Sophie Created A Boundless, Genderless Future For Pop


Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images


Sophie Created A Boundless, Genderless Future For Pop

By bringing outré elements inward to the mainstream, the Scottish visionary provided a looking-glass to pop circa the 22nd, 23rd and 24th centuries

GRAMMYs/Feb 3, 2021 - 05:24 am

Many artists now viewed as self-evidently revolutionary were once seen as merely provocative. The Beatles once sparked parental panics and religious boycotts; now, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr both have "Sir" before their name. Jim Morrison made Nietzchean inquiries into sex, death and the nature of prayer; today, The Doors sound comfortable and comforting. Half a century later, get a load of Sophie, a gender-norm-shattering Scottish producer with a bold expression who refused limitations—in music and in society. The artist’s uncategorizable, maximalist tracks resemble avant-garde electronica meets IMAX-scaled sound design.

Immerse yourself in tracks like "Bipp," the alluringly fun club banger; "Ponyboy," an experimental track full of sexual inuendos; or "It's Okay to Cry," a song full of comforting vulnerability, and you'll find an artist on the bleeding edge of culture. Still, Sophie was perceptive enough to know the artist was one of many more to come.

"There's a huge amount of work to be done socially and culturally in the gap between where we are now and, I imagine, where we could be," Sophie, who was transgender and preferred not to be referenced with gendered or non-binary pronouns, told Arte Tracks in 2018. "The places that our imaginations can take us are so far away from what we're presented with a lot of the time. So, I can't get too excited about anything happening now. I'm really excited about what should be happening in the future."

Sophie tragically died on Jan. 30 after slipping and falling from the three-story balcony of an apartment where the artist stayed in Athens, Greece, while trying to take a picture of the full moon. Sophie was only 34. "She will always be here with us," the artist's label Transgressive said in a statement, calling the artist's desire for the lunar shot "true to her spirituality." 

Sophie's girlfriend, Evita Manji, told Daily Mail she spoke to Sophie after the fall. "I managed to tell her I love her and to keep fighting," she said. "She's an immaterial girl now; she can be anything she wants... and she is in everything around us," Manji said in a later online tribute.

Sophie Xeon was born in Glasgow in 1986 and grew up absorbing rave tapes from the artist's father and experimenting with synthesis. In the early 2000s, the precocious musician relocated to Berlin and formed Motherland, a dance-pop collective. Motherland's Matthew Lutz-Kinoy used the artist's music at exhibitions in Europe and the New Museum in Manhattan and boosted Sophie's signal.

A decade later, Sophie began DJing and releasing music. In the early 2010s, the artist rose as part of the forward-thinking PC Music Collective production team, which operated parallel to and against the mainstream’s current.

The artist's career began in earnest with the effervescent single "Lemonade / Hard,'" keeping her identity a secret in the beginning. (She revealed her face for the first time in a music video in 2017). "I think about physics and materials [while creating]," Sophie explained to Billboard in 2014, revealing a scientific-like approach to creating music. "'Lemonade' is made out of bubbling, fizzing, popping, and 'Hard' is made from metal and latex—they are sort of sculptures in this way. I synthesize all sounds except for vocals using raw waveforms and different synthesis methods as opposed to using samples. This means considering the physical properties of materials and how those inform the acoustic properties.

"For instance—why does a bubble have an ascending pitch when popped and why does metal clang when struck, and what is this clanging sound in terms of pitch and timbre over time? How do I synthesize this?" the artist asked. "Perhaps after learning about these things, it might be possible to create entirely new materials through synthesis."

"Lemonade / Hard" ended up in a 2015 McDonald's ad and seamlessly worked in that context. Sophie had no compunction about licensing the artist's music in commerce. In the same interview, Sophie frankly called the artist's genre "advertising"—which might seem like anathema to those committed to operating in a counterculture at odds with capitalism.

