Is SOPHIE the unapologetic LGBTQ+ icon we need?

Modern musicians truly undergo more scrutiny than ever before with the emergence of social media, but one artist in particular stands out for their carefully controlled public appearance: enter SOPHIE, an eclectic producer and DJ. With minimal social media presence, SOPHIE emerged on Soundcloud in 2011 with tracks ‘Nothing More to Say’ and ‘Eeehhh’, later deleted to be re-released as her debut single in 2013. This was an initial signifier of the mystique surrounding her abrasive yet addictive music which would continue over the years- centring mainly on fans’ speculation about her appearance, and indeed if SOPHIE was even female, as she remained anonymous for years despite the stereotypically female stage name. SOPHIE even played upon her own anonymity, notoriously disguising herself as a male security guard at a 2014 show in the Boiler Room whilst drag performer Jesse Hoffman masqueraded onstage.  

SOPHIE continued to progress into the mainstream via collaborations with Charli XCX, whose 2016 EP Vroom Vroom was primarily produced by SOPHIE. A later track ‘Girls Night Out’ also featured the SOPHIE’s distinctive industrial beats. However, after an almost two-year silence, SOPHIE returned in October 2017 in full solo force with the single ‘It’s Okay To Cry’- now armed with the use of her actual appearance and voice, a huge step out of anonymity. This was a groundbreaking moment in SOPHIE’S development with a huge fan reception. The track is extremely intimate as it features SOPHIE’s own unedited, whispery vocals, creating an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and openness from the artist. However, by using her face and body, SOPHIE inadvertently opened up a discussion about her gender as she appeared nude from the waist up in this track’s video- sparking a wave of realisation that SOPHIE was in fact a transgender woman. SOPHIE, however, stated that she had never really intended to be an anonymous artist: “Looking back, I think my intentions have been clear, but misinterpreted, … so now I want to join the conversation.” she clarified in a Teen Vogue interview. Furthermore, on this first visual appearance’s illumination of her gender identity, SOPHIE stated “I don’t really agree with the term ‘coming out’.… I’m just going with what feels honest.”

It was with the 2018 release of her album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UNINSIDES that SOPHIE began to fully own her public identity and style, flaunting social norms both through her divisive sound and appearance. In particular, ‘Ponyboy’ with its BDSM thematics was another representative of SOPHIE’s unapologetic style and self expression- ‘Crack down the whip / Make the pony bite the bit / Spit on my face / Put the pony in his place’ SOPHIE’s own synthesized voice commands over a distorted bassline and what sounds akin to windscreen wipers (an aural motif also heard in ‘Faceshopping’). The accompanying music video is no less expressive with SOPHIE herself appearing to flaunt the aforementioned ‘ponyplay’ through an aggressive choreographed dance routine. In another track, ‘Faceshopping’, SOPHIE playfully explores expression through artifice, with the video using iconography of her face.

SOPHIE’s public performances are a further site for her gender and sexuality expression, a live pop fantasy of leather, latex and neon flashing lights. Dance is also a large part of the show, with a review in NME citing the on-stage dancing performed as akin to a ‘sexed up aerobic exercise class’. Recently SOPHIE has further branched out with public appearances such as a collaborative art space performance in Berlin with her non-binary partner, model Tzef Montana. Set to an unreleased track titled ‘Take Me To Dubai’, the pair performed a tantric dance that erred more on the side of live pornography, writhing and kissing in a pool of water. By using her personal LGBTQ+ relationship as a performance medium, SOPHIE created something that she herself called “intimate and heartfelt”- something not often illuminated in celebrity gay relationships.

With fans observing SOPHIE’s transition from anonymity to a trans icon, she only recently became outspoken on trans and LGBTQ+ issues in the media. Most illuminating was her interview with Paper Magazine in 2018, where she revealed her own thoughts on transness: ‘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.’ SOPHIE further went so far as to openly discuss her personal use of gender hormones, a typically sensitive issue that she handled politely. By accepting her role as a trans celebrity, SOPHIE’s music and creativity now arguably functions as a reminder that gender expression can too be art. With SOPHIE scheduled to appear at large-scale events Coachella and Primavera Sound this year, it seems her on-brand personal expression is only gaining in popularity- and hopefully will continue to do so.

Fern McErlane

Header Image in Credit: Leah Columbo