I am honestly not too sure how to begin writing this piece. One thing I know for certain however, is that the current musical landscape has been changed forever and has lost one of the most innovative, iconic and genius artists of recent memory.
SOPHIE, who has suddenly passed away at the age of 34, was an experimental pop, electronic and avant-garde musician, producer, and DJ whose music and influence has touched individuals from across the musical spectrum.
Scrolling through Twitter when I heard the news, my feed was full of tributes from artists of every genre. Nile Rodgers, Christine and the Queens, Rihanna, Rina Sawayama, MUNA, Charli XCX, Fraxiom just to name a few of the artists who SOPHIE affected, and in some cases, transformed their entire sound.
Without SOPHIE, pop music would be in an incredibly different place right now. Laura Les of 100 gecs paid tribute to the artist by saying “we’re still going to be catching up to her for years to come” and going back through their discography it is abundantly clear how true this sentiment is.
One of the most well-known tracks “BIPP” was released back in 2013, and honestly would not feel a step out of place in the modern musical sphere some eight years later. The fact that an eight-year-old song predicted and influenced the sound of the early 2020s is a testament to the genius that SOPHIE represents.
Alongside “BIPP” were more future focused and otherworldly tracks such as “LEMONADE” and “HARD”, which only cemented and popularised the at times abrasive sound SOPHIE became iconic for. It was not until 2018, after numerous production credits with artists such as Madonna, Charli XCX and Vince Staples just to name a few, that they released Oil Of Every Pearl’s Uni-Insides.
The album kicks off with “It’s Okay To Cry” a beautifully sentimental and lush track built around a twinkly arpeggio with lyrics and a music video that were confirmed as showing SOPHIE publicly coming out as transgender.
This more subdued and arguably conventional sound is completely abandoned with the next two tracks “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping“.
Built around harsh industrial sounding crashes, explosions and squeals, accompanied by guttural vocals that are barely discernible, they are tracks that include so many traditionally unlistenable elements and yet are some of the best experimental pop songs of recent years.
“Is It Cold In The Water?” and “Infatuation” feature these spacious and vibrant instrumentals that rise and fall throughout their runtime with lyrics that echo the underlying theme of the album, that of identity and discovering oneself.
It is SOPHIE’s first experimentation with a more ambient and expansive style of music, ideas that are developed with the track “Pretending“. Together they are some truly beautiful tracks that all serve a purpose in advancing SOPHIE’s experimental tendencies.
Finally, we have the last two tracks “Immaterial” and “Whole New World/Pretend World“, the former of which demonstrating SOPHIE’s ‘poppiest’ and along with “It’s Okay To Cry”, straightforward/conventional songwriting moments.
The track features these incredibly bouncy synth lines with the chorus chanted in time with the beat and pitch-shifted vocals reinforcing the artificial feel of the track. It is one of the best tracks on this project and one of the strongest credits in SOPHIE’s entire discography.
The closing track of this album is a nine-minute-long epic that shows the album at its most abrasive and experimental. The first half is similar to “Ponyboy” with these industrial sounding screeches and grinding textures chopped together in a harsh rhythm while the altered vocals chant the title in a culmination of voices to the point where the track begins to sound like a call to arms for some yet to be determined revolution.
But again, even with these conventionally ugly textures, SOPHIE manages to create a sound that is unique, bold, and downright incredible. As the closer moves into its second half these textures morph into a more expansive arrangement and a wall of noise slowly builds and engulfs the entire mix until it fades out and closes a lid on one of the best and most influential avant-pop records of recent memory.
There are already hundreds of reviews and articles analysing this album and celebrating SOPHIE’s genius and there is no way I can convey the true scope of the artist’s influence in one piece of text.
While the sound is abrasive and this album as well as the other tracks I have mentioned may be unwelcoming for the average listener, I would implore anybody to delve into this discography and learn to appreciate how huge a loss SOPHIE’s passing is to the musical landscape.
Without SOPHIE, we would not have hyper-pop. Without SOPHIE, pop music might have been in a completely different place than it is right now. Without SOPHIE, artists may have been less wiling to experiment and push the boundaries of what music can become.
While admittedly not massively well-known among the general public, SOPHIE’s influence is omnipresent. Truly unavoidable. A visionary for pop music, an icon for the transgender and non-binary community, a genius in every sense of the word, SOPHIE is one of those artists who will be an influence for decades to come.
RIP Sophie Xeon, 1986-2021
Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides was released in June 2018 via MSMSMSM/Future Classic and Transgressive Records, purchase it on iTunes here and stream it on Spotify below.
Words by Tom Owen