SOPHIE’s 15 Most Essential And Groundbreaking Tracks
The visionary producer, who shaped an entire era of music as an artist and figure, died suddenly on Saturday in Athens.
SOPHIE’s sudden death this weekend, at age 34, has seen an outpouring of grief and appreciation for what the producer, in the past decade, has given electronic music and the queer community.
Since the producer’s first release in 2013, SOPHIE has been at the forefront of what electronica and pop music can and should be — and after coming out as trans in 2017, has offered the queer community a sonic language to express the limitlessness of gender and being.
As non-binary artist Lonelyspeck shared on Twitter, “SOPHIE helped me discover the transformative, emotional physicality that’s possible through music. The way she sculpted sound, like some hyper-real elastic substance, it always felt to me like metamorphosis — the feeling of stretching and tearing into the shape you’re supposed to be.”
From the artist’s work as a producer and writer for the likes of Charli XCX, Madonna, Vince Staples, Kim Petras and Shygirl to solo projects, SOPHIE shaped an entire era of music as both an artist and a figure, showing countless trans and queer people that they could enter the world of electronica and find new modes of expression within it.
the music world is literally decades behind this pic.twitter.com/mYIT95AJrk
— juno (@theythemmie) January 30, 2021
To try and capture the artist’s magic, here is a chronological guide to 15 of SOPHIE’s most essential tracks: if you aren’t familiar with them yet, I envy you. To hear ‘Bipp’ for the first time is a world-shattering experience, even eight years after its release.
— Note: while many fans and collaborators have referred to SOPHIE using she/her pronouns, Pitchfork report that a representative says the producer preferred neither gendered or non-binary pronouns. —
SOPHIE — ‘Nothing More To Say’
In 2013, SOPHIE debuted with a double-sided single: ‘Eeehhh’ and ‘Nothing More To Say’. Both are ecstatic tracks, an assembly line of synths, snares, and hard snaps that come together as if each sound is a new addition to a Petri dish.
‘Nothing More To Say’ is the more infectious, with a skittering, bizarre ‘whoa’ throughout matched by Macho Man-esque grunts, as if the song is straining under itself. Propelled by pure joy, the track seems to marvel at itself, asking “Can music like this be real?”. Nothing more to say, plenty more to come.
SOPHIE — ‘Bipp’
In 2021, ‘Bipp’ still sounds completely unique: in 2013, it was utterly mind-blowing. Sirens, sharp, almost headache-inducing whistles and spring-y, metallic beats, with a childish, shrill vocal promising that they can “make you feel better/if you let me”.
Inviting and strange, ‘Bipp’ is in a world of its own tethered to traditional club music only by a steady handclap. While SOPHIE was never directly tied to London label PC Music (A.G. Cook, Hannah Diamond, Danny L Harle), ‘Bipp’ beats the label at its own game, creating a completely artificial soundscape that doesn’t sacrifice emotion or turn its ‘post-internet’ kitsch into a joke.
SOPHIE — ‘Lemonade’
It’s still incredibly funny that McDonald’s used ‘Lemonade’ in a commercial, prompting think pieces about whether the ‘future of pop’ preemptively selling out.
But this short-and-saccharine 2014 track is a perfect parody of advertising jingles, a vacuous rush of ASMR bubbles, childish vocals sing-speaking non-sensical lyrics (“Le-le lemonade, candy boys, candy boys”) about a sickly sweet crush. At two minutes, the song underneath seems to fizz and dissolve underneath itself, filled with tea-kettle squeaks.
McDonald’s associating their product with SOPHIE’s own (the track later featured on 2015 complication Product) is almost post-irony, as SOPHIE’s cold, glossy production laughs at mass consumption by creating something completely original from a detrius of inorganic, artificial sounds.
QT — ‘Hey QT’
QT, a single-track project, was a collaboration between SOPHIE, A.G. Cook and conceptual artist Hayden Dunham, who fronts as QT — a pop-star created to sell an energy drink, QT, which was handed out at performances.
Dunham isn’t even the pitch-shift vocalist, who sings about a ‘QT’ she feels connected to despite physical distance: it’s a euphoria of longing, refracted through the fact that QT has many and no authors all at once.
It’s reminiscent of PC Music’s Hannah Diamond’s best work, though its turbo BPM and a Diplo remix pushed ‘Hey QT’ into the mainstream. Both a joke and completely sincere, a chipmunk singing about longing for a lover and a drink — and why can’t they be the same?
SOPHIE — ‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’
In 2015, SOPHIE collated a stack of singles for debut compilation Product, the latter half featuring some of the producer’s most industrial, hard-hitting work yet. ‘Msmsmsm’ is a high BPM, hellscape of harsh, clattering robotic sounds; ‘L.O.V.E.’ begins with a relentless mosquito squeak before a post-human voice spells out its title, as if trying to learn the concept.
Then, a complete 180 degree spin: ‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’ is a sign of what’s to come with ‘It’s Okay To Cry’, a nostalgic and vulnerable chipmunk ode to enduring friendship. Among the chaos, there’s connection and empathy.
Madonna — ‘Bitch I’m Madonna (feat. Nicki Minaj)’
Madonna’s under-appreciated 2015 album Rebel Heart is filled with collaborations from of-the-moment producers/songwriters, led by Diplo, who brings in SOPHIE as a songwriter for highlight ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’.
Comparatively to SOPHIE’s other work, it’s relatively normal, but the elements of the song show how the producer’s signatures influenced pop as a whole — the meta-element, the redlining dog barks, the relentless BPM.