"Pop should be about finding new forms for feelings and communicating them in ways which talk about the world around us right now," the artist told The New York Times in 2015. "There’s no need to view something commercial as necessarily bad. I believe you don’t need to compromise one percent on what you want to present and need to communicate to people en masse."

Almost immediately after the McDonald's ad, Sophie became part of the mainstream landscape, releasing the artist’s debut album Product in 2015. That year, the artist co-wrote and produced Madonna's infamous single "Bitch, I'm Madonna." Sophie followed that up with writing and production work for artists as divergent as the dance-popper Charli XCX (2016's Vroom Vroom) and Odd Future MC Vince Staples ("Yeah Right" and "Samo" from 2017's Big Fish Theory). Sophie also remixed Rihanna's "Nothing Is Promised," a track from Mike Will Made It's debut 2017 album Ransom 2.

"It’s impossible to summarize the journey I went on with Sophie. Even the most insignificant things felt enormous,” XCX expressed on Twitter. “All I can [say] is that I will miss her terribly—her smile, her laugh, her dancing in the studio, her gentle inquisitive voice, her cutting personality, her ability to command a room without even trying, her incredible vision and mind."

— Charli (@charli_xcx) February 2, 2021

Staples also took to social media to remember the artist. "Sophie was different," he said in a Twitter tribute. "You ain't never seen somebody in the studio smoking a cigarette in a leather bubble jacket, just making beats, not saying one word. And don't let the verse be deep or heartfelt, 'cause she stopping the computer and walking outside until you get bacc [sic] on some gangsta shit."

In 2018, Sophie released the artist’s second and final studio album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. The album is fascinating, a tidal wave of disparate styles—glitch, techno, dream pop, ambient house, EDM, and more—coupled with a transgender and transhumanist visual aesthetic. The album was met with acclaim, earning Sophie a GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance Electronic/ Album in 2018. "This is the kind of music that, in 20 years, we may look back on as a pivotal point in changing the trajectory of the pop music sound," Exclaim! wrote in a glowing 2018 review

Sophie left us far too soon, but for anyone wondering if the future of music will resemble this singular artist, here's a thought: Given how the Internet age has bled all genres and stylistic eras into one morass, like in Soundcloud rap—and how traditional ideas of gender are being deconstructed and reexamined daily in mainstream culture—this makes it not just conceivable but likely.

There may have only been one Sophie, but if you’re looking for a bellwether of what a pop musician might look and sound like in the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th centuries, look no further.

LaShawn Daniels, GRAMMY-Winning Songwriter & Producer, Dies At 41

Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images


Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17. 

Paul McCartney At Frank Erwin Center
Paul McCartney performs at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas

Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images


Paul McCartney At Frank Erwin Center

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Lynne Margolis
Austin, Texas

Though Paul McCartney may be 70 in chronological years, we need a new unit of measurement to describe the McCartneys, Mick Jaggers, John Fogertys, and Bruce Springsteens of the world. We should call it rock and roll years, because rock is certainly what's keeping these GRAMMY winners (and women such as Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson) vital and exciting to watch well into their so-called "golden years."

On May 22 at Austin's Frank Erwin Center, McCartney reaffirmed this truth: Rock and roll keeps you young. In two hours and 45 minutes, he and his band delivered 36 hits and favorites from his Beatles, Wings and solo eras (38 if we count the Abbey Road medley of "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" and "The End"; he also slipped in a bit of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady."

With his usual good humor, McCartney told stories, dropped a few clever punch lines and even gave the occasional hip shake and soft-shoe shuffle — though he wore Cuban-heeled Beatle boots below his black jeans and cropped pink jacket. When he removed the jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves, he joked, "That's the big wardrobe change of the evening."

But the sold-out audience of more than 12,000 didn't come to see fancy outfits and elaborate sets; they came to hear the biggest living icon in pop music history, and perhaps revisit fond moments of their own histories through the musical touchstones he created. The savvy McCartney, in his first-ever performance in Austin, didn't disappoint.

