SOPHIE died on January 30, 2021 in Athens, Greece, after sustaining a lethal fall from a balcony. After their death, it was revealed that they preferred to use gender-neutral pronouns.
For as long as I can remember, I have hated my body. As soon as I hit puberty and began to molt into a woman, I felt the small sense of security I had slip away — I was now a woman, no doubt about it. At twelve, as my breasts began to grow, my mind slowly built towering, concrete barriers of dysphoria that would take years to overcome. Throughout my mid teenage years, I slowly boarded up the doors to the voice of reason in my head that alerted me this isn’t right. I grew my hair out. I wore tight low-cut tops. I embraced the body of a woman I had grown into, and I was beautiful. Unhappy, but beautiful. My body became an ornately decorated coffin, nailed shut with disgust and buried under six feet of contempt.
Until I found a home in transness. In SOPHIE.
Sophie (stylized as SOPHIE) Xeon is now known as one of the most influential and accomplished electronic and hyperpop producers of the decade. Their style was hyperkinetic, surrealist, entrancing, featuring heavy use of synthesizers, brash electric sounds, and female voices. They were an incredibly versatile artist, having produced for Madonna, Kyaru Pamyu Pamyu, Charli XCX, Lady Gaga, Vince Staples, and dozens of other massive names.
SOPHIE was born in 1986 in Glasgow. From a very young age, they would often accompany their father to raves and concerts; as young as nine years old, SOPHIE was already expressing desire to drop out of school and pursue a career in electronic music. They began producing upon receiving a keyboard as a gift for their tenth birthday. Throughout their teenage years, SOPHIE would lock themselves in their room after school almost every day teaching themselves how to DJ and produce music. Electronic music was young SOPHIE’s clear passion.
In the late 2000s, SOPHIE’s career was set in motion with a band named Motherland. Accurate info is difficult to piece together and studio recordings of their songs are rare, but one thing is always clearly identifiable in Motherland’s work: SOPHIE’s sound. The band started and ended years before the trademark “hyperpop” sound really existed, but their whimsical use of synthesizers, digital samples, and feminine vocals marks the band with SOPHIE.
In 2013, SOPHIE’s first solo single “Nothing More to Say” was released. Soon after that, throughout the mid-2010s, SOPHIE began slowly making her way into the UK electronic and pop scene and began collaborating with known artists such as Kyaru Pamyu Pamyu and Charli XCX. Some of SOPHIE’s solo songs such as “Lemonade” and “Hard” were featured by some major outlets such as The Washington Post and Complex. In 2017, SOPHIE released a music video for ‘It’s Okay To Cry,’ in which they revealed their voice and image to the public for the first time. Soon after the music video’s release, SOPHIE confirmed a trans identity.
SOPHIE remained anonymous for the beginning of their career, using voice-modifying softwares for interviews and shielding parts of their face. The anonymity was largely due to a desire to be viewed as an artist, not a woman or a person. Many speculated they were a man and used a woman’s name to “gender appropriate,” and despite the hurtful nature of these rumors, SOPHIE never entertained or addressed any of them. In an interview with Teen Vogue, they explained that they don’t feel the need to — “I speak through my music, and that’s all I need.”
SOPHIE’s career blossomed because of the merit and sheer ingenuity of their work. In an interview for Arte Tracks, they expressed that electronic music can “generate any texture, in theory.” They viewed their music as they viewed gender and expression: something completely fluid, individual, and replete with possibilities and beautiful, customizable intricacies. SOPHIE rarely used instruments or pre-recorded sounds. The production is almost entirely focused on the use of software synthesizers, and often lacks a clear organization of bass, rhythm, or melody: every part of each song is always flux or in motion. Their lyrics vary in subject matter, but the crux of SOPHIE’s message is always focused on opposition to tangibility and solidity.
I first discovered SOPHIE through their debut album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, a plasticky, dreamlike ode to the power of individuality and agency. I had never heard of PCMusic or Bubblegum Bass, so this sort of electronic music was completely new to me. I was confused and slightly unsettled, but I quickly realized that was the point. SOPHIE’s glossy, metallic, synthetic production style is not a love letter to factory noises — it is a declaration of freedom from unease and dysphoria.
“Without my legs or my hair; without my genes or my blood; With no name and no type of story; Where do I live? Tell me where do I exist?SOPHIE, ‘Immaterial’ (2018)
‘Immaterial’ is undeniably the song on Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides that best captures SOPHIE’s ethos of fluidity and genuineness. The lyrics explore what it means to be completely divorced from any sort of physicality: after letting go of both external and internal characteristics, SOPHIE is free to exist in the imagined. This non-physical, non-governed hypothetical vacuum of, well, immateriality, is where we are free to reinvent and recreate ourselves. ‘Immaterial’ delves into the notion that our bodies are not there to weigh us down and keep us locked in, but rather a “material to be manipulated,” a vessel with potential to be anything.
For many, including myself, SOPHIE is emblematic of trans identity. They embodied what it means to be trans: it is not a mere “I want to be a girl.” It is the courage to step aside from what the entire world has decided for you, the bravery to define yourself. It was through SOPHIE’s tracks such as ‘Faceshopping’ that I began to view my transition as less of a binary substitution of female with male, but rather a shift towards my own immaterial, celestial, final form. I am not mutilating my body by binding my chest: I am bringing it closer to what it actually is, what it’s always been meant to be.
Throughout SOPHIE’s career, they emphasized that transness is more than just changing appearance: it is becoming an individual, allowing your body to be in touch with your mind. As they put it for Paper Magazine, transness is how people “can get closer to how [they] feel [their] true essence is without the societal pressures of having to fulfill certain roles based on gender.” SOPHIE’s music showed me to see myself as more than a miserable cog in the world’s machine. They taught me that existence was more than having a body. I don’t have to be anyone or anything: I can just be.
“[There was this internal shift] of just feeling like…the only way I can put it is having fun in your body. Seeing it as something you like and love and want to have fun with, and is going to carry you around and enable you to do things you want to do.”SOPHIE, Crack Magazine (2018)
It appears that SOPHIE has succeeded. They are viewed as a person, an artist, transcending categorization and societal expectations. They managed to succeed among mainstream artists while making music that was boldly and unapologetically trans. SOPHIE’s sound was new and unprecedented, and its deconstructed, distinct refusal to conform is what made it so beautifully trans. Every part of SOPHIE — their persona, style, and discography — was between the lines. Their free-flowing, flexible, and overall uncategorizable nature was many trans youth’s first exposure to true trans beauty. SOPHIE was never anything but themselves, and that is how we will remember them: a fleeting faerie that celebrates the messiest, rawest parts of the human condition.
Thank you for everything, SOPHIE. I am no longer buried alive.