When SOPHIE tragically passed away over the weekend there was a quote that affectionately did the rounds. "I think all pop music should be about who can make the loudest, brightest thing," SOPHIE told Rolling Stone in 2015. "That, to me, is an interesting challenge, musically and artistically."
It's an attitude that encapsulates what she did to pop music as a whole. She brought a daring attitude to it that encouraged everyone she worked with to explore pockets of sound that hit harder, cut deeper and shone brighter. Criminally, SOPHIE never had a number one record but her fingerprints are all over the mainstream today, many inspired by the new sounds she introduced.
— Charli (@charli_xcx) February 2, 2021
the loss of sophie is huge. she’s been at the forefront for a long time and we see her influence in every corner of music. if you’re not aware of what she has done then today is the day to listen to all her brilliant work. you’ll hear an artist who arrived before everyone else.
— jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) January 30, 2021
I can’t stress how much I watched her change dance music in aus. From her production influence leaking in to a new generation of producers, to inspiring an audience and community to feel ok to cry, dance, be loud, queer, whatever they wanted. She saw you, and wanted u to know. https://t.co/JHIbAHoQCo
— Nina Las Vegas (@ninalasvegas) January 30, 2021
still can’t believe this. Rest Peacefully Sophie. ? ?? pic.twitter.com/OsYGdCKgkz
— Rihanna (@rihanna) February 1, 2021
SOPHIE said in a chat with Interview in 2017 that she felt her collaborations were just as important as her own work. Each satisfied a different area of intrigue for the producer. "I like to use my own SOPHIE material to present ideas in their most extreme, un-compromised form," she said. Her collaborative work, however, saw her synthesise her ideas with others, "pooling together skills to create something bigger than any individual," as she put it.
Here are the key collaborative moments from SOPHIE where you can hear the pop needle pushing forward as her uninhibited production collided with pop's wide-reaching appeal.
QT - Hey QT
QT came as the PC Music movement was garnering mass attention. The genre pulled from pop's most sugary traits and maximised them. It was thrilling for some and confusing for others. Hey QT came off like a critique of pop and the consumerism that surrounds it, thanks to QT's high-pitched vocals and energy drink which she aimed to sell through song. Listening now, you can hear it comes from a place of pop appreciation rather than disdain. SOPHIE co-produced the song with A.G. Cook, finding unique sounds that somehow pair with the senses that QT's carbonated drink conjure. That's what's so special about SOPHIE's pop production. There was something physical about them, even though they were made through a machine.
"At the time I was working on energetically sensitive sculptures and SOPHIE was working on material-based sound textures," QT told Fact at the time.
Liz - When I Rule The World
SOPHIE's earlier pop productions were high-energy and saccharine, inspired by '90s and early '00s British rave culture. There's something cartoonish about When I Rule The World. It's a sugary head-rush but there's something uniquely intriguing about the way it bubbles and crunches as the synths swirl at a dizzying pace. If pop is meant to be escapist then nothing in the mainstream at this time was coming close to the euphoria that this conjures.
Charli XCX - Vroom Vroom
Vroom Vroom marked a shift for Charli XCX. At the time, she'd had mainstream success but was struggling to land on a sound that was uniquely her. When she met SOPHIE everything changed. Together, they found away to meld together the grinding sounds of the underground with the hooks of the mainstream. Vroom Vroom's verses grind but the chorus takes us into a softer, melodic area. It encapsulates exactly what Charli says she admires about SOPHIE's production. "There are very few artists who make me feel something up my core and make me wanna cry," she told Vogue.
"Justice and Uffie made me feel something when I was 14, and I didn’t really have that feeling again until I met Sophie. I felt this rush of: Fuck, this is the coolest shit I have ever heard."
Cashmere Cat - 9 (After Coachella) (Feat. MO)
Often producers in the underground can be critical of the watered down music of the mainstream. There's a credibility attached to critiquing mainstream pop but SOPHIE never had any of it. Instead, she was intrigued about how the two worlds melded. How you could introduce new sounds to a new audience. She was largely inspired by, "how we, as emotional beings, interact with the world and the machines and technology around us," as she put it to Interview.
Pop is all about garnering a response from your audience quickly and usually that's through using sounds that are familiar. Comfortable. Working with Cashmere Cat and MØ on 9 (After Coachella), SOPHIE demonstrated this vividly. It's a luscious, melodic cut but it drops into a world of machine-like pops, gurgles and crashes. The sounds are yet familiar and yet utterly bewildering. By the time it's done, it feels like all your sense have been engaged.
Charli XCX - Roll With Me
By Charli XCX's Number 1 Angel, she had found her community in the PC Music stables. SOPHIE only has two credits on the mixtape but her influence is all over it. Roll With Me, is one of the songs she is credited on and it feels like a bright, bubbly celebration of song. It's weightless and euphoric but then it crashes back down with rollicking beats from another planet. It bounces with the motion of a club track and yet the beats feel like nothing you've ever heard before. SOPHIE somehow found a way of striking a familiar chord while also introducing sounds that we hadn't heard in music before.
