Christine and the Queens’ Movie-Length Pop Opera Is an Emotional Journey

It takes 97 minutes to listen to Christine and the Queens’ moving, three-act pop opera, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, but you need months to understand it fully.

On the album, the French artist (let’s call him Chris for simplicity) summons celestial bodies, pays tribute to his late mother, flirts with 070 Shake, navigates acid-rock and dubby detours, samples Marvin Gaye and Pachelbel’s canon, and divines some of the catchiest melodies of his career. The album is a lot to take in, but the depth of emotion, musical ingenuity, and the psychodrama that Chris pours into each track makes the hefty time commitment a worthwhile sonic journey.

In many ways, the album feels like the work of art Chris has been trying to make his entire career. On his 2014 debut, Chaleur Humaine (released in English as Christine and the Queens), he wrote concise, R&B-leaning pop songs like “Christine” (“Tilted” in English) that showed his skill for sharp hooks, squeezed vocals, and brainy lyrics, but he also sang “I am a man now” on the album’s “iT,” foreshadowing the roles gender and change would play in his art. On 2018’s Chris, he played further with gender roles on the flawless pop song, “Girlfriend,” and on 2020’s La Vita Nuova EP, he perfectly captured the introspective loneliness of Covid lockdowns on “People, I’ve Been Sad.” But he changed his musical aesthetic on last year’s Redcar les Adorables Étoiles (Prologue) with free-flowing, sprawling moments of pop and psychedelia as he sang about embracing his masculinity ostensibly setting up Paranoïa, Angels, True Love.

While all those works found Chris making sense of earthly matters, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love petitions the heavens. For the album, he drew inspiration from Tony Kushner’s lauded 1990s play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, as well as rock operas like Tommy.

Much of the libretto deals with processing the loss of his mother, who died in April 2019, his belief in angels, and the loneliness that comes with defining his masculine identity. The themes culminate in the third act’s six-minute “Lick the Light Out,” which features Madonna in an unusual guest appearance, portraying the narrator/angel/surrogate mother Big Eye, speaking about inhabiting Chris’s whole being over diffuse psychedelic sounds. (Madonna talks almost in monotone here and there throughout the album but always sounds like herself.) Eventually, the experimentalism collapses into a straightforward pop song. Chris sings, “See me/Hear me/Feel me” (a not-so-disguised nod to the Who) and “If an angel in silence/Decided just to free me/Could I get that sweet power?” The song is a moment of euphoria.

But the highway to reach that heaven is long. The album’s first act, Paranoïa, opens with an ominous overture on which Chris says, “Welcome to the tale of your own light, my child.” And there was light: “Tears Can Be So Soft” takes an upbeat sample of orchestral strings from Marvin Gaye’s “Feel All My Love Inside” and finds Chris ruminating on the loss of his mother and a brother before realizing “I cry because I can,” which he sings out with joy. “Tears can be so good for those who dive in them,” goes the chorus.

The sparse ballad “Marvin Descending” features Chris in his head voice making sense of how he feels before introducing Pink Floyd–style heavy guitar, and eventually lightening the mood with the R&B, Prince-esque “A Day in the Water,” on which Chris stretches his voice into angelic heights: “Keep talking about it.”

“Full of Life” takes Pachelbel’s canon (you’ve heard it at every wedding) and turns it into a celebration of who Chris is: “Take my hand and forget that I am just another woman/Even though you see me, you’ll never let me be your boyfriend.” The first section ends with “Track 10” a slowly uncoiling 11-minute prog-rock/dub/trip-hop/pop odyssey. “Sweet lover of mine/Let’s go fucking … I am not so shy” he sings, asserting his identity. It’s like Funkadelic remixed by Tricky and transmitted off a Martian satellite — the perfect sound of paranoia.

Angels opens with another overture that features Mike Dean, Chris’ co-producer on the album, which cuts back to his mother. “Remember the time when your daughter was your son,” he sings on the intense “He’s Been Shining for Ever, Your Son.” The second part’s piano ballad, “Flowery Days,” is one of the opera’s best moments, finding Chris ruminating on what happens “When I die of love.” He seems to find what he’s questing for on “True Love,” a sexy duet with 070 Shake that features a shimmery, blipping pop backdrop. “Do you know how to love?” he sings in falsetto. “I’ll show you.” The act ends with “Aimer Puis Vivre” (in English, “Love Then Live”), one of the work’s rare songs in French, but that doesn’t matter so much since Chris’ yearning is universal. “I’ll go wherever my heart capsizes,” he sings in French, ending the act with tension.

The final act opens gently with “Shine,” a soft, almost jazzy number. At this point in the story, Chris wonders “what makes [him] a human.” “We Have to Be Friends,” another one of the album’s best songs, spans new wave, R&B, and David Gilmour–esque guitar lines that recall The Wall, all in four minutes; it also contains a “Girlfriend”–like stuttered vocal hook, “Don’t you say no to me again/’Cause you know we have to be friends.” He finds his Tommy moment on “Lick the Light Out” and then finally finds what makes him human on the pensive “To Be Honest.” He completes his transition into a heavenly body on the slowly unfurling pop song “I Feel Like an Angel.”

The final track, “Big Eye” features a big beat and Chris’ most angelic vocals. “My love is my light,” he sings in falsetto, “My love is my soul.” At this point, he becomes unified with everything that has led him to this point in the last 90 minutes, realizing, “I am now your mother/I’ll carry you through the other side.” The song builds with more vocal harmonies and big guitars, and he wonders a cappella, “Were you saving me from the dark?” It’s a stunning catharsis, a moment of deliverance. While the lyrics throughout don’t always seem to conform to a plot the way a regular opera would, it’s a payoff on an emotional level.


The level of artistry throughout Paranoïa, Angels, True Love deserves its own recognition. Chris has said he sang only one vocal per song, fighting the urge to fix mistakes, but each performance sounds perfect. He also explores so many textures and styles of music throughout the album that it’s easy to get swept away. There are tracks that could (and should) be hit singles, but that’s not the point. Chris has whittled down the track list to a single disc “highlights” album, and while it contains some of the opera’s best songs, you need to experience the story from start to finish to feel the songs.

Releasing Paranoïa, Angels, True Love in all its grandeur is a bold move since attention spans for pop music couldn’t be shorter. But the album is a full statement and requires a time commitment to appreciate it. The people who are willing to give themselves (and their precious time) over to Chris’ beatification are the only ones who will begin to understand its divine mysteries. And then they’ll hit play on it again.