Her head melts and reshapes. Cheeks are elongated. Lips plump full and then deflate. Here is the world-facing persona of musician/producer SOPHIE in the video for “Faceshopping” from her debut release Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.
Previously camera shy, the mystery surrounding SOPHIE has steered the public narrative away from her industrial electronica and towards the significantly less interesting question of whether or not she is indeed trans.
“It’s tough when firstly you want to be seen as a woman, and you want to be seen as an artist and an individual,” she has said. “So to have something like your gender identity preceding everything that’s written about you is difficult. It can be humiliating to be singled out in that way.”
But on the verge of the release of her official debut album, the artist has stopped hiding in the shadows and is putting herself out there. Or at the very least, a version of herself, since SOPHIE, in music and image, loves to fuck with perception and what is and is not “real” or “fake.” For her, everything is plastic (including her features), and can be molded and reshaped at will.
This is nowhere more evident than in the trippy visual aesthetics of her album’s pre-release videos. “Faceshopping” is a CGI-enhanced conceptualization of the fundamental heart of her work: we are the face we show the world, and that face isn’t a fixed commodity. More than gender fluidity, our persona, subtracted from sexual identity, is malleable, mercurial.
The opening track “It’s Okay to Cry” — an electro ballad — is a Trojan horse: a soft, easy-listening tease that seduces the listener before traipsing down less trodden audio paths. The harsh whiplash beats of “Ponyboy” eroticize the shrieks and feints of sexual role-playing.
Dissonant squawks of metallic pounding turn into rhythmic underlays. Pitch-shifted vocals disassociate gender to the point where the “singer” isn’t human at all. Drones fold into themselves, burbling like lava before erupting into new drones.
Yet what at first is foreign to the ear, and perhaps polarizing, soon just sounds like a natural extension of the pop mien of hooks and beats and choruses. You can — with or without mind-altering substances — dance to it. Sometimes.
Part of the PC musical genre she helped establish with A.G. Cook, SOPHIE rejects the idea that her work is experimental and limited. “It’s not exclusive,” she has said. “It’s not elitist, and those are the standards that I want to maintain in music.”
In other words, this is the future of pop. Along with the PC Music stable of performers, the hypnotic hyperactivity and musique concréte flourishes have seeped into the sounds of artists as far-reaching as Baths and as mainstream as Charli XCX (whom SOPHIE has produced), and it’s filtering down into genres like bubblegum trap and traditional hip-hop. Now one of its primary architects is ready to stake her claim of it and reveal her face — whatever that may be, from moment-to-moment — to the world.