SOPHIE

Sophie Xeon, known popularly as SOPHIE, died at age 34. According to the musician’s record label Transgressive, SOPHIE “had climbed up to watch the full moon and slipped and fell.” SOPHIE died at 4 a.m. on Jan. 30 at home in Athens, Greece.

I want to focus not on the artist’s untimely demise but on the innovative, awe-inspiring and immaterial world SOPHIE created. SOPHIE was a once-in-a-generation artist. One of those rare times where the sound, the image and the person are so honestly and directly in tune with each other that everything they touch seems lightyears ahead of everything else currently being made.

The Glasgow-born artist seemed to always have an affinity for music. SOPHIE used to steal electronic music cassettes from SOPHIE’s father’s car to listen to them. This evolved into creating music and by nine or ten, SOPHIE expressed a desire to drop out of school and become an electronic music producer. SOPHIE finished school while continuing to work on music. Around 2013 SOPHIE became involved with the now massively influential PC Music label. SOPHIE began releasing singles on SoundCloud as well as producing and remixing for PC Music affiliates. SOPHIE’s debut album “Product” was released in November of 2015 and acted as a compilation of SOPHIE’s singles. SOPHIE also produced Charli XCX’s ‘Vroom Vroom EP.’ These two releases marked a breakthrough for the artist and announced the arrival of a truly unique musical talent.

To say that SOPHIE is the reason for the existence of hyperpop feels like an understatement, and the label “hyperpop” doesn’t seem able to adequately describe the sounds, textures and energy that weren’t found in music before SOPHIE. SOPHIE redefined pop and electronic music. SOPHIE used modeling synths (where the sound is generated through equations and algorithms) to create sounds that sound shockingly physical yet entirely alien. SOPHIE made material sound out of the immaterial.

A disregard of all standards extended beyond the music. SOPHIE requested that media outlets “please refrain from using pronouns” when referring to the trans artist. This idea that the individual can form and live in an identity so entirely their own is empowering. In all aspects of life, SOPHIE refused to adhere to ideas dictated by society. Everything SOPHIE embodied and put forward into the world was real and uncontaminated self-expression.

I must speak specifically about the “It’s Okay to Cry” music video. Released in October of 2017 as the first single from the album “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” the music video was the first time SOPHIE’s voice and image were used. Following the video, the once secretive musician opened up to the press about being transgender. For many people, myself included, the music video marked the first time a trans artist had been given the creative freedom to fully and deeply express themselves and their ideas. The video shows SOPHIE nude and freely dancing and singing to the song. It is a pure and beautiful expression of gender euphoria. It is an honest expression of self-identity and emotional clarity in the most profound way imaginable. As a gay man, I had never seen queerness represented in such a beautiful and validating way, and I realized that it was the sort of queer representation I had been searching for my entire life.

LGBTQ+ individuals and communities exist outside of traditional ideas about presentation, expression and social norms. By merely existing in society as outsiders, they are typically not given recognition or even understanding. In seeking something more, LGBTQ+ individuals can either beg for a seat at the table or reject all set norms and create something entirely new. SOPHIE perfectly exemplifies the second option. What SOPHIE created was always fresh and always exciting because it was not defined by anyone else. SOPHIE constantly pushed expectations, ignored all musical and societal norms and invited others to do the same. The music’s innovation and pure creativity, combined with a high level of visibility and an incredibly profound understanding of queerness, made SOPHIE a true icon for much of the LGBTQ+ community.

With an artist as monolithic and innovative as SOPHIE, it seems almost impossible to examine all that the visionary’s sound and ethos have influenced. The most immediately recognizable impact is on the hyperpop genre. The abrasive bass-heavy instrumentals and pitched-up vocals that define hyperpop seem like they would not exist without the sonic landscapes that SOPHIE first put forth. Musicians like Charli XCX, 100 gecs and umru of the hyperpop genre have paid their respects to SOPHIE. But SOPHIE’s reach expands even further. SOPHIE has writing/production credits on tracks by Vince Staples and Madonna. Musicians across various other genres have paid tribute to SOPHIE and the invigorating futuristic sound the artist created. FKA Twigs, Aminé, Nile Rodgers, and Grimes have all expressed sadness at the loss of the avant-pop artist.

There is also, however, a more intangible wave of influence that can be examined. Moses Sumney and Phoebe Bridgers create soft, lush and emotionally driven songs (a far cry from SOPHIE’s typically maximalist electronic production), but both have praised SOPHIE’s music. SOPHIE continually pushed electronic and pop music forward, as well as ideas of self-expression. The rejection of labels and the push to be bold has served as inspiration for so many people and will continue to inspire people for years to come.

SOPHIE’s form of self-expression was so honest and forward-thinking that it is difficult even to imagine the sort of impact it will have. It is something that many people, especially LGBTQ+ people, could find joy and safety in. SOPHIE marked a new high for queer visibility and music production. Entire universes of utopian sonic landscapes existed within SOPHIE, and we should all be thankful that SOPHIE was able to share at least some of that innovation. The world is brighter and queerer because of all of the lives SOPHIE’s music has touched. 

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