BY Shon Faye in Opinion | 04 FEB 21

Celebrating SOPHIE (1986-2021)

Shon Faye pays tribute to the pioneering musician and producer whose generation-defining music will live on in the exultations of the dance floor 

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BY Shon Faye in Opinion | 04 FEB 21

She was climbing to see the first full moon of 2021 in Athens, Greece, we learned. Though she tragically never reached her vantage point, it is some small comfort, as we fathom her loss, to think of Sophie’s yearning to see it. Two celestial bodies, the trans woman and the moon, gazing back at each other for a brief moment over a goddess’s ancient temple. Sophie controlled tides, too, of course. Her gravitational energy pulled not on bodies of water but on our bodies, heaving and communing together under unnatural light while, outside, the moon shone.

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Sophie at her home in Los Angeles, 2018 by Renata Raksha. Courtesy: the artist

Sophie, who died on Saturday aged just 34, made music capable of producing sensory overload. It wasn’t just intense; it was often deranged and abrasive. It is no wonder to me now that I listened to her debut studio album, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (2018), repeatedly in the summer of its release: though I had transitioned years before, I had struggled that year with online harassment, much of it attacking my appearance, that left me with a thoroughly warped and damaged self-image. With its unhinged thumping, distorted vocal modulation and lyrics like ‘Without my legs or my hair / Without my genes or my blood / With no name and with no type of story / Where do I live? / Tell me, where do I exist?’ it was natural, then, that the album’s stand out track ‘Immaterial’ became a way not to rationally consider but to irrationally feel through an extreme desire to divest of my own embodiment.

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Sophie at her home in Los Angeles, 2018 by Renata Raksha. Courtesy: the artist

It always startles me anew when I see how much cis people loved Sophie’s music too – that she was a respected collaborator of Rihanna, Madonna and CupcakKe. Her production on Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP (2016) gave her a share in Charli’s cult fanbase: hardcore dance-pop enthusiasts (mostly gay men). But not everyone could have heard the transness in her later records the way some of us did. It was like it had been written in, surreptitiously, for us. How wondrous to hear parts of ourselves at the heart of the mainstream slipping by unnoticed with only our fellow sisters in on the secret. This is never truer than on her 2018 track ‘Faceshopping’, with its opening lyrics spoken over and leading into a growing metallic clash, as if of scalpels and blades: ‘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’. I guess the average listener will hear the humour about photoshopping your face. Yet only transfeminine culture’s ease with gory forms of surgical reconstruction (trans girls literally shop for our faces) could have accessed some of the song’s playfulness as it dissolves the boundaries between real and synthetic. I know of more than one woman who listened to Sophie, manically, on repeat in the hours before her life-changing surgery.

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Sophie at her home in Los Angeles, 2018 by Renata Raksha. Courtesy: the artist

Being grateful for what she gave us doesn’t mean her loss wounds us any less. She had so much more to offer. She worked with Lady Gaga during the recording of Gaga’s Chromatica (2020) album, but the demos didn’t feature on the final cut. Surely, a more fruitful collaboration between these icons of queer pop would have followed in time. Sophie’s first studio album, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (2019), earned a Grammy nomination and we, lacking her vision, cannot even imagine the ingenuity of a second. As the journalist Rose Dommu put it in a tweet last Saturday: ‘Sophie was the future of music.’ How cruel that the future is now confined to the past. Yet Sophie, who knew her body and her gender and her art could all shape-shift, waxing and waning in flux forever, surely will still glimmer beyond the finality of death. She is not gone, merely in eclipse. She is waiting for us in the beating, pounding joys and the inebriated exultations of the dancefloor, where we will meet her again and again.

Main image: Sophie at her home in Los Angeles, 2018 by Renata Raksha. Courtesy: the artist

Shon Faye is a journalist and author. Her first book The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice will be published by Penguin in September 2021. 

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