RIP SOPHIE: Reflecting on a visionary, trailblazer and icon gone way too soon
The music world was rocked with the news on Saturday, January 30th 2021 that SOPHIE had died after a tragic accident. A collective mourning across the globe in her large fan base has commenced, with many, many listeners, peers, friends, fans and collaborators gathering online to pay their respects to the pioneering producer and visionary. It is not cliche to call her a Vanguard, a pioneer, and a trailblazer. For the best part of the 2010s, SOPHIE‘s mark and impact could be felt throughout the music industry, whether it was through her own work or her vast influence. Her impact on dance and electronic music cannot be overstated as she defined an entire new sound in less than a decade. A fearless collaborator, a prolific producer, a giant in the global LGBTQ+ community, an ambitious and innovative mind in so many different spaces including rap and pop, and someone who remained in complete control and did whatever they wanted, SOPHIE cemented herself at the forefront of music years ago and maintained this position throughout their career. Such was the impact of her genius, she will remain in this position for years to come too. Much like most people who listened to her music, SOPHIE‘s output changed my life, reaffirmed my deep love of electronic and dance music as well as peculiar and “weird” music, and invited me into a community and a space I am grateful to be apart of.
It is incredibly difficult to wrap your mind around grieving and mourning for someone you’ve never met, but you feel like you know so well. Such was the openness of SOPHIE, even despite being reserved and considered with each and every step, fans were still able to learn about her and from her. Whether it was from interviews in which she discussed her ingenious approach to creating music or her visibility as a proud trans woman who was in control of her image and how she wanted to be seen, she was generous with her rapidly expanding fanbase in all she did. Friends and collaborators who have shared reflections online over the weekend reaffirm this, with each little tale and story further depicting a kind, gentle and caring soul. If you haven’t yet, please read her illuminating and thought-provoking interview with Paper from 2018 in which she details her thoughts on transness, on music, on pop and much more for a peek into her deep-thinking and interesting mind. From saying the iconic line, “God is trans,” to her powerful unveiling of herself in the “It’s Okay To Cry” video after years of remaining faceless, to her continuous advocacy and self-determination as a trans woman navigating the music industry and reclaiming the genres which was created by those very communities that now seek to greater representation over the straight-white-male-dominated spaces, SOPHIE‘s fearlessness extended far beyond her sound designs and into her very existence, making her death even more wounding to her many young trans fans who looked up to her. My thoughts and love are with you all.
SOPHIE had a strong hand in not only elevating herself but those around her, such as Charli XCX, Arca, Kim Petras, Shygirl, Quay Dash, Banoffee, Le1f and many more. Her work on Charli XCX‘s Vroom Vroom EP signified a distinct sonic shift in the popstar’s career and marked her pivot to club sounds and hyper pop not only established Charli XCX as one of pop’s most innovative names in her own right, introducing her to an entire new fan base, but also would go on to inspire countless other future pop artists for the last five years. From Australia’s resident hyper pop experts like Donatachi and Nina Las Vegas’ NLV Records family all the way to Billie Eilish, 100 gecs, Rico Nasty, Flume, Hudson Mohawke, Vince Staples and many, many more. She perfected the art of maintaining relevance both in the scenes she found herself in as well as her increasing mainstream success, working alongside Diplo on the Nicki Minaj-featuring Madonna single, ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’, as well as having her song ‘LEMONADE’ used by McDonald’s — both examples of her innovative sounds striking chords as strongly with the masses as it did with the niche communities.
From the raw emotional liberation of ‘It’s Okay To Cry‘ to the mind-melting, syrup-y ‘LEMONADE’, ‘HARD’, ‘BIPP’, ‘VYZEE’ and more; the euphoric and powerful ‘Immaterial’, the eerie and devastating ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’ to the thrill of ‘Pretending’, the lurch and thunderous crash of ‘Whole New World’ and ‘Ponyboy’ and the metallic peculiarity of ‘Faceshopping’, her solo material also provided exhilarating rushes and intense introspection. Her debut single ‘Nothing More To Say’ sounds just as timeless now as it did back in 2013, and kickstarted the drip feed of singles which would become apart of PRODUCT before her GRAMMY-nominated debut album, Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides (a homophone phrase of “I love every person’s insides”) in 2018. While future release plans hadn’t been confirmed, just last week SOPHIE officially released ‘UNISIL’ which was previously only available on physical copies of PRODUCT, as well as an Autechre remix of ‘BIPP’, both of which could hint that there were bigger plans in place for more SOPHIE music this year. Her ‘HEAV3N SUSPENDED’ livestream set in 2020 also backs this up as it was full of unreleased gems. All we can bet on for certain is if we do receive posthumous releases from SOPHIE, they will no doubt change the game all over again.
SOPHIE made it okay to be whoever you want, do whatever you want and to like whatever you like. She made it cool to be unashamedly yourself, to love unabashed pop hits just as much as the unknown bedroom producer you just found on Soundcloud. She made it cool to not only try new things but to completely demolish the boundaries and binaries music existed in. She wasn’t content with just working outside traditional genre constraints, she set out to pulverize them, burning them to the ground and building her own new thing entirely from the ashes. It was this authentic, genuine approach which allowed listeners to become instant fans, and to allow those fans to find community with each other. Whether it was at a SOPHIE show or in online spaces like Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Twitter, Instagram or more, seeing other people appreciate SOPHIE‘s music and knowing they find something special in the metallic, saccharine, mind-bending sounds too made for instant connection. I was lucky enough to catch her set at Laneway Festival in 2016 with QT after being introduced to her music thanks to Nina Las Vegas playing ‘LEMONADE’ in her set at Splendour In The Grass, and both hearing that song for the first time as well as seeing SOPHIE perform are experiences that have always stayed with me. Knowing instantly this was something different, something special and something I was lucky to be apart of at the time, I now look back with gratitude at these moments.
She leaves behind a legacy and impact that is still unfolding, with her influence sure to emanate and permeate mainstream music and sub cultures for decades to come. It’s also a reminder to continue to “cherish the pioneers,” as Christine and The Queens wrote in a tribute online to SOPHIE. Although she was indeed revered and adored, in a world and a time when division and isolation is increasing, we have to remember to cherish the ones that make us feel apart of something bigger, and that make us feel we belong. Whether we know them personally, online, or only through their work, connection comes in many forms and it should be protected, cherished and nurtured however it can be. There are a lot of people in the world really hurting by this sudden and tragic loss, not just because of what it means to lose a singular talent, a visionary and a trailblazer in every sense of the word, but for what it means to feel connected to somebody who is now no longer here, and something that exists because of them. I know that these communities will unite, as they’ve always done, and come together to support each other. As the news broke around the world, I was humbled by the number of friends who checked in on me and who I reached out to, with many of these relationships solidified due to a mutual love of SOPHIE in the first place. We must continue to reach out, to celebrate life and to build that ‘Whole New World’ SOPHIE created for us, as well as continue to fearlessly push, break and redefine creative, artistic and societal norms and boundaries that attempt to keep us restrained. It’s the most fitting tribute we can offer her.
Thank you for everything. SOPHIE FOREVER.
Words by Emma Jones