Illustration of electro-pop musician, SOPHIE
SOPHIE was an icon within the music industry and the LGBTQ community. (Illustration by Sophia Clendenen, University of the Arts)

SOPHIE Revolutionized Pop Music — and the World Along With It

The electro-pop trailblazer, who died at the age of 34 on Jan. 30, redefined her industry by challenging traditional concepts of gender, identity and sound.

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Illustration of electro-pop musician, SOPHIE

The electro-pop trailblazer, who died at the age of 34 on Jan. 30, redefined her industry by challenging traditional concepts of gender, identity and sound.

A musician isn’t defined by trivial things such as the number of hits they’ve made or the genre they’re associated with. A true musician is defined by the impression their legacy imprints on the world — not just the music industry. Songwriter, musician and advocate, SOPHIE did just that.

SOPHIE’s sudden and tragic passing has left a gaping hole in the hearts of many all over the world. For fans and other music icons alike, it has been a time of mourning — a feeling of loss for someone who was both influential and unique. Through her work as a producer and solo artist, SOPHIE’s music defined the beginning of a new era in pop music, full of new sounds, styles and forms of empowerment.

Sophie the Producer

Not only did SOPHIE create magical solo work, but she worked wonders in her career as a producer for countless artists. Though you may not have been aware of it, you probably grooved along to the fresh sound of SOPHIE’s music while blasting top hits on the radio during your morning drive. During her career, SOPHIE  produced and wrote for an impressive collection of artists. In 2016, SOPHIE served as a co-writer and producer for Madonna and Nicki Minaj’s smash hit collaboration, “B**** I’m Madonna,” an impressive feat that occurred only a few years into SOPHIE’s career. SOPHIE also produced for artists all over the world. Last year she produced and co-wrote the catchy pop hit “24 Hours” for internationally renowned K-pop girl group ITZY.

Most notably, SOPHIE is credited for producing a significant amount of work with Charli XCX and Vince Staples. SOPHIE worked with Charli XCX beginning in 2015 and produced almost a dozen songs for the singer such as pop earworm “After the Afterparty,” which became ARIA certified platinum in Australia. SOPHIE also co-wrote and produced “Yeah Right” and “SAMO” for Vince Staples’ collaboration tracks on his 2017 album, “Big Fish Theory,” which put an avant-garde pop twist on Staples’ usual hip-hop style.

Artistry

A major aspect of SOPHIE’s legacy is her singular brand of artistry, which has shaped much of the current pop landscape. In an article written for Pitchfork, Jazz Monroe described SOPHIE as, “the influential British producer who molded electronic music into bracingly original avant-garde pop.” In a time where the sounds of pop music had grown stagnant, SOPHIE revamped the genre with her unorthodox but distinguished aesthetic. SOPHIE’s sound was deeply experimental and therefore vital to challenging the pop genre. Each of her songs is filled to the brim with intricate layers, mixed with keen attention to detail that isn’t seen in many of today’s pop acts.

Most importantly, SOPHIE will be remembered as an artist who wasn’t afraid to be herself, and who pioneered a movement for transgender representation in the arts. One of the most compelling aspects of SOPHIE’s style is her exploration of gender fluidity and her desire to showcase vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness.

For the first few years of her career, SOPHIE revealed little to the public, letting questions about her and her gender identity fester in the minds of those curious about her background. In a bold move to reclaim herself and her identity, the music video for “It’s Okay To Cry” marked SOPHIE’s debut appearance, as the star of the video and song. In an interview with Anna Caffola of DJMag, SOPHIE proudly spoke about her first appearance and the vulnerability that came with it. She said, “Becoming more visible was what felt comfortable to me at the time, as it felt like a challenge, opening up this new space for myself and others consequently to inhabit in music.” Opening up space is the best way to explain SOPHIE and the lasting legacy of her work. As an artist, she continually showcased the power to create pathways that could shatter boundaries for herself and others.

The Legacy of Sophie

Above all else, SOPHIE was — and will remain — a powerful role model within the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, SOPHIE made history as the first openly trans woman to be nominated for a Grammy Award for her debut studio album, “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.” Additionally, SOPHIE’s style throughout her career has blurred and blended the lines of masculinity and femininity, as she sought to break standards that have been the norm for centuries.

In the same DJMag interview, SOPHIE spoke candidly about pressures to label her gender and the challenges of being an openly trans woman in art. “Much of the talk of trans issues by the press is serving other people’s agendas,” she said. “I experienced how tightly bound that influence is on the public. With such narrow paths for identity and output, you’re funneled down to represent these narrow issues. It became quite restricting, in what was meant to be liberating. It was exposing, having an image tied to an old circus. I have to re-contextualise and reconsider my art in other ways, to take back the narrative.”

SOPHIE’s story is one of empowerment, transcendence and strength that will no doubt continue to resonate with artists and fans for a very long time. Her fierce dedication to challenging societal narratives and breaking boundaries for transgender representation in the music world is a testament to the power of her character. Music is an outlet that moves and inspires, and SOPHIE is a perfect example of a musician whose work will go down in history as something that revolutionized the way pop music is produced. SOPHIE and her music brought in an era where artists of all genres, and people of all walks of life, could feel that there is a place for them in music. Though she is no longer here, SOPHIE’s euphoric, soulful energy will continue to breathe life into pop music through all of the artists she has influenced.

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