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SOPHIE’s album is a radical pop statement that imagines new identities

The producer is like modern pop’s answer to Andy Warhol on Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides

In October last year, SOPHIE released an ethereal, cinematic video for a song named “It’s Okay to Cry”. Several months later, we now know this track to be an introduction, in more ways than one. Not only is it the opening track of her newly-released debut album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, it’s a rare example of the notoriously enigmatic artist allowing herself to be visible.

Around this time, I spoke to SOPHIE for Notion Magazine. I’d been hooked on her squelchy, saccharine bangers and was becoming increasingly fascinated by the anonymous creator behind the music. Given her reluctance to grant interviews, I expected to speak to an artist whose answers might be cryptic, clipped, or impersonal. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. For someone so fascinated by artifice, it was SOPHIE’s humanity, for lack of a better word, that shone through. Not only did she request to meet in person, she was kind, genuine and made the effort to go beyond formalities, routinely answering my questions with one of her own. But one quote in particular remained lodged in my mind as I listened to Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides: when I asked why, finally, she had chosen to reveal her face and her voice on “It’s Okay to Cry”, she simply replied that she hadn’t felt comfortable enough in her own skin to do so previously. Now, she did.

Looking back, this quote gives new meaning to the whispered words of reassurance sprinkled throughout the tender track. In the context of the album, it marks a turning point as well as a decision: to be vulnerable, to embrace emotion, and to stop veiling her innermost thoughts. “I can see the truth through all the lies,” sings SOPHIE, seemingly to her previously fearful self. “Just know you’ve got nothing to hide / It’s okay to cry.”

At the time, numerous publications framed the song and its message around SOPHIE’s trans identity. A linear reading of the album supports this theory. “Faceshopping” reads as a literal commentary (confirmed in a recent Jezebel interview) on, amongst other topics, trans identities, on aesthetics, and on the malleability of gender, especially in today’s digital age. With each track, SOPHIE seems to get closer and closer to her own butterfly moment. On “Infatuation”, lyrics allude to discovering new facets of your character and falling in love with them; on “Not Okay”, she offers words of encouragement (“I believe in you”) seemingly to her transitioning self; on “Whole New World”, we hear the ecstasy linked to pursuing our visions of who we want to become, of promises of a “life uncontained”.

Viewed through the lens of her own identity, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides can be seen as a euphoric celebration of SOPHIE’s self-realisation. She revealed to Jezebel that she had been exploring gender more within her music – a rare admission, given her reluctance to explain her work. But this is a reading that doesn’t quite delve deep enough. At its core, this is an album rooted in disruption. It’s one which throws off the shackles of identity entirely, not only fucking with our idea of what it means to be a certain gender, but what it even means to be human, or to be in possession of an identity.

This element of disruption carries through into her music; SOPHIE has always resisted genres, as well as musical typecasting. Just like she throws concepts of gender and identity into question, she also makes us question what constitutes music; in her hands, sounds become sculptures. Synths are stacked and layered to sound like latex being stretched, or like the squelch of slime dripping down a shiny, cold surface. The sharp, stabbing intro of “Whole New World” is the aural equivalent of repetitive lightning strikes, whereas the undulating bass underneath the syrupy “na na na na na na na na” of “Faceshopping” perfectly mimics the contorted, exploding digital rendition of SOPHIE’s face we see in its video.

This weirdness is always tinged with familiarity; what SOPHIE always did incredibly well was create music rooted in human melodies and familiar production, but also music that didn’t quite sound human. “Immaterial” is undeniably the song which best captures this ethos. Giddy, cheerleader-style cries of “immaterial!” bounce atop a relentlessly frenetic beat, while lyrics depict a faceless, hairless protagonist existing outside of society’s strictly-defined parameters. The track offers an accessible, musical iteration of the things she’s been discussing in recent interviews, like transcending the idea of being born into a body which then permanently dictates our identity. In SOPHIE’s euphoric world, these limits don’t exist; our bodies only gain meaning through context, so without societal rules, aren’t we all just empty vessels waiting to be transformed? “Faceshopping” offers a digital alternative to this theory, highlighting that we all now ‘shop’ our face. We’re equipped with an arsenal of digital tools; together we can stretch, distort and mutate our appearance through apps, through surgeries and through cosmetics, meaning that the myth of a ‘fixed identity’ linked to a ‘human’ appearance is now easier to fuck with than ever.

This is the overarching message of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides: question everything. SOPHIE’s desire to disrupt has been evident from day one, but the lyrics and composition of her this album take things further; they ask us to imagine identities outside of society’s existing limitations, and also highlight the futility of trying to prove that anything is ‘real’ in a society increasingly obsessed with artifice. Through catchy, repetitive hooks and bone-crushing beats, SOPHIE communicates radical messages through an accessible medium – pop music. She’s basically a modern, musical Warhol. Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is adventurous, adrenaline-filled, and admirably queer in its desire to fuck with the supposed need for labels and boxes. After five years of growth and self-discovery, this album truly feels like the record SOPHIE entered the music industry to make.