Where is Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier?
The visionary auteur behind Christine and the Queens quit the internet on July 7. Aside from the announcement that she’s performing at Global Citizen Live in Paris on Sept. 25, one of the world’s most beloved androgynous pop stars, from Nantes, France, has hardly been seen since.
But in the truest sense of what it means to be seen, Letissier declared her departure from social media was rooted in how she wants to be heard in the future. After a period of being Very Online during the pandemic, it appears her decision is one now rooted in building resilience.
"I am taking a break from here," Letissier wrote. "The journey I embarked on demands that I am careful, protected, true. It is a journey of love and light. I don't want to talk empty words to you. I want you to see me, when I come back, I want you to hear me. From true words will come great healing, from truth will come an undying light.”
“This is what I decided to do, this is my direction,” she continued. “We are going to need strength for what's ahead. It could be glorious. We are all responsible now of that flickering light that demands care. Follow your intuition. It is the light within. From the heart to the skies above.”
You’re probably thinking: what’s the big deal? Behold, another pop star has left social media! Isn’t that just where we’re all at — needing a digital detox after lockdown-induced online gluttony? But this is different. To understand why, you need to look at the recent history of queer pop stars in the 21st century, and why the internet has become such a significant space.
In their book Glitter Up the Dark, Sasha Geffen writes that pop music as we know it has evolved from the imagination of queer stars through the ages — from Black women like Big Mama Thornton who broke the gender binaries of 1940s blues music to the disco DJs who ran effervescent nights at gay clubs where normative time itself would bend beyond recognition.
Geffen puts forward that the internet became a vehicle for how queer artists could trancend their physical, earthly selves, manifest their identities, and connect to a wider community, a movement of people who might not have felt like they belonged to a world of black and white — or to be more specific, heterosexual, cisgender, and white — definitions and labels.
“Though trans people built networks of social support and medical aid throughout the 20th century, these structures were necessarily restricted by technology,” Geffen writes. “In the 21st century, the proliferation of internet-equipped consumer electronics enabled a new generation of gender nonconformists to communicate across any distance … Communication didn’t depend on the presence of the physical body, and even the voice was no longer necessary.”
One section in the book traces the influence of trans producers like Arca and Sophie — the 34-year Glaswegian and electronic music pioneer, adored by Letissier, who tragically lost her life in January after falling from a balcony as she took a photo of the full moon — and queer musicians like Frank Ocean, Perfume Genius, and Janelle Monáe, and explores how they finally carved space for themselves in the formless sanctuary of the internet.
It’s a history that resonates with how Letissier, who identities as genderqueer and pansexual, expresses her identity through art. From the very first refrain from the first song on her debut album — “'Cause I've got it / I'm a man now.” — she raised questions about her own gender and sexuality. She is “tilted” personified: off-centre, defiant in the face of categorisation, thriving and joyful in blurred, beautiful edges.
In 2016, Chaleur Humaine was Britain’s biggest-selling debut album of the year. Her next record, Chris, went further and farther, establishing a promiscuous masculine alter-ego as its central tour de force, restoring “a belief in pop music as something more than ephemeral – as a vehicle for ideas, a space in which you can transform yourself”, according to one five star review in the Guardian.
Androgyny like Letissier’s in pop music may not be new — Geffen writes how Prince had a female alter-ego called Camille that he would credit on songs where he would alter his voice to a higher pitch — but how it’s expressed through accessible, amorphous spaces such as the internet is changing all the time. Previously, the internet offered space for marginalised art to thrive in a digital underground. But now, it's permeated through the mainstream. When was the last time you had a day online without seeing a post from the internet’s spiritual counsel, Lil Nas X?
I’m not masculine or feminine. I’m exhausted, babe. That’s what I am.— Dana White (@ItsDanaWhite) September 20, 2021
The French singer spent lockdown crafting a new stage for herself: the aesthetic of her sparse home studio a prescient foreshadow to Bo Burnham’s Inside. She was an early adopter of Instagram Live as a new mode of performance, and would stream new songs, covers, and improvised dances to a captive audience, who, like her, were learning to cope with a new way of life.
She took charge of that digital space — rooted by a firm sense of consistent, tangible, physical place — and made it her own. It became a theatre of the self. Then in March 2020, she joined the Together At Home community, streaming a 35-minute set to drive action with Global Citizen to tackle the pandemic. And in June 2020, that space she had carved out expanded to influence political decision makers, as she tweeted world leaders in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg with Global Citizen to support equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
It made her stunning performance for Global Goal: Unite for Our Future that month even more emotional: finally, we could see Letissier in the real world, alone but powerful, singing “La Vita Nuova” to an eerily empty Grand Palais. It felt close to the glory she referred to in her departing note, but a year later, Letissier decided to quit the online space she’d built altogether.
“If you disappear, then I'm disappearing too,” Letissier sang on “People, I’ve been sad”, a track released weeks before the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 pandemic, later performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert from her windowsill. In the context of this song, and the history of how her queer pop star predecessors interacted with digital realms, her retreat from social media might hold some greater meaning.
Maybe the pandemic came with a realisation for Letissier: that the only way she could nurture and protect “the light within” was by allowing herself to grow roots in the physical spaces of her own life that she can touch and feel. She wants her formidable strength and spirit back — a regeneration perhaps best described by feminist activist and writer Audrey Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
In that way, her decision becomes less of a withdrawal and more of a transformation. She has rejected the spaces built for her in order to design her own. Where is Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier? She’s in metamorphosis — growing, reflecting, evolving.
“I hear a refusal to force the body against its true shape,” Geffen writes about the artists who found their voices online in Glitter Up the Dark. “I hear instead the willingness to let the body choose itself, to let the voice surge up and away from the expectations that would box it in.”
“In their slippery, confounding, and transcendent music, these artists — and the hundreds of others that join them on this path — cast off the claustrophobic molds that would keep them from themselves,” they add. “Their music twists into new shapes without names, shapes that open a way into a world that lets in the light.”
That’s where Letissier will find her own “light within”, that “flickering light that demands care” she wrote about — by taking the time and space to find her own, authentic voice, rebuilding her own power as a queer artist and as a shimmering, shining human being, and working out exactly how she wants to use it in a way that will move her vivid world forward.
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