Written by Amber Turner-Brightman
This is an updated version of an article originally published to Pugwash Magazine in March 2021.
Two years ago, the music industry was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of SOPHIE, a 34-year-old Scottish musician and producer, who tragically passed away in January 2021. Many fellow artists and friends shared their love on social media, heralding Sophie as a “pioneer of new sound”, a visionary, and a “star of our generation”, as well as an angel and a genuinely loving friend. Redcar in particular spoke of how Sophie “rebelled against the narrow, normative society by being an absolute triumph, both as an artist and as a woman.”
Sophie was described by management as “an icon of liberation”, whose work was special for “the message and visibility that was achieved.” As a transgender woman who asked to be referred to without gendered pronouns, the formative years of Sophie’s career were shrouded in anonymity, with information about Sophie’s identity only being released with the 2017 single It’s Okay to Cry. In the music video Sophie dances naked against a background of skies, coming out in a personal, beautiful fashion. In subsequent interviews Sophie discussed transness and a sense of self, sharing how music transcends gender and how to be trans isn’t to be defined by gender, it’s to be “an individual who’s looking at the world and feeling the world.”
SOPHIE in the It's Okay to Cry music video
The debut album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES explores this theme in more detail. Tracks such as Faceshopping describe how one can feel more authentic when altering their personal presentation, whereas Immaterial contrasts by sharing the freeing nature of existing beyond our physical form- “we’re just immaterial, I could be anything I want, anyhow, anywhere, any place, anyone that I want.”
Sophie discussed using production as a primary method of communication and did not want to feel defined entirely by labels, which is why it’s also important to appreciate Sophie’s work from a purely musical perspective. This discography is truly individual, incomparable to anything else in the music scene. The Guardian described it as “a genuinely original sound” which “visits extremes of terror, sadness and pleasure.” The unique combination of harsh, industrial breakdowns and pretty, sparkling sonics and female vocals is the staple of Sophie’s avant-garde sound. It’s impossible not to be captivated by.
On OIL, Sophie takes this style and pushes it to its extremes. My personal favourite track Is It Cold in The Water? takes angelic vocals and places them over an overwhelming synth build-up. It perfectly simulates the feeling of being about to plunge into the unknown, hence its title, and many have found it representative of the experience of coming out. Sophie also produced several popular songs before the release of OIL, including Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom, Vince Staple’s Yeah Right and Madonna’s hit single Bitch I’m Madonna. When listening to these back, there is a very obvious, distinct influence over their production.
Overall, Sophie changed the trajectory of the modern music scene, transcending genre altogether and really pushing the boundaries of not only what we consider art, but also self expression. As well as this, Sophie inspired and was an icon to an entire generation of LGBTQ youth, sharing the beauty of transness whilst also flourishing outside any preconceptions or limitations.
Sophie continues to be deeply missed by friends and fans globally, but Sophie's legacy lives on.
About the Contributors: Amber Turner-Brightman (they/them)
Hi, I'm Amber, EIC! I'm an MA Journalism student with an undergraduate degree in Politics and International Relations. I'm particularly interested in current affairs and societal trends.