SOPHIE, hyperpop pioneer, praised after sudden death

Illustration by Kayla Plater

I never thought writing in the past tense about a musician would be this difficult. Scottish experimental musician and record producer Sophie Xeon, commonly known as SOPHIE, tragically passed away on Jan. 30 in Athens, Greece. SOPHIE was only 34 years old. According to a tweet from SOPHIE’s management team, Transgressive, the musician fell in an accident and died. As a trans woman, SOPHIE generally chose not to use gendered pronouns. 

“True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell. She will always be here with us,” read the tweet. 

SOPHIE’s musical inspiration grew from attending rave dances and listening to cassette tapes of electronic music at a young age. SOPHIE began creating music after receiving a piano for a birthday gift. Throughout adolescence, SOPHIE learned how to DJ and produce music. The first single by SOPHIE, “Nothing More to Say,” was released in February 2013.

Then, in March 2015, singer-songwriter Charli XCX announced that she would collaborate with SOPHIE. The collaboration soon blossomed into friendship. Charli XCX released her EP, “Vroom Vroom,” with production done by SOPHIE. Subsequently, SOPHIE toured with Charli XCX to promote new music. Other artists that SOPHIE collaborated with on various projects include Kim Petras, Le1f, Flume and Lady Gaga. It is likely that those who are unfamiliar to SOPHIE may have unknowingly heard the many works of the collaborator and producer.

My introduction to SOPHIE’s work was rather delayed. I unknowingly encountered SOPHIE’s work when Long Beach rapper Vince Staples’ album, “Big Fish Theory,” came out in 2017. Indeed, “Big Fish Theory” has earned a spot on my top ten favorites. SOPHIE’s influence of the techno beats of Eurodance intertwined with Staples’ hip-hop roots gave an appealing, carefree twist to rap music. 

Prior to 2017, SOPHIE kept anonymity during live performances by covering up in dark attire and hiding away in a DJ booth. In June 2018, SOPHIE released the album “Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.” The album’s cover has the artist posed in a cellophane dress, surrounded by water. The first single from the album, “It’s Okay to Cry,” is an intimate track complemented with ’80s synthesizer arrangements. The rest of the songs from the album are hyperactive tracks that maintain a consistent trend of hodgepodging the sounds of elastic, plastic, metal and balloons. 

One cannot acknowledge SOPHIE without recognizing SOPHIE’s legacy within the LGBTQ+ community. SOPHIE’s transitioning journey gave other artists hope of a world unrestrained by the boundaries of binaries. In an interview with Paper magazine, SOPHIE described “transness as taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit, so the two are not fighting against each other and struggling to survive.”

The “Okay to Cry” music video would be SOPHIE’s first official public appearance. Thereafter, SOPHIE opened up in a TeenVogue interview about being a trans woman. SOPHIE then moved front and center stage during live performances after the face reveal. 

SOPHIE worked alongside A.G. Cook of the London-based record label PC Music in the early 2010s. PC Music has been attributed with consumer and corporate branding aesthetics on the background of heavily synthesized music. Today, their musical experiment has come to be associated with the young, maximalist subgenre known as hyperpop. Hyperpop is a hardcore, glitchy concoction of techno, emo and cloud rap rooted in cyberculture. Other up-and-coming hyperpop artists include 100 Gecs, Cowgirl Clue and Rina Sawayama. 

SOPHIE’s influence on mainstream pop music is only just beginning. The experimental nature of SOPHIE advocated for a universe free of standards and demands. The artist’s productions brought the future to pop music. It is heartbreaking that we must see the same moon that SOPHIE last saw before the fall. Yet, SOPHIE is now part of the heavens above us. 

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