Sophie Xeon (17 September 1986 - 30 January 2021), mononymously known as SOPHIE, was a Scottish-born and Los Angeles-based electronic producer, songwriter and DJ known for being one of the key artists of the "bubblegum bass" subgenre of electronic dance music and a pioneer of the hyperpop microgenre.
Sophie's music — and the wider bubblegum bass formula she helped solidify — took the conventions of pop music and wildly exaggerated them to Uncanny Valley-like levels, with cutesy, heavily synthesized and "plastic"-sounding instrumentals, pitched-up vocals with repetitive lyrics, and beats that were oftentimes frenzied and chaotic but thoroughly detailed. The result is music that's equal parts surreal, blatantly artificial, parodic, and ridiculously catchy.
Sophie released several singles throughout 2013 to 2015, gaining critical attention and popularity for tracks like "BIPP" and "LEMONADE"; the songs were all then released in a 2015 compilation titled Product. Near the end of 2017, she emerged from secrecy and premiered her newest single "It's Okay to Cry". Later in the month, she made her debut live performance, released her next single, "Ponyboy", and announced her first major studio album, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, released in June 2018.
On top of her own singles, she shared her unique style with other artists, with many producer credits working with Madonna, Charli XCX, Lady Gaga, Cashmere Cat, Vince Staples, Namie Amuro, and others. She's also frequently associated with the London-based PC Music label, sharing a similar approach to electronic and pop music, and has frequently collaborated with founder A.G. Cook, as well as individual acts like GFOTY and Hannah Diamond.
Sophie died on January 30, 2021, as a result of an accidental fall in Athens, Greece.
My tropes are the front of shop:
- Be Yourself:
- "Faceshopping" has been interpreted to be about this, but with a twist. The lyrics bring to mind photoshopping and other types of self-alteration for personal branding, but since they still reflect a certain view of the subject, there's authenticity in artificiality.My face is the front of shop
My face is the real shop front
My shop is the face I front
I'm real when I shop my face
- This is implicitly the entire theme and arc of Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, with many lyrics alluding to Sophie's personal journey as a transgender woman and her struggling with existential feelings of personal irrelevance. This culminates in the penultimate track "Immaterial", which seemingly represents her overcoming her insecurities and truly accepting herself for who she really is, i.e. anything she wants.
- "Faceshopping" has been interpreted to be about this, but with a twist. The lyrics bring to mind photoshopping and other types of self-alteration for personal branding, but since they still reflect a certain view of the subject, there's authenticity in artificiality.
- Book Ends: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides begins with "It's Okay to Cry", which contains the phrase "There's a world inside you", and it concludes with "Whole New World", itself containing the phrase "I looked into your eyes, I thought that I could see a whole new world."
- The Cameo: She makes a split-second appearance as herself in the video of Charli XCX's "After the Afterparty". She's the one holding her own decapitated head around the 3:15 mark.
- Caps Lock: Most of Sophie's songs are rendered in all-caps. Aside from the title of OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES, the songs on that album are rendered in Title Case.
- Coming-Out Story: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides is widely considered one, as not only did it (and more specifically, its first single "It's Okay to Cry") feature Sophie coming out as a transgender woman, much of the lyrical content is directed around concepts of the anxieties and pains of inhabiting the physical body, as well as the cathartic liberation of being yourself. The liner notes further this by containing photos of her topless, embracing her female identity physically as well as psychologically.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The special edition bundle of Product contained a "SKIN SAFE ODOURLESS AND TASTELESS PLATINUM SILICON PRODUCT". That's one way to put it.
- Drone of Dread:
- "L.O.V.E." contains a very high-pitched one.
- "Pretending" is six minutes of a very low-pitched one, including a recording of a bassy voice singing "I was just pretending" that's then been slowed down by several magnitudes of speed and pitch.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Much of her earlier pre-"BIPP" music, including "NOTHING MORE TO SAY / EEEHHH", is a lot more straightforward than her later work, taking more of a general house-inspired sound, with vocals left un-pitched. It wasn't until "BIPP" where Sophie decided to crank the artificiality up to eleven and became more experimental where she gained her signature sound.
- Epic Rocking: "Whole New World / Pretend World" exceeds 9 minutes, beginning with slamming electronics before gradually fading into a sparkling ambient soundscape.
- Everything Is an Instrument: A strange, rare non-comedic example which borders on being a Double Subversion. Sophie crafts individual sounds from scratch with simple waveforms as a base, which end up manipulated to sound similar to latex, balloons, bubbles, metal, plastic, and elastic. These are in turn incorporated rather effectively in her songs, such as with the synthetic, "bubbly" sounds making up much of "LEMONADE". Sophie compared this creation process to molecular gastronomy."Music as molecular gastronomy is something I like to think about. It’s about getting to the molecular level of a particular sound— realizing what that sound actually is made of, and why it behaves a certain way when processed or cooked. Then, you use those molecules to build new forms, mixing and re-appropriating those raw materials—and of course, it should be bloody delicious."
