Strobing lights and lasers. Distorted faces and silhouettes. The entire building vibrating on another level, both physically and metaphysically. What I naively thought would be my first of many Sophie concerts back in 2018 was a night I never could’ve imagined in my most mind-boggling of dreams. Swaths of concert-goers clad in PVC jackets and smothered in glitter piled into Elsewhere Hall in Brooklyn, after standing for what felt like ages out in the early February frost. When the show began, the transcendent visions of Sophie’s avant-garde pop dreamscapes that had lived in my head for years were finally manifested on the stage before me. Thinking back to being inches away from an artist whose influence has been felt in the lives and art of a generation, I’ve come to understand exactly what Sophie’s world of ear-shattering industrial synths and glassy pop vocals means to me.
I first discovered Sophie’s music when I was still in high school. As I hid my identity away in the hallways of the all-boys Catholic institution I attended, I threw myself into my academics for as long as it took before I could escape into the arms of the friends I now know as my chosen family. When these friends played me “LEMONADE” for the first time, it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Like a soda machine gone haywire, the track spilled out sugary bubbles of exuberance that carbonated my mind. As unnerved with the track’s sound as I was intrigued, one thing was for certain – I needed more.
Sophie’s debut compilation album, PRODUCT, subsequently became an obsession. The artist’s piercing metallic crashes and driving bass soundtracked the later years of my adolescence, a time when my friends and I began to understand ourselves outside of the heteronormative frameworks thrust upon us in school. Late nights in the garage lead to dance parties to “HARD” and car rides over the Buffalo skyway had us yelling “JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE” at the lake, as we relished in the microcosm of queer joy that we had created for ourselves. The music’s sonic divergence was an escape from the uniformity we’d found ourselves stuck within. Sophie’s music invigorated us in ways that felt unusual and unnatural, ways that brought us face-to-face with the fact that we truly belonged to one another.
“Sophie saw the world as it could be, a transcendent vision of limitless creative experimentation and expression that reached beyond the confines of our own consciousness.”
As college crept closer and closer, I savored every last Sophie-filled moment I could with these friends before I moved hours away and started anew. The night I received the fated first-year roommate assignments, I took to Facebook to find out some more about the stranger I was meant to spend a year sharing a room with. After scrolling past post after post about concerts he had attended and music he liked, I finally found what I was looking for. A post about Sophie appeared on the screen and an instant feeling of relief came over me. I found comfort knowing that the love for this artist my friends and I shared would be understood and embraced by one of the first people I would meet upon my arrival to New York. Today, our friendship has become one of the most important and cherished relationships of my adult life. As the artist was – and will continue to be – in so many ways, Sophie was the standard.
Sophie saw the world as it could be, a transcendent vision of limitless creative experimentation and expression that reached beyond the confines of our own consciousness. I watched gleefully as Sophie pushed into new and exciting spaces, collaborating with pop powerhouses like Madonna and Charli XCX. My heart filled knowing that Sophie’s vision was spreading, taking up well deserved space in the music industry, and even receiving recognition from its greatest institution with the 2018 Grammy nomination of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.
Seeing such a radically progressive artist, an ethereally trans artist, be recognized with such grandeur made me realize that Sophie’s impact went far beyond my own life. The same artist that had been consequential in the creation of a safe space in which my friends and I could discover our authentic selves was the same artist that was carving out space in the industry for other avant-garde and queer artists to come after. Sophie, in the most mystifying manner, exemplified the possibilities that became accessible when you freed yourself from fear of the unknown.
Back in that claustrophobic concert venue in Brooklyn, this lesson hit me square in the face. When the show began and Sophie’s dancers crawled around underneath an inflated plastic tarp covering the breadth of the stage, I was afraid that I wasn’t prepared for what I had gotten myself into. I even entertained the idea that Sophie could whisk us all away to a new planet, never to return to our menial lives on Earth. But when I remembered that the artist on stage was responsible for some of the greatest moments of my life, I no longer cared. Strangely, standing at the foot of the stage, pressed up against the row of blaring, bass infected amps with my first-year roommate turned best friend at my side, I felt as if I had finally been welcomed home.
Honor the life of the groundbreaking artist by listening to the compilation of SOPHIE’s iconic pop productions, including the newly released track “UNISIL”, via the playlist below.
story / Jack Hannon
editing / Sam Berlin