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Remembering SOPHIE: A gut-wrenching loss for pop music

<p>Pop music owes a great debt to innovative producer and musician SOPHIE, who tragically passed away on January 30.</p>

Pop music owes a great debt to innovative producer and musician SOPHIE, who tragically passed away on January 30.

Sophie Xeon, one of the most influential pop musicians and producers of the last decade and known professionally as SOPHIE, passed away Jan. 30 in a tragic accident first reported by the artist’s record label Transgressive. 

"Tragically, our beautiful Sophie passed away this morning after a terrible accident. True to her spirituality, she had climbed up to watch the full moon and slipped and fell," read the statement. SOPHIE, who was 34, is another devastating instance of a music innovator and genius lost at a young age.

SOPHIE, who asked publicists not to use pronouns, was not only a musical icon but an icon in the LGBTQ community, coming out publicly as a transgender woman in 2017 with the release of “It’s Okay To Cry.” This was the first time the artist’s unaltered voice was present on a project. SOPHIE sought to break down the traditions and rules of not just music but gender and sexuality, all in service of greater expression and self-actualization. In an interview with Paper Magazine, SOPHIE said that: “Transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit.”

Originally from Glasgow, SOPHIE began attending raves at about ten-years-old when the artist’s father came to believe that electronic music was the way of the future for the musical world. As SOPHIE matured, the artist came to this belief as well, expressing a fascination with “Kraftwerk and Orbital cassettes” instead of the more “normal” interests of SOPHIE’s siblings. This fascination grew into a passion; SOPHIE wanted to quit school and make electronic music before even becoming a teenager. 

By the early 2010s, SOPHIE’s dream of making electronic and pop music had become real, as the artist’s breakout single, “Bipp,” turned heads in 2013 with its off-putting, glitzy pop melodies. The single became an underground club banger and was later featured on the artist’s debut EP “Product” in 2015. Like much of the artist’s solo work, “Product” is a stirring collection of contradictions, as childlike glee clashes with atonal noise-pop amid perky and “standard” pop choruses. 

Regarding the artist’s views on pop, SOPHIE said in an interview with Rolling Stone that “all pop music should be about who can make the loudest, brightest thing.” While much of pop or electronic music comes from samples and can often be formulaic, SOPHIE’s solo work is anything but.

With “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” the artist’s Grammy-nominated second album, SOPHIE continued to refine the experimental and multifaceted tones presented in earlier works. The album’s lead single, the previously mentioned “It’s OK to Cry,” sees a more vulnerable SOPHIE singing a stirring ballad featuring SOPHIE’s real voice above a bed of ‘80s synths. Later in the tracklist, however, SOPHIE explores BDSM noise pop with “Ponyboy” (which happens to be the first song I ever heard by the artist) and pays tribute to the iconic Madonna. In his retrospective on SOPHIE’s life, Spencer Kornhaber suggests that the strange sounds and techy creations on “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” are constructions of SOPHIE’s queer self-actualization.

While much of SOPHIE’s solo work ventured far beyond the boundaries of popular music, the artist was also deeply involved as a producer for several more mainstream musicians, such as Charli XCX, Vince Staples and Madonna. Alongside frequent collaborator A.G. Cook, SOPHIE produced nearly a dozen tracks for the ascendant hyperpop artist Charli XCX, who took many cues for her own electronic pop music from the more experimental SOPHIE. With Vince Staples, SOPHIE produced the song “Yeah Right,” which also featured Kendrick Lamar, demonstrating the far-reaching musical impact SOPHIE had even beyond the genres of pop and electronic music. And of course, Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna,” shines through with SOPHIE’s signature colorful and addictive pop production.

SOPHIE’s impact and legacy go beyond the artist’s solo and production work. The impacts span across the music and culture world but are most prevalent within the exponentially growing genre of hyperpop. Hyperpop, which typically combines glitchy production, altered vocals and intense tempos, counts SOPHIE as one of its founders. Artists within this genre include 100 gecs, Rina Sawayama and Charli XCX, as well as many more young artists from around the world that are making innovative and provocative pop music. The hyperpop genre also provides a niche for other trans and nonbinary artists, such as Dorian Electra, Kim Petras and 100 gec’s Laura Les, to express themselves and do what they love, further proving the immense impact that SOPHIE has had on the future of music and cultural expression, and how irreplaceable SOPHIE is in the history of modern pop music. 

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