SOPHIE’s numerous collaborations with Charli XCX are far more inventive and important in terms of shifting pop music, but ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ subverts the Queen of Pop’s later tendency towards party starter clichés. The boisterousness — clearly SOPHIE’s influence — gives what could have been completely cringe a genuine electricity.
LE1F — ‘Koi’ / Quay Dash — ‘Queen Of This Shit’
SOPHIE’s pop collaborations (including Kim Petras, LIZ, Banoffee, Mø) are landmarks, but the producer’s impact on rap can’t be understated either.
Before the producer worked on Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, SOPHIE teamed up with Le1f in 2015 for ‘Koi’ to match the rapper’s flirtatious cockiness with a turbo-playground of sounds to play with. SOPHIE understands that playing the field can be like a video game, and Le1f is here to win.
Two years later, SOPHIE would work with Quay Dash on her Transphobic EP, lending a bold, hard-hitting backdrop for both ‘Bossed Up’ and ‘Queen Of This Shit’, tracks perfect for late-night, sweaty club performances. Absolutely huge.
Charli XCX — ‘Vroom Vroom’
Where would Charli XCX (and ‘hyper-pop’) be without SOPHIE? After collaborating on the light, twinkling anthem ‘After The Afterparty’, the two created the turbo four-track EP Vroom Vroom in just a few days.
Frenzied, aggressive, and utterly hedonistic, title track ‘Vroom Vroom’ takes you along for a ride, shifting gears repeatedly but never stalling. There’s a lot going on here — so many bridges, buildups, breakdowns for a three-minute track — and it demands you jump around and get ridiculous. SOPHIE’s sense of humour and playfulness comes out, which frees up the listener: no time for self-seriousness in the club when the track samples car horns and has Charli sing “beep beep”.
SOPHIE’s later work with on Pop 2 completely shifted Charli’s career and critical perception. But more than that, the duo’s collaborations have inspired a legion of artists and producers to embrace the traditionally naff or cringe and reinvent it to push the boundaries of what pop music can be.
SOPHIE — ‘It’s Okay To Cry’
In 2017, SOPHIE came out as trans with the video for ‘It’s Okay To Cry’, the lead single off the debut album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.
Previously, SOPHIE had a minimal public profile, and it was widely assumed that the artist was cis-male, which created an odd dynamic with the music/name, given the sexism that female producers and electronic artists face.
For the first time, SOPHIE centered themselves, singing and lip-syncing in the video; it’s an incredibly tender ballad with largely untouched vocals. You can hear trepidation, nerves, and even the spit between SOPHIE’s lips.
The message isn’t as simple as ‘I’m a trans woman’: it’s seeking connection past any physical facade. As SOPHIE sings, “There’s a world inside you/I wanna know what it feels like/I wanna go there with you” – it’s an impossible task to get to the core of a person and bridge that distance, but SOPHIE’s music, in its shattering of convention, created a soundscape that seemed to invite us into this other, limitless world.
SOPHIE — ‘Faceshopping’
‘Faceshopping’ could be SOPHIE’s thesis point, an aggressive, metallic clashing of sound and gender that gives way to a transcendent, glittering bridge. ‘Faceshopping’ sees SOPHIE retreat to using another artist’s voice — frequent collaborator Cecile Believe — who sings a Mobius strip of lyrics about her face being a ‘shop-front’, facing a fronted face, and [photo]shopping for a new face.
Like the song’s every rippling and clanging textures, the identity is ever-shifting, forged in fire again and again and again — there is nothing ‘authentic’ here, because authenticity is a myth that upholds tired beliefs and worlds. SOPHIE is creating another universe of torturous sonics, against all traditional ideas of what a utopia should ‘sound’ like.
SOPHIE — ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’
You have to listen to SOPHIE’s 2018 album Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides from start to finish. The journey it takes is eerie, confronting, and magical: after the intensity of ‘Ponyboy’ and ‘Faceshopping’, we land on ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’, arguably SOPHIE’s most sublime song.
Singer Cecile Believe stretches out the title question and describes a loneliness in leaving home: as the synths circle in the back, louder and louder, the song sounds like they’re at the edge of a precipice before the album dives into the unknown.
SOPHIE — ‘Immaterial’
Nothing I can write about ‘Immaterial’ will come close to Sasha Geffen’s description in their book Glitter Up The Dark. Here they are below.
— 𝖊𝖌𝖌 (@emmaggarland) January 30, 2021
SOPHIE — ‘Whole New World/ Pretend World’
Oil… closer ‘Whole New World/ Pretend World’ holds nothing back. The nine minutes are a chaotic, apocalyptic mess of sirens, screams, lasers, spaceships and vocals that alternate between falsetto and a monstrous, barely decipherable growl. Repeated is a war cry, “whole! new! world!”, each word emphasised.
In its last third, it mellows with ethereal yelps, washing away the future. What remains is space, filled with potential.
Arca — ‘La Chiqui (feat. SOPHIE)’
A collaboration between Arca and SOPHIE is a meeting of the minds: two trans producers who shared a fearless, uncompromising idea of what electronic music could sound like and mean. ‘La Chiqui’ comes towards the end of Arca’s 2020 album Kick i, and the two push each other further and further into electro-chaos.
The song is overwhelming, a meeting of Arca’s operatic and SOPHIE’s pitch-shifted vocals against a production that combines both artists’ most intense idiosyncracies. It’s a celebration of what each have achieved and what should have been yet to come.
Jared Richards is a freelancer who has written for The Guardian, The Big Issue and more. He’s on Twitter.