SOPHIE, a complex whole made of intricate parts

By Joshua Sokol, Staff Writer

SOPHIE, a Grammy-nominated electronic-pop producer and artist who revolutionized the genre of hyperpop, died on Saturday in Athens, Greece. At 34 years old, she was known for her reinvigoration of the pop genre and producing some of the most unique and new-age sounds in modern music.

Transgressive Records, SOPHIE’s management, put out a statement breaking the news of the artist’s death on Saturday stating, “True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell.”

The producer and songwriter was not only known for her revolutionary use of sound in her own music, but also for producing some of the most renowned songs of the modern era, namely Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom,” Vince Staples’ “Yeah Right” and a production appearance on Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica,” released in 2020. 

To see an artist who identified openly as a trans woman resonated deeply with LGBTQ+ audiences, myself included. Owning your identity and using that to act as an idol for those who may feel lost or who feel they do not have proper representation is a powerful and essential part of SOPHIE’s legacy—one that should not be forgotten. In her song “Immaterial,” the lyrics, “You could be me and I could be you / Always the same and never the same,” gave the listener a sense of infinity. She told us that we can be whatever is true to ourselves, always changing and ever fluid.

Sophie Xeon, SOPHIE, was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1986. She was raised listening to her father’s cassettes, attending raves and regularly making music throughout her teenage years. Her career started initially in a band called Motherland, and in 2011, she created the score for a short film titled “Mr/Mrs.”

In 2019, her debut album “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES,” was nominated for “Best Dance/Electronic Album” at the Grammys, and in 2018, she won the “Innovator Award” at the AIM Independent Music Awards.

In her own music, SOPHIE touched audiences with her intimate approach to identity and the reflection of self. SOPHIE, a trans artist herself, approached queer fans both in her comforting lyriscm and in her sound—which could either be heard in a racey nightclub or a quiet, reflective night at home.

What made SOPHIE so compelling was the duality she expressed through sound. Violent and aggressive screeches could follow soft, dreamy overtures, which sent the listener through a whirlwind, through the eye of the storm into the rain.

In her music video for “It’s Okay to Cry,” she took this imagery literally, naked in front of green-screened backgrounds of rainbows, thunderstorms and night skies. SOPHIE, in her material form, transcended into a being that was fluid and walked across static boundaries of gender and expression without fear, without a need to be a single concept. She was free, arcane and beautiful, without bounds.

She addressed the complexity of human existence through all of its hardships, “Just know whatever hurts, it’s all mine,” she sings in “It’s Okay to Cry,” a declaration of empathy and understanding that we are not alone in our struggles. She reassures her audience, “just know you’ve got nothing to hide,” and that our identities are sacred, safe within the space that she created for expression.

Her high-pitched vocals almost acted as satire on modern pop music. SOPHIE somehow subverted a hyper-mainstream genre and made it sound fresh. The sounds she created had a transformative property, an act of alchemy that held a mirror to the listener and prompted introspection. Her music embodied the old adage “recognition of the self through the other.”

Thinking about what is lost with SOPHIE is immeasurable. Her music was a battle cry, while all the same being a shoulder to cry on. Singer Charli XCX wrote on Twitter about her friend, “All I can say is that I miss her terribly; her smile, her laugh, her dancing in the studio, her gentle inquisitive voice and her incredible vision and mind.”

Other musicians who worked with SOPHIE also expressed their loss via social media. Singer-songwriter Rihanna wrote a short post on Twitter saying, “still can’t believe this. Rest Peacefully Sophie,” along with a picture of the two artists. Rapper and singer-songwriter Vince Staples wrote on Twitter “you ain’t never seen somebody in the studio smoking a cigarette in a leather bubble jacket just making beats not saying one word.”

But SOPHIE’s death should not be mourned in silent, quiet pensiveness; it should be honored with her sound and dance. She gave us her gift; she peeled back her layers and told us, without direction, to find ourselves with them.