It’s rare to watch an artist create a brand-new subgenre of music right in front of your eyes. Certainly, many have helped shape the future of their genre or left a mark, but SOPHIE took the underground experimental pop machine and molded it into something completely new.
When you look at today’s hyperpop movement, inhabited by acts like Glaive, 100 Gecs and others, you can see just one result of SOPHIE’s singular career. Spending years chopping up beats, twisting the human voice, glitching out rhythm sections and repackaging them as a glossy product, SOPHIE only garnered the attention of the wider world in the last three years, after putting a face to the name. Before 2017, most fans didn’t even know what SOPHIE looked like. They didn’t know about SOPHIE’s transgender identity. They didn’t know much at all aside from the music. As with so many pioneers before, SOPHIE didn’t bother fostering a public image — the trailblazer was busy behind the scenes, working to change the face of experimental pop and electronic music forever.
With the tragic news of Sophie’s death at the age of 34, we’re turning to SOPHIE’s catalog to celebrate an incredible and influential life. We’ve selected 13 songs to demonstrate the range of talent the artist brought to the table — and the immeasurable potential that has been lost.
SOPHIE’s breakthrough single resembled nothing else in contemporary pop upon its June 2013 release, but its roots were clearly in pop: all of its blips, whirs, distorted beats and tempo shifts don’t work without a vocal hook, “I can make you feel better,” that’s somehow both metallic and warm. “Bipp,” which earned rave reviews and year-end list placements in 2013, was alien and catchy as hell, challenging the DNA of pop while embracing its soul; in this way, it would serve as a North Star for the rest of SOPHIE’s career. – Jason Lipshutz
This deceptively simple 2014 single — which would eventually land on SOPHIE’S 2015 PRODUCT compilation – is, on its surface, a sonic wind-up toy about craving the titular citrus-based beverage. (So effective, in fact, that McDonald’s used it in a commercial for actual lemonade.) Like everything SOPHIE did, though, the layers ran deep. Here the producer oscillates between sugary lyrics about “candy boys, c-c-candy boys” with the heftier admission that “I never meant to hurt you/It wasn’t in my plans.” The pitched-up verses and chant-like chorus are laid over a spare, occasionally cartoonish beat that remained nonetheless sophisticated and sleek as chrome. – Katie Bain
An exemplar of SOPHIE’s singular vision and genius, “Faceshopping” combines punishing industrial skronk, wisps of top 40 pop hooks, insouciant vocals and wry cultural commentary to create a hypnotic banger. For a song that was nearly three years old at the time of SOPHIE’s untimely passing, “Faceshopping” still sounds like it’s coming in hot three decades into the future. – Joe Lynch
SOPHIE, “It’s Okay to Cry”
As stunning a ballad as was released in the 2010s, “It’s Okay to Cry” was a voice in the ear of anyone who needed it (i.e., everyone) telling you — in a whisper so intimate you could shiver just to remember it — that no matter what you’re feeling right now, your inside is still your best side. And lest the song’s lush synth twinkles and overwhelming sense of empathy risk coming off maudlin, SOPHIE ends “Cry” with twenty seconds of exultant electro-pop fireworks: a celebration confirming that you’ll make it through, if you haven’t already. – Andrew Unterberger
Charli XCX, “Vroom Vroom”
The significance of Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom,” and the four-song EP of the same name that she released in March 2016, can only be understood by what came before it. Prior to the project, the British singer-songwriter was enjoying mass-appeal success thanks to the Hot 100 top 10 hit “Boom Clap,” guest spots on smashes like Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” and writing credits on songs by Selena Gomez and Ty Dolla $ign. Charli could have stayed in her lane and enjoyed a fruitful next half-decade; instead, she took a sledgehammer to her sound, joining with SOPHIE to develop an unrelenting riff on early hyperpop. “Vroom Vroom” clangs and squeaks around Charli’s polished delivery, imagining a bold new path for the singer’s music — and reshaping the trajectory of a star, who quickly bought in to SOPHIE’s vision. – J. Lipshutz
QT, “Hey QT”
An irresistible hyperpop lemon drop, “Hey QT” is performed by a chirpy singer named QT to promote an energy drink called DrinkQT… which technically existed but wasn’t intended as a genuine product to be stocked on shelves across America. For something that’s more of a performance art piece than a pop song, “Hey QT” has no right to be as marvelous as it is – and that’s in large part thanks to producer SOPHIE’s deft negotiation between electropop parody and sincerity; it works both as an art project and an effervescent pop delight. – J. Lynch
