Two weeks ago, the music world stood still as one of the contemporary visionaries of pop music, Glasgow-born SOPHIE, passed away in Athens, Greece.
A fortnight on, tributes and statements are still being made as the world continues to mourn. But as the dust settles, it’s perhaps more productive and fruitful to explore why SOPHIE’s loss has meant so much to so many people, celebrate the career SOPHIE had and outline the extremely powerful legacy left behind.
SOPHIE – who preferred not to use gendered or non-binary pronouns – had amassed an impressive collection, if not still too limited, of incredible collaborations with artists such as Charli XCX, Vince Staples, and Madonna. On top of the multiple music titans she worked with, SOPHIE’s solo work rivals any top producer’s output during this time. Not only was the musician’s discography varied, but SOPHIE’s brand of glitch-heavy and industrial production offered a glimpse into what the future of music was going to sound like, and will stand as a flashpoint in musical history for years to come.
Originally hailing from Glasgow, SOPHIE grew up surrounded by cassette tapes, and after stints of DJing weddings and other small events, slowly began to form the iconic elements of the artist’s production style, admitting that while not exactly knowing what to do, SOPHIE was just throwing a lot on the wall and seeing what stuck. What stuck was an eclectic amalgamation of colourful synths and an exaggerated interpretation of modern pop music. As a result, SOPHIE’s alignment and early collaboration with the London music collective PC Music, led by A.G Cook, was no surprise.
SOPHIE’s 2015 compilation project PRODUCT was a fully-fledged demonstration of the producer’s talent. It contained previously released singles such as 2013’s ‘Bipp’ and ‘Nothing More to Say’. PRODUCT showcased another development in SOPHIE’s musical style, and also demonstrated what was to come when the producer’s proper debut album was released. 2018’s OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES generated massive critical acclaim, garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album as well as gracing plenty of best-of lists that year as well as of the decade the following year. For the first time, SOPHIE provided the majority of the lead vocals, and it was during the release of the project that SOPHIE came out as trans, putting a face to a figure that remained largely anonymous before.
Of course, SOPHIE’s influence extends much further than the producer’s own solo discography. SOPHIE was widely known for collaborations with big-name artists, most notably Charli XCX on her Vroom Vroom EP and Vince Staples on Big Fish Theory. The off-kilter brand of abrasive, industrial charm injected new energy into pop music, which had largely fallen into stagnant routines and patterns at that point. This distinctive style is what provided the springboard for now acclaimed projects such as 100 gec’s debut offering and Charli’s quarantine project, ‘how I’m feeling now.’ SOPHIE’s work provided an answer as to how pop music could be so glamorous, glitzy, and polished, yet not sacrificing any of the realism of the topics the producer presented in the music. By turning up the dial on artificiality, SOPHIE created music that didn’t play by the rules but felt unflinchingly real.
You could go on and on about the influence that SOPHIE brings to the music world, but what might arguably be most important is what the producer means to the queer community. Coming out as trans in the midst of releasing a debut album allowed SOPHIE to reclaim a rapidly spiralling narrative around the artist’s gender, as well as a misconstrual of the music itself. Asserting this identity allowed SOPHIE to break free, transforming a timid, anonymous DJ into a bonafide, and often latex-clad, pop star.
With this new context, SOPHIE’s music was increasingly read as the exploration of identity, and the producer’s strong words spoke to a community whose rights are seemingly always being curtailed.
Speaking to Paper Magazine in 2018, SOPHIE said that “for me, trans-ness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting against each other and struggling to survive.” While I obviously can only approach this from my personal, cis-gendered lens, SOPHIE’s declaration of queerness as not only completely regular, but also a distinct perspective in which to experience the world, is characteristic of the artist’s continued support for trans rights, and a staunch rejection of a world where trans identities are still questioned.
More telling is that among SOPHIE’s star-studded collaborations, the producer always made time for lesser-known names such as Lunice and Quay Dash, both emerging queer artists of colour. SOPHIE’s only Instagram post was a link to a fundraiser to support protestors against the violence committed against Black and trans communities. Beneath the polished sheen of SOPHIE’s music, the producer’s care for these communities speaks true to the kind of person SOPHIE was. While SOPHIE will, and most definitely should, be remembered for the non-Newtonian, crystalline brand of hyper-pop and a completely original approach to electronic music, the producer’s contributions reach wider.
SOPHIE’s outspoken compassion for the queer community, and the musician’s universal celebration of transness, underline the qualities of kindness and warmth that SOPHIE brought to the otherworldly music the visionary produced.
Image: Frazer Harrison via Getty Images