SOPHIE leaves behind her a legacy of futuristic transness

Ori Tsameret, Intersections Editor

Maggie Pasterz

This past Saturday, I opened my Twitter feed to a torrent of tweets about pop artist Sophie Xeon, better known as her mononymous stage name SOPHIE. Intrigued by the melancholy nostalgia of the tweets, I looked her up and discovered, to my horror, that she had died in a climbing accident after attempting to better glimpse the full moon in Athens, Greece. 

As my timeline attested, SOPHIE’s cultural impact can hardly be overstated. Though only 34 at the time of her death, she had already managed to amass an impressive discography and her debut album, “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” was nominated for a Grammy under the Best Dance/Electronic Album category. She had already collaborated with and produced music for a plethora of other artists: among her best-known contributions include her production of Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom” and extended play and songwriting on Madonna’s single, “Bitch I’m Madonna.” In addition to these accomplishments, she also pioneered a maximalist subgenre of pop, dance and electronic that is now commonly known as hyperpop.

On top of her vast musical repertoire, however, SOPHIE was outspoken about her identity as a transgender woman and made a strong effort to include this in her work. While she commonly worked with and uplifted other transgender artists such as pop star Kim Petras and upcoming rapper Quay Dash, her transness was evident in her work itself.

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?” Cecile Believe, SOPHIE’s stand-in, sings on “Immaterial,” arguably her best-known song. The song fits well into the artist’s philosophy of transcending “authenticity” and crafting one’s own self. Initially concealing her identity, the artist even managed to take some heat for “feminine appropriation” in a now-deleted article. At her concerts, a drag performer took her place on stage. In her song “Faceshopping,” she proclaims, “I’m real when I shop my face,” possibly alluding to a support of cosmetic surgery. When asked if she believes in God, she responded with “Yes, God is trans.”

Both aesthetically and politically, SOPHIE’s death has left the artistic world with a void that will not be easy to fill. In her lyrics, commentary and stylistic choices, SOPHIE refused to adapt her art or herself to cisgender audiences in an industry and economy dominated by cisgendered folks. Besides praise of her artistic vision and innovation following her death, others commemorating her chose to focus on her impact on queer, particularly transgender, listeners. 

With a never-heard-before sound and unapologetically transgender-minded lyricism, SOPHIE enabled fans to envision the realities, identities and possibilities she sang of. Many of her ardent supporters vocally described their emotional connections to her material as well as the spaces that she cultivated: her performances were hailed as a safe haven for queer audiences to unite, express themselves openly and immerse themselves in an otherwordly sound. Indeed, listening to the blaring synths she often employed made me feel as though an electric current was surging through my body, an experience I have seldom felt from other artists. This sound was often accompanied by futuristic, escapist visuals, seen commonly in her music videos and album covers. Fans worldwide, myself included, are left with no choice but to collectively mourn her loss and the finiteness of her discography, which felt as though it would have no limit.