Whole New World: Reflecting on SOPHIE’s Mysticism and Magnitude
Two weeks have gone by since SOPHIE – performer, producer and all-around hyper-pop virtuoso – passed away in a tragic accident in Athens, Greece. Since then, internet users across the world have joined in a collective outpouring of grief. Fans have taken to Twitter to plan virtual vigils for the late musician, complete with DJ sets and a sharing circle, and artists from Vince Staples to Rihanna have posted reverential tributes, with close friend and frequent collaborator Charli XCX even promoting a campaign to rename the exoplanet TOI 133b after SOPHIE.
SOPHIE’s sudden passing is so significant because it marks a major loss for pop fans, particularly those in the queer community. As a trans woman who came out at the height of her career, SOPHIE broke ground when it came to queer representation in pop music. She encouraged her fans to express themselves wholly in a world that values heteronormativity and conformity. Her collaboration with pop’s divas, as well as her trademark synthetic and over-the-top sound, made her a staple of the queer club scene. She brought her stylized approach to instrumental production to every project she worked on and her talent was palpable to casual listeners and music aficionados alike.
SOPHIE first turned heads in the early 2010s as a producer for electronic acts like A.G. Cook, as well as mainstream pop artists like Charli XCX, Madonna and Nicki Minaj. She was lauded for her ability to sonically mimic physical textures and materials. SOPHIE also released several solo tracks and dual efforts with her friends on a compilation album, “Product.” She challenged the foundations of popular music, creating otherworldly and totally synthesized soundscapes that corroborate these digital decades.
SOPHIE’s initial production work branded her a musical force to be reckoned with. In 2018 her debut studio album “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” is what cemented her stature as a singer-songwriter, while enchanting both new fans and longtime supporters with her signature glitchy instrumentals. The album’s aesthetic was a regal twist on her usual technicolor visuals.
Fans saw SOPHIE style her titian curls in a bob, don a gauzy ball gown on the cover and croon in front of digital rainbows and sunsets in the music video for “It’s Okay to Cry.” Her keen artistic eye complemented the relentlessly innovative album, making SOPHIE a deity symbolic of the hyper-pop movement at large. “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” was released to universal fanfare and was nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 61st Annual Grammys in 2019.
Despite her fervent public praise and otherworldly stage presence, SOPHIE was sweet and unassuming behind the scenes. She opted to keep a low public profile even after her breakout album and rarely gave interviews, which preserved her personal life and bolstered her down-to-earth presence. Her lyrical themes hit home for numerous listeners, including her experience coming out as a trans woman, body image struggles, sexual liberation, finding beauty from within, and the dichotomy between human life and technology. This implemented a profound and unshakeable bond between the performer and her fans.
SOPHIE’s career rapidly gained traction at the turn of the decade, but tragically came to an end before she gained total mainstream recognition. The loss of a trans woman who tirelessly challenged many of the preconceived notions surrounding pop music is particularly heartbreaking, as she encouraged her queer and trans fans to unabashedly express their personalities in a harsh and unaccepting society.
Much like the ethereal themes on her album, though, SOPHIE’s presence transcends her physical existence. Her talent, innovation and deep sensitivity to the world’s beauty touched legions of music listeners. Her impression on both her fans and contemporaries is perhaps best summed up by a reverential tweet by singer Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier, known professionally as Christine and the Queens.
“Sophie was a stellar producer, a visionary, a reference. She rebelled against the narrow, normative society by being an absolute triumph, both as an artist and as a woman. I can’t believe she is gone,” said Letissier.