- Genre Mashup: "Avant-garde pop" or the nascent "bubblegum bass" label are a good start in describing her style, but something more accurate would likely be an experimental, blatantly synthetic mixture of mainstream pop, Trap Music, and industrial hip-hop. Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides further complicates things by adding influences of IDM, drone, and ambient music.Billboard: What genre do you coin yourself?
- Genre Roulette: Looking past her signature sound, her individual songs vary in base genre influence. "BIPP" and "LEMONADE", at least structurally, are rather straightforward pop tunes, "MSMSMSM" takes inspiration from Trap Music complete with rattling hi-hats, "HARD" and "Ponyboy" are aggressive, experimental bangers, "JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE" and "It's Okay to Cry" are gentle pop ballads, etc. Her debut album toys with this heavily, with the hyper-poppy “Immaterial” being preluded by the near 6 minutes of ambient droning that is "Pretending".
- Happy Rain: Appropriately enough, at the end of the video for "It's Okay to Cry".
- Hurricane of Puns: The lyrics to "HARD" are just a rapid-fire list of different applications to the titular word:Latex gloves, smack so hard
PVC, I get so hard
Platform shoes, kick so hard
Ponytail, yank so hard
Leatherette, party so hard
PVC, I get so hard
Platform shoes, kick so hard
But it's just so hard!
- Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The artwork for the singles that ended up on Product are stock renderings of water slides on white backgrounds. "L.O.V.E." is the odd exception, where it's instead an inflatable bug.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: "Faceshopping" and "Whole New World/Pretend World" have actual verses, apparently sung by Sophie herself and not Cecile Believe, but you'll be forgiven for not knowing they're there due to the heavy amount of distortion, almost unidentifiable in their already whacked-out instrumentals. The official video for "Faceshopping" captions the lyrics, but good luck trying to make it out as the video gets increasingly warped over time.
- The Invisible Band:
- Initially, Sophie's imagery was all there was to know about her, and she often misled her audience when she actually appeared, from using a voice changer during an audio interview to hiring a drag performer to mime her live DJ set without telling anyone. However, this went away by 2017, where she was much more keen to performing live herself and appearing front and center in her videos.
- There's also a case with the singers, where most of the vocalists still have yet to be identified. Only ones known for certain are Nabihah Iqbal for "LEMONADE", GFOTY for "HARD", Cecile Believe for most of Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, and Sophie herself for "It's Okay to Cry".
- A variant occurs in the video for the Sophie-produced "Koi" by Le1f. While Le1f plays himself the whole way through, sections of the chorus featuring a typically female vocalist standing in for Sophie is illustrated in the video by... a giant pair of animated lips.
- Ironic Echo: Despite not having much lyrical content to base off of, "Not Okay" appears to be a much darker response to "It's Okay to Cry", the opening of Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides. While "It's Okay to Cry" is a serene, reassuring pop ballad, "Not Okay" is a distorted mess of aggressive and tense sounds which can barely keep itself together.
- Mood Whiplash:
- A favorite trope of hers, with many of her songs going back and forth between serene ambiance to ridiculous aggression to poppy choruses, usually within a matter of seconds. "L.O.V.E." is a good example, largely comprised of a harsh and intense Drone of Dread with constant, ominous Title Drops, but there are sections where it abruptly interrupts itself with cute, sparkly keyboard riffs before it resumes.
- Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides has a wild love affair with this trope, not only containing her trademark sound jolts within songs, but the entire tracklist flips between being ethereal and uplifting to aggressive and cacophonous. To boot, the intro track "It's Okay to Cry", one of Sophie's most personal and gentle tracks to date, is immediately followed by "Ponyboy", which is among one of her most harsh and experimental, and things only escalate from there.
- Ms. Fanservice: After she fully came out as a transgender woman in 2017, she also stopped being shy about showing off her body. Many of her videos feature her in highly sexualized outfits, and for promotional photos (sometimes even performances), she often went completely nude/topless.
- New Sound Album: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, in stark contrast to the more post-ironic and pop-oriented Product compilation, is much more personal and sincere, retaining much of her Signature Style, but putting it through a larger variety of different emotions and genres, from straight ballads to experimental soundscapes.
- Obligatory Bondage Song: "Ponyboy" is a raunchy, almost ugly-sounding and intense example whose lyrics seem to be from the POV of the submissive in a crazy animal roleplay scenario.
- Only One Name: As an artist, she's just named "Sophie". Prior to "It's Okay to Cry", "Sophie" was only a moniker because "it tastes good and it's like moisturizer," but after coming out in 2017, it became her preferred first name.
