Sophie Made You Feel

Sophie Made You Feel
Photo:Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

What drew me to Sophie’s work at first was the dissociative effect it would have on me, how its maximalist, beyond-processed sound would overwhelm me the point of overloading. Thinking back, I’d liken those early experiences listening to Product, “Hey QT,” and “Koi,” even “Bitch I’m Madonna,” to something like entering subspace, those times when I’ve needed to be slapped or choked out just to get out of my own head and feel something. But I didn’t have those words at the time, much less the rudimentary understanding of who I was and what I wanted that would’ve been needed to speak them into existence. Every attempt I made to explain my affinity for Sophie and her PC Music cohort—to other people, to myself—fell flat. I remember trying to write about it around the time that Charli XCX released her Sophie-produced Vroom Vroom EP, but I couldn’t do it and gave up.

A year and a half later, Thora and I were crowding around the desktop monitor at the hotel boutique we worked at. She’d gotten me the job a few months prior—a godsend to be able to work somewhere looking how I wanted and under my own name after my previous part-time job, where I’d pretended to be a man long after he stopped existing. Our sisterhood was bonded through many shared experiences in those early years, one of them being the release of Sophie’s “It’s Okay to Cry.” The video, which broke with the artist’s tradition of pitching up her voice and singing through cisgender stand-ins, served as either an unspoken coming out video or a sardonic performance of emotional authenticity. “I think it’s kind of ridiculous that you need to do a video that’s a close-up crying in the rain for people to know that you’re a real person,” Sophie later told Thora in a 2018 Lenny interview published a month after the release of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, her only full-length album. Regardless, it felt real for us—she felt real for us, or perhaps, as Courtney Love once sang, so real she was beyond fake.

I hated so much critical discourse surrounding “Immaterial,” my favorite song off of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, which features Cecile Believe’s vocals. “I could be anything I want,” Believe sings, “You could be me and / I could be you / Always the same and never the same / Day by day, life after life [afterlife?] / 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?” Listening to the track, some critics seemed to hear an empowerment anthem, yet another anodyne celebration of being LGBT or whatever, but me? I heard a familiar spiral. Mixing clear-eyed lyrics with an increasingly manic thump, Sophie had captured exactly what I’d felt when I gazed into the void of self-creation so many years ago—all the terror, excitement, panic, and anticipation that comes with trying to become something you can’t even picture. After learning that Sophie had died this morning, I put on “Immaterial” and cried, feeling all that I’d forgotten over the past six years.

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