In her native France, she is a huge mainstream star. Chaleur Humaine, the album on which her UK debut is based – with some of its French lyrics translated to English, and a few new, English-language tracks added – has spent most of the last two years in the French top 40, spawned a string of hit singles, earned Letissier two awards at the Gallic equivalent of the Brits, and a guest appearance when Madonna played Paris in December. Perhaps that is a result of Chaleur Humaine’s obvious pop smarts: listening to the melody of Saint Claude, floating serenely above a stark backdrop of stammering beats and delicate slivers of electronics, you can see how it ended up a top 5 single. Or perhaps they find Letissier the kind of endlessly fascinating, provocative artist whose very presence makes pop music a more interesting place: a pansexual woman “obsessed with the idea of having a dick and being a man”, who name-drops both Michael Jackson and the German modern dance legend Pina Bausch as influences, and turned to music after being co-opted by a group of London drag queens, hymned in her stage name.
“A song is like a virus,” Letissier told an interviewer last year, “everyone can have it.” It’s a lovely sentiment, and Chaleur Humaine bears that line of thinking out: for all the seriousness of the issues the lyrics explore, it always feels like a pleasure rather than hard work. The question of whether it will prove as infectious in the UK as it has on the continent is a tough one: the innate conservatism of mainstream British pop sits pretty uneasily with an artist who clearly thinks pop music can be both an unalloyed pleasure and a conduit for ideas, a means of provoking thought, a world in which you can reinvent yourself at the same time.