s an element of horror in Redcar, too. The video for “Le Chanson de Chevalier” is freaky.I know. [Grins.] But it’s a love song! It’s the horrific territory of some love stories. It’s very Kubrick. I was thinking a lot about the meticulousness of insanity. Contained madness.
Like those character videos you posted, tied to the record, on Instagram and TikTok. They read as a bit Lynchian to me, a little Andy Kaufman–ish.Oh, yeah. I love Andy Kaufman so much. There is a sublimated-Greek-tragedy vibe in him, which is very cathartic to me. Like Prior in Angels in America, he ended up agonizing alone. My gentle soul is enamored by the whole trajectory of him.
Those videos were very misunderstood in France. People were like, “He’s insane.” I was like, “The answer is probably yes, but does it really matter at this stage?” People got really worried for me, and I was like, “It’s theater!” I was flattered at some point, though: They really think I’m that insane! I got tempted, like, Maybe I shouldn’t say anything … I wanted to reinstate the mystery. I can’t even crack a joke! I have lots of humor in my life, but it’s a deeply strong coping mechanism as well. Sometimes I think I should joke less. It’s a way for me to be polite with life’s adversity.
I think you strike a good balance. The insanity was the point and the joke. Thank you! Some people get it. You’re in 2026, that’s why. Redcar was “Paranoia,” actually. I feel this record we’re talking about is “Angels.” I suspect “True Love” has yet to be written.
Meaning the new album isn’t actually encompassing all three themes that you list in the title — that the themes are actually broken out over Redcar, this album, and an upcoming third album?Even I understood this a bit late. Oh, Redcar sounds like paranoia. In this album, an angel is at its core, and it exploded from there. It sounds possessed by angels. I felt transported like I’ve never been before by music. It really changed me drastically.
How have your previous records changed you?Chaleur humaine is my introduction to music, the distillation of my work as a writer-producer. It was the beginning of the conversation between me and the industry. I remember crying in the studio, the tension between the musician I wanted to become and how things are done. But I am quite proud of this record. Chris, I remember lots of power. I was happy, in love, loved well. I felt alive. I was thinking a lot about Madonna and what she was doing to deflect the male gaze with this joyful sense of pleasure. My journey with production got more intense; I want to be able to learn how to mix soon, to be more self-reliant.
The way this record changed me is a bit beyond me. I wrote the record alone in a haunted house in Los Feliz. And I surrendered to it. I loved it. And I suspected my mom was somehow blessing me because the conversation was incessant with her.
Did you have any ghostly experiences?I saw Einstein! [Laughs.] He explained everything to me. Time is not real, and real is fake! No, it just felt … not empty. Shadows at the corner of my eye. I was like “Hello …?” I was very respectful because I’d just started my journey. I was like, “I’d love not to die yet. I have just started this piece. Thanks for your help and don’t murder me at the end of it. I’m touring this record!”
Let’s talk about Madonna. You first met in 2015 when she pulled you onstage during her Rebel Hearts tour, bent you over and spanked you, handed you a banana, called you “Christina,” and said she loved your work. Did you know in advance that all of that was going to happen?Yes, her choreographer texted me, “Hey, do you want to appear onstage?” I feel like she tested me a bit. She’s a dominatrix, really. So when I met her, I just abided by and respected that: “You can call me Christina. Hopefully you’ll see me again, and maybe this time you won’t call me Christina.” [Laughs.] It’s playful. The funny thing is, I crossed paths with her again through a dancer that toured with her; Madonna is a legend inside the dance world, and I work so much with dancers. And Chris was so infused with her wit — she has a strong wit and a strong whip!
How did you end up getting her on this new record, and who is this Big Eye character she plays for you?Working with Mike Dean, we ended up on a poem uttered on YouTube by one of those artificial, computer-generated voices. I was like, “That’s uncanny, but it sounds like Madonna. I wonder if the voice was shaped around such an iconic one for comfort.” So I started to think about an ambivalent character who is an all-encompassing eye. Kind of like the Laurie Anderson song “O Superman,” where you don’t know what the voice is — is it the all-knowing power of love? Is it just a computer in the end?
And I was like, Madonna could actually play a Broadway character on this record. She’s such a fantastic actress. So Mike took the phone and called her. I was like, “Ahh, I’m not quite there yet!” But I had to be ready in a few seconds, so I explained it, and she said, “You’re crazy. I’ll do it.”
Did you ever see her in person again?We had dinner. She’s such an amazing entity. I see her as a reincarnation of a British dandy, a very sophisticated mind. She’s so in control. It must be exhausting. But she’s so strong as well.
