Sophie : Artist Retrospective
Raghav Raj | Staff Writer
SOPHIE, who tragically passed away at the age of 34 on January 30 while climbing a rooftop in Athens, Greece to get a better look at the moon, was not just simply one of the greatest musical innovators of the 21st century, terraforming the landscape of pop music into something new. No, SOPHIE — who preferred not to use gendered or nonbinary pronouns — was something more for a lot of people, an unapologetically queer figure bringing dance music back to its unapologetically queer roots in a manner I can only really describe as revolutionary. In honor of SOPHIE, the Chronicle celebrates a glorious life with some of the artist’s greatest songs, both as a producer and as a solo artist.
“Bipp” by SOPHIE
The main refrain of “Bipp,” SOPHIE’s breakout single, is unmistakably simple in how revelatory it feels: “I can make feel better, if you let me,” chirped gleefully by a warping, helium-filled voice. The refrain is adorned by an array off-kilter sounds, united in their remarkable precision. The synths spring back and forth, bouncing around as they chase after the pinging bass rhythms, bleeping and blooping like a futuristic spaceship control board. It always seems like the song is headed for some blissful release, but SOPHIE is all too eager to withhold that satisfaction, offering only a slight snare snap here or a few bass drum kicks there. The song instead finds euphoria in subversion, radiating joy as it reverberates in the empty spaces.
“Vroom Vroom” by Charli XCX (prod. SOPHIE)
If there was ever an artist to find a kindred spirit in SOPHIE’s sharply distinct idiosyncrasies, it was Charli XCX, a frequent associate whose collaborations with SOPHIE found magic in the liminal space between pop and experimental music. Nowhere was this magic more evident than in “Vroom Vroom,” a feverish dance track with careening bass and swerving synth work. Practically launching into hyperspace every time Charli said “let’s ride,” the song is a marvelous example of SOPHIE’s pop instincts revealing themselves, with a song that’s unmistakably sleek and furiously propulsive all at once.
“Yeah Right” by Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar (prod. SOPHIE)
In many ways, it was easy to make the connection between SOPHIE’s signature sound — grimy, bass, tight percussion — and hip-hop music, eventually coming to fruition when the producer teamed up with Long Beach rapper Vince Staples during sessions for his 2017 sophomore record, the excellent Big Fish Theory. SOPHIE’s production on the album’s standout track, “Yeah Right,” is — pardon the phrasing — downright filthy, anchoring the song to the Earth with quaking bass wheezes and clattering drum programming. With Staples and Lamar trading bars as the beat rumbles onward, the collaboration makes for a headbanger of a song, another poignant example of SOPHIE’s gift for musical alchemy.
“It’s Okay to Cry” by SOPHIE
SOPHIE’s music, no matter how abrasive it could be, always found this deeply emotive power in vulnerability and being true to itself. Nowhere did that ever feel more clear than when SOPHIE stood facing the camera for the music video of her 2017 song “It’s Okay To Cry,” finally unobscured, with glossy red lips, prominent cheekbones, and piercingly beautiful eyes. The song, one of SOPHIE’s poppiest and most delectably sweet, is remarkable on its own, but it’s all the more powerful for how it served as an arrival, a coming out party for an artist whose entire body of work felt unashamedly, joyously queer. Now, in the wake of SOPHIE’s passing, it feels like a message from the heavens above, for all who are grieving, and for all who are celebrating her life. It is a reminder that it’s okay to be vulnerable, that it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to cry.