Remembering Sophie, an Unforgettable Pop Star, with These 12 Songs

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday February 15, 2021
Originally published on February 7, 2021

Sophie's music is visceral. It can be abrasive, addicting and elegant — often all in the same song. Her music has a tangible quality unlike any other artist; she crafted bonkers textured beats that sound like something you could actually touch. You don't just hear her music, but you feel it in the fizzy synths, the metallic drums and in the way her distorted voice sang deeply emotionally epic lyrics. Sophie had an incredible gift to transform simple pop songs into otherworldly anthems, complex compositions and daring soundscapes. She understood that pop music could be stretched, twisted, bent, turned inside out, ripped apart and put back together again. She also understood the power of pop music, that it had the ability to touch you at your core. Sophie was one of the most fearless pop stars working and brought her energy and sound even when working with other artists.

A pioneering producer and musician who was only getting started, Sophie passed away last week after falling while trying to look at the moon in Athens, Greece, where she'd been staying. At just 34 years old, the Scottish artist already changed the way pop music sounds, and her sudden passing leaves a devastatingly large hole in the culture. Having only released one LP, the Grammy-nominated "Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides" (a homonym for "I love every person's insides"), Sophie made a profound impact on the way pop music is heading.

Part of Sophie's revolutionary music was also in her lyrics and delivery. In 2017 she released the lead single from "Oil," "It's Okay to Cry," where she used her own image and (mostly) undistorted vocals and came out as a trans woman. As many have noted, Sophie's music (before and after her coming out) wasn't specifically about being trans but inherently imbodied her experience in both her sound design and writing.

"For me, transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren't fighting against each other and struggling to survive," she said in an interview with Paper magazine in 2018. "On this earth, it's that you can get closer to how you feel your true essence is without the societal pressures of having to fulfill certain traditional roles based on gender. It means you're not a mother or a father — you're an individual who's looking at the world and feeling the world. And it's somehow more human and universal, I feel."

Though she released just a string of singles and remixes, a compilation album and one LP, to know Sophie is to listen to the trove of demos and unreleased tracks that have one way or another found themselves online. She also stepped into other genres but never lost herself and always brought her unique sounds to other artists' work. Below are x songs that best represent Sophie, both as a solo artist and as a producer.

Finding Fame

"Bipp," "Lemonade," "Vyzee"

Part of her complication album "Product," these three songs first got Sophie her first major attention. They are some of Sophie's most saccharine songs. Sugary-sweet pop songs that will instantly rot your teeth, like "Vyzee" — a super-sexy song that toes the line between x and a commercial: "Crazy and then pop / If that's what you wanna do / We can go crazy and then pop / Crazy and then pop / Shake shake shake it up and make it fizz," Sophie sings, vocals pitched up as high as possible. "Bipp," her first introduction to a bigger audience, is similar in sound, with Sophie singing: "However you're feeling I can make you feel better." Then there's the drippy "Lemonade," a song that would later go on and be used in a McDonald's ad. Here Sophie crafts gooey and fizzy synths that are hypnotic as she sings the word "lemonade" repeatedly but in the most compelling way.

Behind the Music

"Hey QT," "Bitch, I'm Madonna," "No Angel"

Sophie was able to bring her thumbprint to any music she was working on without losing the artist. Teaming up with PC Music founder A.G. Cook in 2014, the duo worked with Hayden Frances Dunham for the project QT, resulting in their only song, "Hey QT" — a hyper-electric pop song centered around selling an energy drink. In 2015, Sophie scored her highest-profile gig by co-producing Madonna's "Bitch, I'm Madonna," a goofy but quite enjoyable bop (and one of Madonna's best as of late). "No Angel," a one-off single by Charli XCX, is perhaps one of Sophie's best collaborative efforts that wonderfully blends the British pop star's attitude and Sophie's glossy soundscape.

Being Herself

"It's Okay to Cry," "Faceshopping," "Immaterial"

Sophie reintroduced herself with "It's Okay to Cry," putting herself in front of the camera for the first time, using mostly unfiltered vocals. It's a beautiful ballad and defining moment for the musician, an honest and raw song that glistens with the emotional power of any Sophie song. "Faceshopping," an outstanding single from "Oil," is a commentary on how we present ourselves, especially on social media: "My shop is the face I front, front I'm real when I shop my face," singer Cecile Believe robotically sings on the chorus. "Immaterial" is a fan favorite that interpolates Madonna's "Material Girl" into a queer anthem and one of Sophie's all-time best songs.

The Unreleased

"Lipgloss (Sophie Remix"), "Sunscreen (with LIZ)," "Inside Out (with Shygirl)"

Sophie has several unreleased tracks, including demos, songs that never made the final cut of their intended album and remixes. Sophie's produced Charli XCX's "Lipgloss," from her "Number 1 Angel" EP and featuring rapper cupcakKe, but a remix exists online where she turns the track inside out. The remix is 90% chorus and is an impressive lesson on how to build a song and release its tension, like shaking up a can of soda. Sunscreen" exists in a few different forms, but it's the mid-tempo ballad featuring singer LIZ that finds Sophie tapping into her most romantic side. "Inside Out," featuring hyperpop songstress Shygirl, is perhaps one of Sophie's most erotic songs — a dark and sensual banger all with Sophie's signature sounds.