Let's Eat Grandma - It's Not Just Me
In SOPHIE's early career, you knew when she had produced a song. As time went on, however, she diversified, taking on different music. Her work with indie duo Let's Eat Grandma was much more lo-fi than anything SOPHIE had taken on in the past but she added an ethereal nature to it. Below those tinny, bedroom pop beats, you can hear SOPHIE's grandiose, sweeping synths - the sort that appeared on Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides.
MØ - Nights With You
MØ's sound has been mimicked in modern pop time-and-time again. Nights With You, in particular, can be heard in plenty of new songs of the TikTok era - perhaps one of the true signs that SOPHIE's music is infiltrating. Nights With You brought Benny Blanco, SOPHIE and Cashmere Cat together on production with a co-write from Ryan Tedder. It's a meeting of two schools of pop - experimental and commercial - but it works. You can hear SOPHIE colouring in the background with sounds that you have to dig deep to hear singularly but are crucial to the final product.
Vince Staples - Yeah Right (Feat. KUCKA & Kendrick Lamar)
SOPHIE's music, particularly the harder moments of PRODUCT, envisioned a futuristic hip-hop world. Vince Staples saw the vision on Big Fish Theory bringing together underground producers to add a kick to his hard-hitting raps. "Some of my favourite modern pop productions have come from the hip-hop world," SOPHIE said, realising that the two genres were intersecting rapidly. "I love the speed that a lot of that music is made and how reactive it is to the present moment," she told The Face. Not only was she write about the speed at which pop would start releasing music but she was also right about the trap influence that would infiltrate. If Yeah Right is the future of pop and hip-hop together, sign us up.
Charli XCX - Out Of My Head (Feat. Alma & Tove Lo)
"If anybody ever is going to fucking say that SOPHIE’s party production is throwaway, they’re a fucking idiot. Because she’s someone who spends years creating sounds," Charli told The Fader. The criticism of the time is perhaps best explained by Jack Antonoff who paid tribute to SOPHIE on Instagram writing, "to me the genius of sophie was how she took this concept of bigger brighter harder shinier, a tool that so many have used cynically, and made it brilliant & challenging." Out Of My Head demonstrates SOPHIE giving us shiny pop simplicity on the outside and delicate, detailed production behind it. Listen from afar and this is a hooky, seamless cut. Listen closer and it sounds aquatic, like a speaker is trying to break through the ocean.
Charli XCX - No Angel
In a packed out club in Sydney in 2016, SOPHIE told fans to put their phones away as she was about to drop unreleased Charli XCX. At that time, SOPHIE and Charli collabs largely lived unreleased on YouTube - too ahead of their time to even find an official release. No Angel, bouncing out of the club speakers, sounded perfect. It housed a sped-up trap-like beat, creating this crystalline world that felt like musical medicine. Fans begged so much that the song eventually saw an official release with more traditional production from Invisible Men and Salt Wives but the magic of the original will always remain documented on YouTube.
Kim Petras - 1,2,3 Dayz Up
"Honestly, no one does it like SOPHIE,” Kim Petras told DJ Mag, echoing the thoughts of nearly every producer who worked with her. Petras' music has always lived just outside of the mainstream but there's something particularly new-age about 1,2,3 Dayz Up. It's Petras with the dial turned up. She sounds like she's in 4D, buoyed by an excellent pop melody but accelerated by a world of sounds lying beneath.
Madonna - Bitch I'm Madonna
SOPHIE worked on unreleased material with Lady Gaga and Rihanna but his most high-profile collaboration remains Madonna on 2015's Bitch I'm Madonna. Diplo pulled her into the project to push a bratty song into the future. There's something distinctly punk about the way SOPHIE races along with the synths and distorts the beat. "I wanted to make what I was doing relevant to the lyrical content," she told The Face. If you're going to sing, "Bitch, I'm Madonna," you better declare it both in lyric and sound. Only SOPHIE could find the perfect synthesis between the two.
Shygirl - SLIME
Every time the mainstream caught on to some of SOPHIE's tricks, she was already another lap ahead. This year's collaboration with club-pop act shows that distinctly. While the pop world plays in SOPHIE's sound of last decade, she's working on a hypnotic, hip-hop-meets-the-club track that constantly fires out sounds that are new to the air yet strangely familiar. SOPHIE studied every aspect of sound and in many ways measured their impact against her audience. Her manager Tzef Montana explained to DJ Mag just how persistent she was saying, “We’ll be at the beach just chilling out, and she gets a stone, and throws it again and again, just to hear the ‘plop’.”