For the most part, he faithfully reproduced beloved versions of hits such as "Eight Days A Week," "Paperback Writer," "Lady Madonna," "Another Day," "Band On The Run," and "Live And Let Die," which brought one big special effects moment during the show — jets of fire and showers of sparks so intense the heat could be felt 15 rows back on the floor.

Nostalgic Beatles montages, artful geometrics and audience shots popped up on massive screens behind him as he switched between various guitars, his Hofner bass and two pianos. He performed several Beatles songs he'd never done live, including "All Together Now," "Lovely Rita," "Your Mother Should Know," and "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!"

Only "My Valentine" was performed from his 2012 GRAMMY-winning album Kisses On The Bottom. But with a catalog that includes some of the most beautiful songs ever written, he knew what mattered: gems such as "And I Love Her," "Blackbird," "All My Loving," and "Maybe I'm Amazed," the latter written for his late wife, Linda. Flubbing the opening, McCartney joked, "It proves we're live!" 

Perhaps the most touching moments were his homages to fellow Beatles — the ukulele-plucked "Something" (written by George Harrison) and a song he wrote for John Lennon, "Here Today." Noting he wished he had conveyed its sentiment to Lennon before it was too late, he added afterward, "The next time you want to say something to someone, just say it." He was answered by a shout of, "I love you, Paul!"

Even if he'd only performed the songs delivered in his second encore — a still-astonishingly beautiful "Yesterday," a rocking "Helter Skelter" and the timeless Abbey Road medley — he still would have earned that love.

To catch Paul McCartney in a city near you, click here for tour dates.

Set List:

"Eight Days A Week"
"Junior's Farm"
"All My Loving"
"Listen To What The Man Said"
"Let Me Roll It"/"Foxy Lady" (Jimi Hendrix cover)
"Paperback Writer"
"My Valentine"
"Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five"
"The Long And Winding Road"
"Maybe I'm Amazed"
"I've Just Seen A Face"
"We Can Work It Out"
"Another Day"
"And I Love Her"
"Here Today"
"Your Mother Should Know"
"Lady Madonna"
"All Together Now"
"Lovely Rita"
"Mrs. Vanderbilt"
"Eleanor Rigby"
"Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!"
"Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da"
"Band On The Run"
"Back In The U.S.S.R."
"Let It Be"
"Live And Let Die"
"Hey Jude"
"Day Tripper"
"Hi, Hi, Hi"
"Get Back"
"Helter Skelter"
"Golden Slumbers"/"Carry That Weight"/"The End" 

(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR-affiliate KUTX-FM's "Texas Music Matters," regional and local magazines, including Lone Star Music and Austin Monthly, and newspapers nationwide. She has previously contributed to the Christian Science Monitor (for which she was the "go-to" writer for Beatles stories), and Paste magazine. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.) 

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons


ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"


Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?

Fleetwood Mac in 1975

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?

"Dreams" experienced a charming viral moment on TikTok after a man posted a video skateboarding to the classic track, and now it's back on the charts, 43 years later

GRAMMYs/Oct 16, 2020 - 04:00 am

In honor of Fleetwood Mac's ethereal '70s rock classic "Dreams," which recently returned to the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a viral TikTok skateboard video from Nathan Apodaca, we want to know which of the legendary group's songs is your favorite!

Beyond their ubiquitous 1977 No. 1 hit "Dreams," there are so many other gems from the iconic GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, as well as across their entire catalog. There's the oft-covered sentimental ballad "Landslide" from their 1975 self-titled album, the jubilant, sparkling Tango in the Night cut "Everywhere" and Stevie Nicks' triumphant anthem for the people "Gypsy," from 1982's Mirage, among many others.

Vote below in our latest poll to let us know which you love most.

Related: Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" Back On Charts Thanks To Viral Skateboard Video On TikTok


Poll: What's Your Favorite Van Halen Song?