Fluid flamboyance: French star Christine and the Queens becomes Chris

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The new album by Heloise Letissier, aka Christine and the Queens, rebels against a binary masculine and feminine definition of gender

Heloise Letissier, the million-selling French pop singer who became a global star as Christine and the Queens, cannot stop shape-shifting.

For her second album, which is out Friday, Christine has morphed yet again and become Chris.

Gone is the long hair and the finely cut suits, replaced by a short butch k. d. lang cut with pirate earrings and open shirts.

Even her body seems to have become more masculine, muscular and toned.

Her new alias Chris is also more carnal and direct, Letissier told AFP, and "wants to explore 1,000 ways of talking about desire".

Sex and sexuality ooze from the album, also called "Chris", with fiercely personal songs like "Girlfriend / Damn, dis-moi" (Damn, tell me) followed by a daring video for "5 dollars".

"An album is always a photograph, and it is quite true to where I am," said the singer, who proudly asserts herself as a "queer woman".

"I like to work on the ambivalence of my femininity," she told AFP, even if that does not go down as easily in her native France as it does in Britain and elsewhere.

"I find that in France I have to explain myself more," she said.

"There is always something that might freak people before it's accepted. In England it's more fluid."

- 'Gut reaction' -

"Chris" is already getting the kind of rave reviews that greeted her debut "Human Warmth" three years ago.

"It's an album crossed by strong and conflicting feelings, very visceral, very gut-reaction, and the sound had to be up to the mark," said Letissier, 30.

"I have always liked to have a minimalist musical production. But for this I needed something much more carnal and flamboyant," said the singer.

She wrote the songs alone on her computer before recording them in Los Angeles with studio musicians who usually work with Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics and rhythm-and-blues star Shuggie Otis.

A hip-hop-obsessed outsider with a turn of phrase reminiscent of David Bowie and Michael Jackson, Letissier found herself being invited on stage by Madonna after her first album propelled her to fame in 2015.

She was even worked into the plot of the US television series "Better Things", created by controversial comic Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon.

But the daughter of two university professors from the hip western French city of Nantes has not let herself be swept away by her new-found celebrity and wealth.

- Gender rebel -

"I can see how it could have a euphoric effect but for me that was not the case. I was in the eye of a cyclone of work and logistics," she recalled.

While her new album rebels against a binary masculine and feminine definition of gender, the singer is also trying to shake up what a big touring pop show should look like.

Rather than follow the template for a blockbuster live show with huge screens, strobe lights and glitter bombs, she has taken inspiration from opera and theatre for her US and European tour, which starts next month.

"I wanted to work on another form of the spectacular... with dance at the centre of the performance," she said.

"I didn't want the decorative dance of pop but dance that says: 'This song talks about this, and how can we tell that (physically)'."

She worked with the French dance collective La Horde on the show, appearing on stage with six of their dancers in a highly polished recent sneak-preview in Paris.

She has also channelled the 1991 French film classic "The Lovers on the Bridge", starring Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant, into her video for "Doesn't Matter".

There is something of the same rawness of emotion in both her new album and show.

"I am wary of flashiness," said Letissier, whose puts that down to her down-to-earth family and working class grandparents.

"My angers and furies are often the anger of my class."