How SOPHIE became the voice of a generation – and how her legacy of liberation lives on
Sophie Xeon, best known as the iconic SOPHIE, would have been 36 today.
The Scottish hyperpop artist passed away in January 2021, at age 34, leaving behind a legacy of critically-acclaimed dance music that has defined the life and struggles of a generation of queer people.
Upon her death, The New York Times honoured SOPHIE for her “distilled speed, noise, melody and clarity, working simultaneously at the experimental fringes of dance music and the centre of pop”.
Her management called her an “icon of liberation”, both for her music and for the “message and visibility that was achieved” through it.
Xeon released her first single as SOPHIE in 2013, and for years remained a figure of mystery while releasing songs and producing for artists including Charli XCX.
It wasn’t until 2017’s “It’s Okay to Cry” that SOPHIE included her own voice, and image, in a release. It wasn’t a coming out – that she was certain of – but it was the first time the public got to know SOPHIE as a person, as a trans woman.
Her unique brand of electronic “hyperkinetic” pop music became something of a cultural pillar for the queer community – more specifically with trans and non-binary people who identified with the passionate messages behind her lyrics.
One fan, named Wyn, recalls the time they first listened to SOPHIE, having found her through art collective and record label PC Music in 2014.
“I still didn’t realise I was trans at this stage,” they tell PinkNews. “So for some time, her music was, for me, mostly part of that sphere of British hyperpop associated with PC Music. My interest in that movement did become increasingly associated with my gender identity after I came out in 2017.”
In 2018 SOPHIE released her only studio album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides (a homophone phrase for “I Love Every Person’s Insides”). If her music had connected with trans people before, this album, and its lyrics, cemented her position as a voice for the community.
“Although a lot of my friends loved it on release, I actually found it a bit tricky to like at the time, partially because of how close to home some of the trans commentary was,” Wyn says.
“When SOPHIE died in 2021, however, I attended some online memorial club nights with my flatmates and at that point really started listening to the album. ‘Is it Cold in the Water’ and ‘It’s OK to Cry’ struck a huge chord with me while mourning her death.”
SOPHIE’s mix of industrial percussive clangs and soulful, elegant vocals – whether her own or someone else’s – create a disparity of beauty and brutalism – mirroring life as a queer minority in the highly-commodified world of today.
Particularly, her song “Faceshopping”, about the commercialisation of beauty, has a predominantly harsh and gritty backing track, interwoven with deep, bionic calls to “synthesise the real.”
But within that dull, menacing clattering of metal and synthetic sound, there’s a moment in the middle of the track where it shifts into a dream-like state of beautiful harmony, as a mellifluous voice sings about the “one that I see in my dreams.”
The moment could be interpreted as that brief, eye-opening glimpse outside of the world’s constant pressure to look beautiful, where a person sees themselves in the mirror as they are, or as they want to be, and are content with the reflection staring back at them.
But the truth about SOPHIE’s music is that there is no concrete meaning behind any of it – it’s an experience that is deeply personal to the listener, which is why her fans have so much to say about her music.
SOPHIE’s death was announced on 30 January, 2021. She passed away after a climbing accident in Greece.
“True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and slipped and fell,” a statement read. “She will always be here with us.”
That has certainly proven to be true.
Her influence on the trans community was so significant that, a few weeks after her death, fans called for NASA to rename the exo-planet TOI 1338 b in her honour.
“SOPHIE was a highly influential singer, songwriter, and producer who was a great inspiration to the LGBTQIA+ community,” a petition read. “Her messages, actions, and music left an insurmountable impression on many LGBTQIA+ individuals.”
As her 36th birthday approached, the musical group BC KINGDOM began organising #SOPHIEDAY, celebrating her legacy and the mark she left on the world.
— edstuh (@edstuh) September 16, 2022
For fans around the world, it’s a day to mourn, but also to celebrate the ways in which SOPHIE endures.
“SOPHIE was immortalised through her music. She pushed boundaries in music no one dared to touch, and no one could forget that,” said the owner of the fan page Sophie Xeon Updates.
“Her legacy lives on through the people she loved and her fans. It’s not the same without her here with us, and we miss her all so much.”
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