How SOPHIE Brought a Radical Shift To the Music Industry

How SOPHIE Brought a Radical Shift To the Music Industry

How SOPHIE Brought a Radical Shift To the Music Industry

The visionary artist opened doors for experimentation and influenced some of the field’s biggest players. 

The visionary artist opened doors for experimentation and influenced some of the field’s biggest players. 

Text: Luana Harumi

A topless SOPHIE, wearing nothing but sheer eyeshadow and a glossy cherry lipstick, twirls in front of chroma-key skies, rainbows and auroras flashing in the background while the red-headed artist sings – and sometimes whispers – the ethereal song “It’s Okay To Cry.” The 2017 single marked the end of a mystery that had been going on since the 2013 web hit “Bipp” about who was behind the project: here was the DJ, musician, and producer coming out to the world, with nothing to hide. 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that SOPHIE, full name Sophie Xeon, truly helped revolutionize the music industry. The Scottish-born artist’s ability to look forward, experimenting with sounds no one had heard up until then, led to collaborations with big names such as Madonna, Diplo, and Vince Staples. SOPHIE was always energetically reaching for more; some say it’s eerily symbolic that the accidental fall that took the musician’s life in Athens, Greece was caused by an attempt to climb to a higher place to get a better view of the full moon. 

To honor and remember SOPHIE’s legacy, V looks back on some of the artist’s biggest influences on the music industry:

A hyper-pop pioneer

Along with friend, collaborator, and PC Music founder A.G. Cook, SOPHIE was a precursor of the surreal aesthetics of hyperreal pop, combining distorted, synthetic sounds with an exaggerated take on traditional electropop music – often resulting in a synesthetic experience. "When I’m synthesizing textures it’s very much thinking about materials from the real world and trying to figure out why they stand the way they do and their characteristics, sonically," SOPHIE told V in 2018. "I really like to start my compositions from a sculptural point."

Big collabs

The artist wrote and produced some of the past decade’s biggest pop hits, adding a signature SOPHIE touch to all of them. The musician was a close friend and frequent contributor of Charli XCX; other collabs include Kim Petras, MØ, Lady Gaga, Arca, Vince Staples, and, perhaps most famously, Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna.” 

“I love connecting with people and that's really my intention behind everything,” SOPHIE told V in 2017. “I really value and appreciate the music experience.”

Embracing transness 

The transgender experience was intrinsic to SOPHIE’s work – even though it wasn’t often explicitly addressed in the artist’s lyrics. SOPHIE’S debut studio album, 2018’s OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES, a beautiful and sincere affirmation of selfhood, led the artist to become the first transgender nominee in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category in the history of the Grammys. 

Having fun while cashing in

One of PC Music’s most distinct features is openly embracing consumerism aesthetics – something that pop music in general sometimes struggles to admit. SOPHIE’s early singles were compiled in a project titled PRODUCT and the artist collaborated with A.G. Cook on “Hey QT,” a synthetic song for an imaginary energy drink. In a famous 2014 Billboard interview, SOPHIE’s music genre was described by the artist as “advertising.” (Indeed, in the following year, the musician’s track “Lemonade” was used on a McDonald’s ad.) SOPHIE strongly rejected the notion that just because something was more commercial it should automatically mean it was less “artistical.” 

Legacy

In addition to the collabs, SOPHIE’s music influenced a whole generation of new artists, including Rina Sawayama, 100 gecs, and even to some extent names like Billie Eilish and Poppy. In the 2017 interview, SOPHIE told V one of the musician’s main goals “As an artist, [was to continue] to explore the theme which I spoke about in my music and through everything I do and presenting things that weren't there before—sonic and visual ideas that weren't there before that seem important and relevant and urge conversations to be had culturally.”

Credits: Cover photo by Luke Gilford for V113.

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