What did you talk about?Life. Art. Pain. Jesus. Pop music. Photographic paintings. The afterlife. Angels. Friendships. Body pain. Mind strength. Real shit. I was like, “Damn! You’re lovable!” Sometimes I am asking for protection from her. And she always sends back something kind.
You text that request to her?Uhhh, yeah. Maybe she will hate it if I say that.
People are going to be like, Is he praying all the time? Sometimes!
In a piece last year, you spoke about frustrations you were having with your record label, specifically that it was sort of hamstringing you in terms of when and how you wanted your music to be released. Did you resolve that, and how?Through dialogue. Boring! [Laughs.] It was also around Redcar that I felt really itchy. I have such a cathartic relationship to the stage, and like other artists, with lockdown and everything, I wasn’t in my element for years. I was eager to be more spontaneous with making my music exist. But these people care about the music, and they think it’s better to be done in a certain way. Sometimes you have gut feelings as an artist, though. Ideally, you don’t fight and you collaborate. Sometimes the art is blocked a bit more because you feel so eager but you don’t have a full range, because I am not fully independent.
But it was resolved after the three Redcar shows. I’ve been signed to the same record label since the beginning, and I’m kind of a faithful dude. We’ve had ups and downs, but overall I make the music that I want. It’s ongoing, but it’s always a conversation — you have to take the heavy load of protecting the intention. God knows it’s a tough moment in the industry, and sometimes I just panic. But I embrace the fact that if I want to make the music I want, I have to step up for it more. Go into an office and put the tie on, like, “Listen! I personally feel we must drop it … tomorrow!” [Laughs.] I am thinking about releasing more and more music. I want fewer gaps in between, if I am allowed. Because people at the label can vote for me to reduce the amount.
Do you usually win those arguments?I have had a long relationship with them, so sometimes it becomes familial. I feel like it’s okay now. I think the grand gesture, my agitation — they respect it in the end. They’re a French indie label, and they still get caught on the feelings around a work. But the market is a bit tougher. When I arrived with Redcar, I knew it would be hard and not radio-friendly. But I’m obsessed with browsing through an artist’s work over time, with legacy. I’m keeping the bigger puzzle in mind.
Does this one feel more radio-friendly to you? Do you even think about that?I started to stop thinking about that. I feel like whenever I did, it just fucked me over. I guess we’ll see! That’s also the exciting part. You can’t master that. So you should just do your best, rawest work. This one is very raw.
You’ve always pushed against the corporatization of queer identity, this idea that visibility equals progress, and you’ve also spoken about the need for art to feel dangerous — that safety and glossiness is the death of art and of queer art specifically. Were these things you were thinking about when making this record?Not really. This time I didn’t want to think about the metatext of queerness and gender at all. I think I am quite pessimistic on the state of that. It’s very normalized now to have everybody get excited about rainbow T-shirts for Pride Month, all while people are being killed and laws are being passed for inequality. Since I was very young, I always suspected when they asked these questions with gleaming eyes: “Oh, you feel like you’re queer?” Gleaming in a way that felt unhealthy — not with curiosity, but with fetishism. I felt so trapped early on. But writing this record, it was just an absolute experience of music. An unadorned moment. My life after this record — I became more acute in how I want to exist as someone who doesn’t abide by that system.
So coming back to the industry with the new knowledge of who I am, and expressing who I am, I was terrified that yet again I would be eaten by the big machine. It’s still commodified. We’re still classified as “queer artists,” which doesn’t mean anything. Because art is deeply queer. It’s a human choice, a free will that warps reality. Queer is the act of warping what is constraining. It should be more celebrated as a force than as a state. I don’t know if I am queer, but some of my gestures are deeply queer.
It feels like more and more of a scam to feel like I should be happy because I am picked on a queer playlist, or whatever. Actual life and society are not changing enough. There is regression in the United States. In France, it’s not even a question yet, transgender rights. My best path as a trans person is to speak less of the state in which I live my everyday life and be more a man of practice. Of doing. Like SOPHIE, who changed modern production, and thank God she was also doing her art as an extreme expression of what she could not always explain with words. That state of transcendence — we can all reach it, really. Just because you’re born in a specific body, doesn’t mean your soul can’t shine with different lights. Everybody has his own poem. We are so different. Why would we kill the poem inside the throat?
It’s refreshing to hear you talk about it in this way. Thank you. I feel like more and more I should live in America.
Go back to your haunted house!Yes! It’s been calling me.
This interview has been edited and condensed
Prior asks the angels for “more life” and receives itWhere Chris sings, “I’m a man now.”The Man Who Killed Don QuixoteDean, best known for his work with Ye and Travis Scott, co-produced the recordChristine and the Queens has been signed to the independent record label Because Music since 2012.