Cashmere Cat feat. MØ & SOPHIE, “9 (After Coachella)”
If you liked the way two of the most boundary-pushing pop producers of the 2010s spread confusion, you were no doubt entranced by their couple of collaborations on Cashmere Cat’s 9 album, the most stunning of which was the set’s inscrutable title track. Alternating between sweet, dreamy verses and a clanging, cacophonous drop, “9” is both the hazily euphoric memory of the festival the night before and the remorseless alarm clock reminding you it’s time to snap to reality this morning. — AU
Vince Staples, “SAMO”
“Watch me do the same ol’ thing,” California’s most sonically shape-shifting MC caustically quips on the hook to this Big Fish Theory highlight, the obvious irony needing no major underlining over metallic synth scrapes and queasy bass. It’s immediately identifiable who’s producing but feels no less at home on Staples’ turf for it, demonstrating just how much further SOPHIE’s sound could’ve still traveled. — AU
Ever wanted to shove a big middle finger in the face of the gender binary? SOPHIE certainly did with “Immaterial,” one of the producer’s most undeniably pop-heavy tracks, where the star wrapped a message about predetermination and the human desire to change your fate into a three-and-a-half-minute pop banger — just another day for SOPHIE, then. From the opening lines, with a chorus of distorted voices chanting out “Immaterial boys/ Immaterial girls,” lines of dripping synths and heart-pounding drums drive the song forward, shifting from moment to moment. If only to further illustrate the point, toward the song’s finish SOPHIE takes the “natural” voices and twists, flips, cuts, pitches and morphs them — why stay stuck within the limits of a gendered vocal when you can shape it into something entirely fresh? “Immaterial” serves as a glorious thesis statement for SOPHIE’s work, showing how the icon broke down boundaries in music without ever doing it the disservice of being specific. – Stephen Daw
Instinctively grasping the efficacy and allure of drastic counterpoint, SOPHIE starts out this Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides gem by pairing bass-y vocal intonations with a pouty repetition of the words “pony” and “boy.” Flavors of Detroit techno and soulful wailing gradually seep in to this deranged headbanger that seemingly crept in from a dimension just adjacent to ours. – J. Lynch
SOPHIE, “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye”
Another single that would ultimately land on the PRODUCT compilation, “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye” reaches back through the eras of pop music while also embodying its present and future. The resonant melody and bittersweet lyrics could have belonged to Ronnie Spector, Debbie Gibson or Mandy Moore, but with SOPHIE’s treatment, the song takes on a shining, mechanical quality that established the producer as both the most modern of pop talents and an artist who seemed to be transmitting music from the future. — KB
Madonna, “Bitch, I’m Madonna”
The 2015 single from Madonna’s Rebel Heart LP is ostensibly a Diplo song — the producer’s signature EDM sirens and grimy trap fingerprints are all over it — but SOPHIE, who’s credited as a writer on the project alongside a crew including Madonna, Ariel Rechtshaid and Diplo, has a more subtle but nonetheless influential presence. Madonna’s rapid-fire sing-song vocals directly replicate the style of SOPHIE’s delivery during this era, and the spare hyperpop chorus could have only come from SOPHIE — or the legion of copycats that followed in the producer’s wake. — KB
Kim Petras feat. SOPHIE, “1, 2, 3 Dayz Up”
If you need further proof of SOPHIE’s impact on the music industry, look no further than an artist like Kim Petras. The transgender German singer has slowly begun to break into pop music’s mainstream with a bubblegum hyperpop sound, entering through a door partially constructed by SOPHIE. When these two transgender stars finally teamed up to show the world what exactly they could do, it was a match made in heaven. “1, 2, 3 Dayz Up” is a perfect blend of SOPHIE’s pop musings (glittering melodies, complex beats and a bass to knock you out of your seat) and her experimental whims (a bridge that sonically melts in front of you). Getting to see two transgender stars at the forefront of a burgeoning pop sound perform together was one of many pioneering wins SOPHIE gave the world. — SD