SOPHIE leaves ethereal, otherworldly musical legacy

The hyperpop producer, who died Saturday, never conformed to a singular genre or style.

By Anna Kochman

She just wanted to see the full moon.

Sophie Xeon, Scottish hyperpop artist and producer who stylized her artist identity as SOPHIE, died Saturday. She was 34.

She reportedly passed after falling from the balcony of her apartment in Athens, Greece. Her representative released a statement saying “she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell.”

SOPHIE’s music reflected her spiritual, ethereal persona. In addition to her debut album “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES,” released in 2018, she worked with artists like Charli XCX, Vince Staples and even Madonna to produce music with a unique electronic sound. She produced some of the most danceable tracks of the 2010s — Charli XCX’s “Roll With Me” and Madonna and Nicki Minaj’s “B---- I’m Madonna” come to mind.

Artifice was the very fabric of SOPHIE’s work. A quick listen to one of her most popular tracks, “Faceshopping,” reveals stylistic elements like heavily manipulated vocals, repetitive electronic sounds, distortion and disorienting transitions. The altered, surreal aura of her music evolved into its own genre within the past decade — hyperpop.

Hyperpop questions what pop really is, distorting mainstream pop sounds into fragmented, catchy tracks with an electronic focus. As the mother of this genre, SOPHIE established a precedent of tracks that are often sparse except for their intense dance beats and rhythmic computerized noises. She passed the baton to now-mainstream artists like 100 gecs, known for their unforgettable avant-pop sound, and Rina Sawayama, an emerging figure in alternative pop, both of whom have interpreted the fledgling genre in different ways.

But SOPHIE’s range was diverse: She produced songs that fall under the more mainstream pop umbrella, combining her own elements like that signature dance beat with Charli XCX’s sugary-sweet pop star vocals and Vince Staples’ hip-hop style. Both artists, along with an outpouring of others, expressed grief and love for SOPHIE over the weekend after her passing.

“I never saw her once afraid to be who she was,” said Staples in a Rolling Stone interview. “I haven’t once seen fear on SOPHIE’s face, no matter what.” SOPHIE, a transgender woman, was immensely popular in the LGBTQ+ community, as her music provided dance beats for gay clubs around the world. When asked if she believed in God, she responded, “Yes, God is trans.”

Her abstract take on gender and sexuality mirrors the ambiguity of her music. Sophie’s sound was often weird and unusual, stretching the limits of music manipulation. It wasn’t constrained to a genre (that is, until she inspired the creation of hyperpop).

But the artist rarely described her own music as abstract, genre-bending or queer — in fact, she rarely described it herself at all. In an early interview, she noted that the genre her work fell into was “advertising,” perhaps a dig at commercial music. Other than that admission, she didn’t often comment on her own work.

Dripping with pure noise, much of SOPHIE’s repertoire plays on the idea of realness.

“I’m real when I shop my face,” she says in her song “Faceshopping.” And she clearly “shops” her music too. Critics might argue that such heavily-manipulated music is a different kind of art, characterized by raw sound rather than melody. But isn’t artifice just an alternate reality? Isn’t hyperpop just an alternative to pop? SOPHIE’s music brought these and other questions about music itself to light.

“When Sophie walks in a room, you know Sophie’s there,” Staples said to Rolling Stone. According to Staples and the many others who have memorialized her, the artist herself and her presence in the music industry were as real as they come.

Edited by Chloe Konrad | ckonrad@themaneater.com

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