- Out-of-Genre Experience:
- "It's Okay to Cry" is an unequivocally sincere pop ballad, complete with providing her own vocals and appearing in the song's music video, with only hints of her signature sound.
- Within the context of Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, an album full of distorted bangers, Surprisingly Gentle Songs, or surreal droning soundscapes, the penultimate track "Immaterial" stands out by being a perfectly straightforward dance pop song.
- Remix Album: One of Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides was released in July 2019 as a 2-part non-stop mix, with most of the remixing done by Sophie herself. Many of the rearrangements are incredibly drastic, to the point where a good chunk of the track titles don't correspond to tracks from the regular version of OOEPUI ("Cold World", "XTC Acid", "Push Emission (wHor3 moans)", "Leeds Heaven and Hell", "Pony Whip", "Laser", "Cold Water", and "Dive (SDF)").
- Rhyming with Itself: The only rhymes in "HARD" are with the word "hard" and itself.
- Sensory Abuse:
- Most of Sophie's music tends to be chaotic and wild, but "L.O.V.E." has a constant, very high-pitched Drone of Dread going through most it. Worse, in live performances, she occasionally blasts it as intermission music.
- "Ponyboy" and "Faceshopping" go the other route, whose beat consists of highly-distorted bass and vocals alongside metallic screeches.
- Shirtless Scene: Topless photos of her appear in the liner notes to Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides; given the album's overarching Coming-Out Story, the imagery appears to be there not for the sake of fanservice, but rather to showcase Sophie being willing to embrace her identity as a woman outside as well as in.
- "Ponyboy", appropriately enough, features brief flashes of ponies from My Little Pony in its music video and live background visuals.
- "Immaterial" is frequently seen as a huge invocation yet thematic inversion of Madonna's "Material Girl".
- Siamese Twin Songs:
- A bit of an odd example with her first single, "NOTHING MORE TO SAY / EEEHHH". The most "official" release for streaming is actually a mashup of several mixes of the namesake songs (hence the title), but on the digital singles, they're split individually; "EEEHHH" is its own track, and there's also a "vox" and "dub" of "NOTHING MORE TO SAY".
- The finale of Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides is a double track labeled in the tracklist as "Whole New World/Pretend World", starting off as an aggressive, vocal banger that halfway through dissolves into a cacophonous, but ethereal soundscape.
- Signature Style: Her uniquely plastic and synthetic style is very recognizable, often featuring prominently in very textured and meticulously-crafted production.
- Step Up to the Microphone: After years of releasing singles with female vocalists, most of which are still unidentified, Sophie made her own vocal debut on the track "It's Okay to Cry". She's also believed to have vocals in tracks such as "Faceshopping" and "Whole New World", but they're hidden behind incredibly garbled and distorted filters.
- Stylistic Suck: At least in the Product era, some of the vocal tracks have hints of this, with lyrics that sound derivative of bubblegum pop clichés and vocalists being slightly pitch-bent to imply a sense of artificiality. Possibly the most evident case of this is "JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE", which almost sounds like a parody of 2000s pop ballads with its vague, romantic lyrics and overly-synthetic instrumental (which, in a surreal twist, is almost completely devoid of percussion).We went out the very next day
You still remember my favorite place
And we laughed, just like we used to
And did everything we like to do
And now we’re holding hands and running
And it makes me feel, makes me feel...
- Uncanny Valley: One of Sophie's defining traits was pulling this off in an auditory fashion. Much of it deconstructs and exaggerates the cutesy, overly-pristine pop music of the early 2000's to a point where it becomes creepy, not helped by tracks with slightly pitched-up vocalists singing repetitive, vapid lyrics.
- Virtual Celebrity: In 2014, Sophie collaborated with Hayden Dunham and A.G. Cook to produce "QT", a performance art project of a semi-satirical popstar played by Dunham who "promotes and is the living embodiment of the semi-fictitious DrinkQT energy drink." She only released one single, "Hey QT", produced by Sophie and Cook, but she continued making live appearances for affiliated acts including Sophie and Charli XCX to lipsync her song.
- Vocal Dissonance:
- All over the place, with songs like "Faceshopping" using light, powerful singing voices in order to contrast with the harshness of the song itself.
- There is also "Burn Rubber", in which Sarah Bonito's young, playful voice sings about a harsh life in the fast lane, accompanied with a screeching, bassy rhythm.
- Word Purée Title: "BIPP", "ELLE", "MSMSMSM", and "VYZEE", which are all rather unsurprisingly Non-Appearing Titles.
- Word Salad Title: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, though it makes a little more sense when said quickly aloud, where it sounds like "I love every person's insides." According to an Office Magazine interview, she came up with it while stoned and decided to make it her title after she shared it with others who thought it sounded annoying and pretentious.