Have you met Chris?
France is known for its cheeses (all 500 kinds of them), for its churches (plus the occasional Eiffel tower) and for its human rights (arguably). What it’s not known for, however, is its pop music (to be fair, neither is Germany).
The last massive band to emerge from France is Daft Punk, and you would be hard pressed to find obvious proofs of ‘frenchness’ in their work. As leaders of the ‘French touch’ wave, along with the likes of David Guetta or Phoenix, they are proof that this country is quite good at producing global electronic music. Pop, however, is another story.
Before EDM ever came to existence, Serge Gainsbourg was one of the few French musicians who managed to peak in the UK charts — in French — thanks to brilliantly provocative tracks like “69 année érotique” [69 erotic year] and “Je t’aime… moi non plus” [I love you… me neither]. Gainsbourg, one of the country’s most unpredictable musical geniuses, also dabbed in beautifully subtle concept albums like the Brits did, while later introducing reggae to French audiences. Needless to say, he was a bit of an exception to the (French) rule.
This brings us to today and the rise of a wonderfully fresh musical voice simply called Chris. Who used to be known as Christine and the Queens — the performer behind both stage names does identify as a woman, as far as yours truly knows — before dropping most of it with her latest album. And the name change is only the beginning of Chris’ distinctiveness in the French pop field.
With the recently released second album, Chris (now you know why), she obviously focuses on creating a consistent creative universe beyond just the music, with music videos that incorporate elaborate dance sequences and an overall tone and style that is clearly reminiscent of 80’s pop in general, and Michael Jackson’s in particular. Like her somewhat notorious predecessor, she aims at becoming an all-round artist with a strong visual component beyond the sound. And she’s quite successful at it, too.
The main difference between Jackson and Chris, obviously (besides gender, nationality and bio), is that Chris is a contemporary artist choosing to reference a specific period in musical history. She’s not the only one doing that, her fellow countrymen from Daft Punk literally produced an homage to that era — 2013’s self-referential Random Access Memories — but she is the only one attempting to do that in the pop realm, as a center stage performer (unlike the electro duet, she doesn’t wear a helmet, unless perhaps on a bike), taking on the legacy of true giants.
While she may not have reached the heights of Michael Jackson in either musical production — you’d need a Q for that — or choreography just yet, she clearly stands out as a bold and innovative musician doing something no-one else dares to in her native country.
Hail to the Chris!
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