On Saturday, the news broke that sadly Sophie Xeon, better known as SOPHIE had died following an accident at her home in Athens, Greece. SOPHIE was only 34 years old with an incredible career in full bloom.
Every now and then music fans who enjoy what we do send us in articles, reviews and music. As we’re a very small team, we don’t always get the chance to read these contributions, but we’re very often delighted we did. This latest opinion piece by Annie Hackett is a passionate, heartwarming and a moving dedication to a pop star and dance music icon who influenced so many people despite her sadly cut-short, but brilliant life.
We couldn’t think of a better tribute to SOPHIE than to share this piece from someone who adored her music:
Sophie Xeon, better known as SOPHIE, was a pop and electronic music producer who pushed the boundaries of pop’s sound and aesthetic. She was also a trans woman. SOPHIE’s impact on the music industry was a rare one that could not be over stated. Her ability to produce for mainstream pop artists including Charli XCX, Vince Staples, Lady Gaga and Madonna, whilst still remaining underground, and continuously imagining new musical ventures, was testament to her talent.
SOPHIE first emerged on the music scene in 2013, but I didn’t discover her music until over a year after the release of her 2018 debut album ‘OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES’. Since my discovery of her I have become enamoured with her instantly recognisable assortment of bubbly synths, raw bass and mechanical sounds. Her sound, along with that of the rest of the PC Music crew, breathed a new life into pop music, sparking a revolution of sorts to push their sound and image into the mainstream. This has been refreshing and a welcome shift in pop for me. Hyperpop, bubblegum bass and avant-pop are over the top, fun, defiantly sexual and undeniably queer. And SOPHIE was at the heart of this. Truth be told, to me it seemed like SOPHIE was hyperpop. She gave this sound direction.
As she once said herself, for SOPHIE creating music was about creating “the loudest and the brightest”. Creating music and a subsequent growing movement of music that is unapologetically loud, big and happy is worth so much praise. Her 2018 track immaterial, for example, is an awesome amalgamation of bubbly pop and distorted avant garde, a perfect musical response to Madonna’s Material Girl. Meanwhile, in her work behind the scenes SOPHIE continuously opened doors for pop artists to explore new sonic paths of experimentation. One example of this was Charli XCX’s 2016 Vroom Vroom EP of which SOPHIE and fellow PC Music associate Hannah Diamond worked on. This marked a clear turning point for Charli sonically as she moved towards experimental, rave-inspired pop music. For Charli, among countless others, SOPHIE helped inspire this move – she once said of SOPHIE: “working with SOPHIE and releasing Vroom Vroom was a key moment for me in realizing myself as a musician, because I felt like I finally found someone who could articulate my ideas sonically… When I met SOPHIE, it was like: Wow, you get it, and you get me, and you also make me feel something.”
The production work done by SOPHIE sent ripples through the pop industry, and whilst her own productions are packaged as pop, most of them are still dance floor bangers. Her first single ‘Nothing more to say’ might be one of the perfect ‘lights up’ tunes at any house club, creating that overwhelming sense of rave euphoria, while her work as part of duo ‘Sfire’ is such beautifully uplifting italo and synth-pop that has been able to transport me to an era I didn’t even live through. I find the stories of SOPHIE’s early shared interest in electronic music and rave culture with her dad a touching example of the power of music to unite – and certainly her tracks had the ability to do this on the dance floor, and over this past year, in the living room.
But it was not simply as a musician that SOPHIE was a trailblazer and as we enter LGBT+ history month it is especially important to remember her cultural contribution and legacy for our community. She was an icon of trans liberation, who created a space for trans visibility and pride in the underground music scene. After several years of speculation over SOPHIE’s identity, the release of her music video for ‘It’s Okay to Cry’ – the first time she showed herself on any promotional material – was widely seen as her coming out publicly. For her, this video was an extension of her musical expression and she said that in her work “The intention has always been to be how I want to be and how I’m comfortable in the world, never to be anonymous.” This displayed a lot of strength in a too often unkind world obsessed with image.
Being a bisexual woman, the growing prominence of LGBTQ+ artists has enabled me to explore culture and music to attach to my identity which has been a very strengthening experience. This feeling must be ten-fold for those in the trans community, who are sadly too often ignored in culture and media or even worse made to feel the butt of a crude joke. Yet SOPHIE and others such as Kim Petras and Dorian Electra, have taken new strides for the community, showing pride in their gender whilst also proving that this does not have to define all that they are.
SOPHIE’s legacy has already been sealed, and the outpouring of tributes shows this. Christine and the Queens called her “an absolute triumph, both as an artist and a woman”, while Shygirl remembered her as “A friend I’ve never not been in awe of.” Further tributes were paid by activist Munroe Bergdorf, Sam Smith, Rihanna and Vince Staples. Sadly we won’t get to see where SOPHIE’s productions would have pushed music next, and we won’t
know if she was ever truly aware of her importance and influence on a personal and artistic level. What we can do is continue to play her music loud, continue to support new musicians who experiment creatively and continue to support our trans artists and friends.
Sophie Xeon sadly passed away on the 30th January 2021 after a fall whilst climbing to a roof to look at the moon at her home in Athens. She was just 34 years old. She will be sorely missed. Rest in Power.
Words: Annie Hackett.