Empowering Womxn in Music | SOPHIE

SOPHIE is shape-shifting and illusive. She dodges most interviews and appearances, rarely divulging personal information that tells us about her past.

What we do know about SOPHIE is that she was born and raised in Glasgow, and that her music exists only in the present and the future; concerned with immediate feelings and the emancipation that comes with exploring the unknown.

There is a sense of youthful optimism about the future even in her heaviest of songs, and although there is recognition of past trauma; she constantly relays that once we accept that all that really matters is the here and now, there are endless possibilities to who we can be. 

Aptly reflected on ‘Immaterial’ where she says that

“Were just immaterial / I could be anything I want / Anyhow, anywhere, any place, anyone that I want”

The allure of SOPHIE is in her mystery

As a songwriter, producer, performer, art director and everything in-between, SOPHIE is in complete control of every single thing she releases; given ultimate authority over her creative endeavours by her record label, Transgressive Records (also home to the likes of Let’s Eat Grandma, Arlo Parks and Flume).

The past few years have seen a surge of interest surrounding SOPHIE, spurred by her revealing her face for the first time in 2017; despite consistently releasing music since 2013. She never tries to ‘sell’ her sound, or commercialise her image, she exists on the fringe of commodification; always letting her music do the talking instead. This is an extremely impressive feat for womxn in the music industry especially, where popularity comes from appearances and publicity, something that SOPHIE often avoids.

Her expertise in maintaining an enigmatic presence whilst retaining musical vulnerability and honesty requires both dexterity and sovereignty – two things that SOPHIE has at her disposal. 

The cultural impact of PC Music

SOPHIE was a prominent part of a specific time of music – the wave of PC Music, the electronic-dance record label that forever shifted expectations of dance music. Founded in 2013 by A.G. Cook, PC Music occupied a very particular space, categorised under the mid-00’s ‘internet era’ of electronic-dance music.

Many people would agree that PC Music is past its heyday, and although its rise was relatively recent, in digital time, it is already quite nostalgic – reminiscent of what once was.

Their signature: squeaky clean pop music tinged by Japanese kawaii culture. They mesh this with futurism, themes of technological advancement and the vapidity of materialism that is almost ironic in its blatancy. By carving a niche in the electronic-dance scene, PC Music quickly polarised public opinion, most people disparaging its sincerity; trashing it as contrived attempts at ingenuity due to its use of pitched-up vocals and its powder pink aesthetic.

Despite its controversy, the discourse surrounding it changed the future of pop-electronic music. The expectations of the genre permanently shifted, with artists such as Charli XCX still frequently collaborating with its artists, and none other than Skrillex being a vocal advocate  of the label. The most telling sign of its impact, however, is in its regard in public domain today; that being the transformation of ‘PC’ into a verb to describe music that adheres to the same conventions that they utilised as part of their brand. (Don’t you think that sounded quite PC?)

Their diverse roster of artists and sporadic SoundCloud releases characterised this era of music, and SOPHIE; whilst never being an official part of PC Music – was a close collaborator and a product of its influence. Though their peak was short-lived, there is no doubt that PC Music permanently disrupted and transformed the genre, and one of its most successful beneficiaries was in the form of SOPHIE.

Unapologetically embracing vulnerability

Now, let’s skip to 2017. SOPHIE released the glossy, soft-toned song ‘It’s Okay to Cry’. For someone usually so guarded, she is exceptionally vulnerable, with delicate and nurturing lyrics such as “I can see the truth through all the lies / And even after all this time / Just know you’ve got nothing to hide / It’s okay to cry”.

Her voice is breathy and light, whispering in her natural voice rather than her usual obscured autotune. This song is notably more pop-orientated than any of her other releases. She is open and welcoming; a step away from the resounding boom of 808s that characterise her other songs. ‘It’s Okay to Cry‘ was a pivotal point in her career, she was overtly embracing difference. She is clear in her message, that of accepting oneself for who they feel they are internally- despite what surface level features may project.

When she released the music video, she showed the extent of how exposed she was willing to be. By matching this lyrical vulnerability to her visual performances, SOPHIE finally reveals her physical appearance to the public for the very first time. 

It is incredibly intimate; she is naked, filmed entirely shoulder-up and close – front and centre for everyone to see. With a green screen moving behind her, she has her head in the clouds; and at one point, a rainbow appears behind her and she smiles. Elated, she stretches her arms up and consequently reveals her chest. Many fans took this as her coming out (to the general public) as a transwoman – something she confirmed post-release of this music video. 

Support of the LGBTQI+ community

With anonymity following SOPHIE her entire career, songs like ‘It’s Okay to Cry’ put to bed many questions that people had about her identity. Questions surrounding her gender have often overshadowed her work, with critics assuming that she was of a different gender,  using performative femininity to gain praise in the field of electronic music that is notoriously male dominated. Through all of this, through all of the deeply invasive questions and the interviewers and journalists hounding her, she was unwavering in her sentiment that:

All I’ve ever wanted to be seen as or referred to as is SOPHIE, and I stand by that in the same way. I don’t feel the need to clarify anything more than that.” 

This, in itself, is a political message of anti-essentialism. It runs throughout her music, and her vocal embracement of trans identity and unflinching support of the queer community solidifies this. 

Her 2018 critically acclaimed album ‘OIL OF EVERY PEARL UN-INSIDES’ effortlessly illustrates this. Through the innocuous nature of gender binaries on ‘Faceshopping’ and the angst of feeling displaced when embracing fluidity in ‘Is it Cold in the Water?‘ SOPHIE no longer hides behind mystique; she is now seen, a proud spokesperson of unorthodoxy. She is on a mission to unshackle young people from conventional structures that bound us to tradition.

Saying at Mexico Pride in 2018, that “regardless of whether you are trans or not, the people I am more excited about are the young open-minded people who are able to feel the music outside of the context of everything”. Her music is equal parts communal – an experience of mass rejection of conformity by like minded people; and something inherently personal, showing that our individuality is our strength, rather than grounds for our subordination.

As she vehemently said in 2018: “I’m all about visibility these days”. 

She is no longer esoteric. She is an activist, a transwoman, a self-proclaimed ‘pop star’. But beyond these labels, she is SOPHIE.

Want to learn about more empowering womxn in music? Check out our Spotify playlist.

Leave a Reply