Sophie Xeon — the avant-pop producer known mononymously as SOPHIE — died January 30 in Athens, Greece, where the artist was living.
“Tragically our beautiful Sophie passed away this morning after a terrible accident,” SOPHIE’s record label, Transgressive, announced in a statement. “True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell. She will always be here with us.” SOPHIE was 34.
With abrasive and kinetic production, SOPHIE pioneered what would later become known as simply “hyperpop,” the subgenre that includes left-field electronic acts like 100 gecs and Dorian Electra.
After originally keeping a concealed identity, SOPHIE came out as a transgender woman in late 2017; representatives told Pitchfork after SOPHIE’s death that the artist preferred using no gendered pronouns. As much as SOPHIE revolutionized pop music, SOPHIE’s critical achievements also marked unprecedented representation for the trans community.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, SOPHIE took an interest in electronic music at a young age, learning to DJ as a child. After cutting teeth in the U.K. underground club scene, SOPHIE met A. G. Cook, the label head of the influential record label PC Music, with whom SOPHIE would become closely affiliated.
After a string of singles and mixtapes, SOPHIE’s first and only proper album, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, arrived in the summer of 2018, earning SOPHIE a Grammy nomination for the Best Dance/Electronic Album.
Delightfully over-the-top, SOPHIE’s musical style is often imitated, but never replicated. SOPHIE’s contributions to the music industry as a whole are palpable, as is the devastating loss of a modern-day icon. It’s arguable that no producer in the 21st century was as influential as SOPHIE.
To remember a musical innovator lost far too soon, we’ve rounded up just a few of our favorite tracks that SOPHIE produced.
5. Charli XCX, “Vroom Vroom”
After SOPHIE’s early singles garnered some moderate support from music blogs, a much-deserved breakthrough finally came when the producer was tapped for Charli XCX’s 2016 EP, Vroom Vroom. With its cheeky opening demand — “let’s ride!” — and an ascending syncopated synth riff, the EP’s title track arrives like a shot of adrenaline straight into the bloodstream. As far as SOPHIE’s catalog is concerned, the beat of “Vroom Vroom” is comparatively minimalistic, with platform-stomping percussion accentuating Charli’s alternations between coy raps and falsetto singing.
“When I met SOPHIE, it was like: Wow, you get it, and you get me, and you also make me feel something,” Charli told Vogue in 2019 about working on “Vroom Vroom.” “There are very few artists who make me feel something up my core and make me wanna cry.”
“Justice and Uffie made me feel something when I was 14, and I didn’t really have that feeling again until I met Sophie,” she added. “I felt this rush of: F**k, this is the coolest sh*t I have ever heard.”
4. SOPHIE, “Is It Cold In the Water?”
Less a beat and more SOPHIE’s best crack at a skyscraping ballad, “Is It Cold In the Water?” — from OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES — proved SOPHIE was more than a PC Music darling. Sprawling and grandiose, “Is It Cold In the Water?” follows the two most face-melting tracks on the album (“Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping”) with a percussion-free ode to finding oneself in the midst of a directionless void.
“Is It Cold in the Water?” feels simple, yet it’s full of intricacies and paradoxes. “I’m freezing, I’m melting,” go the song’s opening lyrics, as if to say that finding comfort and stability in a binary world is an impossible goal.
As the song’s title is repeated in the chorus, it emulates the anxiety of standing at the edge of a pool; the water might feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s always worth it to take the plunge. With a hardly-detectable chord progression and time signature, “Is It Cold in the Water?” represents the joyful freedom when you eschew society’s molds.
3. Let’s Eat Grandma, “Hot Pink”
When it was time for the teenaged U.K. pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma to follow up their impressive debut album, they did so with a bang. They recruited their labelmate SOPHIE to produce “Hot Pink,” the lead single from the band’s sophomore album, I’m All Ears.
Subdued verses are juxtaposed with earth-shattering, quintessentially SOPHIEan choruses. “Just paint it all in hot pink!” the band members shout, challenging the expectations that come with traditional femininity and asserting that it should be embraced by everyone without shame.
“We’ve always been into SOPHIE’s music, even before our last record came out,” the band’s Jenny Hollingworth told Pitchfork during the album rollout for I’m All Ears. “She was so mysterious. You wouldn’t expect that something so poppy could have such an emotional effect on you. We went to see her recently, and even though she’s well-known, it felt like everyone was in on a secret.”
2. SOPHIE, “BIPP”
For many, “BIPP” was the first SOPHIE song they’d ever heard. Arriving at the tail end of an era where electronic music was largely defined by white dudes who made a mockery of Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cultures, SOPHIE’s arrival shed a beacon of light.
Unlike the Skrillexes and the Diplos, SOPHIE didn’t need to utilize a drop to make a certified banger. On “BIPP,” SOPHIE manipulates a buoyant bass line like Play-Doh, letting your anticipation simmer until the only option is to hit repeat — no “yes, oh my God!” sample necessary. If there were ever a song that seemed to accurately hypothesize how clubs would operate in the distant future, “BIPP” does just that.
1. Vince Staples, “Yeah Right”
On paper, “Yeah Right” — a standout of Vince Staples’ 2017 album Big Fish Theory — checks most of the boxes when it comes to West Coast rap tropes. “Is your house big? Is your car nice? / Is your girl fine; f**k her all night?” the rapper grills in the song’s first verse, as if to paint his own “you vs. the guy she told you not to worry about” meme. And while the song boasts a small handful of high-profile collaborators, including a career-best verse from Staples’ fellow Compton native Kendrick Lamar, it’s SOPHIE’s production that steals the show.
SOPHIE absolves “Yeah Right” of its trite materialism and makes it ooze with an enviable swagger. Its beat clanks like an empty soda can being thrown into a recycling bin, while its bass is practically tailor-made for blowing out your car speakers (unless, of course, your disposable income has funded high-quality subwoofers).
By the time the gang vocals in the chorus proclaim “boy, yeah right, yeah right, yeah right!,” the song mimics the thrill of being welcomed at a packed house party. Not only could SOPHIE stretch the limits of production, but SOPHIE could make you feel effortlessly, peerlessly cool.
“Sophie was different,” Staples tweeted in tribute to his collaborator. “You ain’t never seen somebody in the studio smoking a cigarette in a leather bubble jacket just making beats not saying one word.”
SOPHIE’s music might’ve exuded carefree, club-ready fun, but SOPHIE also meant business; after all, SOPHIE was heralding an entire movement. You thought the pop revolution was reserved only for the straight, cisgendered male? Yeah, right.