“I felt as though I had lost someone so close to my heart, but who I’d never met. And the way we connected—through her music—was still there.”– Tom Chesworth
My first encounter with SOPHIE was something of a chance happening. I was on the bus home from school one day, searching Spotify for Beyoncé’s Lemonade, when I came across ‘LEMONADE.’ I didn’t quite know what to think; that fizzy, electro-pop sound was like nothing I’d heard before. I listened to the track on loop for the rest of the bus ride, and when I got home went straight to my room to blast it through my speakers. I remember dancing around my room in a way I had never done before. It was the first time that I, a queer child yet to meet another queer person my age, felt seen, felt as though there was something beyond where my life was at that point.
Fast forward to when I started uni. I began to surround myself with those queer friends I longed for in school. We all shared a love for music, and at the heart of our tastes was SOPHIE. She’d be played at pres, while we cooked, whenever really. I remember waking up one random July morning in 2019 to a flurry of excited texts at the news that OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES NON-STOP REMIX ALBUM had suddenly dropped on Spotify. I abandoned my plans for the morning and listened to it twice through on those speakers I first danced to ‘LEMONADE’ through. There was a certain buzz to our texts that day; we were all transfixed by the sounds she had created. How had she done it? How had she one-upped OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES?
In my final year of undergrad, I decided to write my dissertation on SOPHIE. I would sit for hours in the library listening to her work over and over and thinking through all those lyrics and sounds that she created in excruciating detail. What did she mean by ‘I’m real when I shop my face’? ‘So you must be the one that I’ve seen in my dreams / Come on, touch me, set my spirit free’? ‘I can be anything I want’? It was these intimate moments of listening, in the depths of the University Library, that I began to discover what it truly meant to be myself, a discovery that led me to the realisation that I am trans, and that my being trans is beautiful.
As I sit here writing this, listening to ‘It’s Okay to Cry’ on the same speakers I danced to, I think back to those times on the school bus—headphones in so no one would talk to me—and compare it to where I am now—never louder or prouder of my transness—and I realise that it was SOPHIE who was there all along. It was SOPHIE who I listened to when I painted my nails, when I sent that first text saying my pronouns were they/them, and she was the soundtrack to some of the most beautiful times with my friends. She really was there every step of the way.
So, when I woke up on the 30th January to the news of SOPHIE’s death, I didn’t quite know how to feel, or at least how to describe how I felt. I scrolled the deluge of tributes on Twitter, liking and retweeting, but not being able to put into words my own thoughts. It was a strange feeling of grief, one that I hadn’t felt before. I felt as though I had lost someone so close to my heart, but who I’d never met. And the way we connected—through her music—was still there. I can still listen to those tracks that make me want to dance, that remind me of my beauty, that transport me to somewhere beyond my bedroom, whenever I want. But, of course, it was never just the music that connected me to SOPHIE; she was so much more than that. SOPHIE, though she never knew it, was the one who taught me more than I could ever have imagined about self-love, about truly being myself.
There’s something quite fitting about the way SOPHIE died on that January evening in Athens. There was no build-up; she had released ‘UNISIL’ on the 28thJanuary and just like that, two days later, she was gone. But SOPHIE was all about the unexpected. She came onto the music scene when no one anticipated it, every track had a new sound we’d never heard before, she unintentionally appeared in my life on that random bus ride home, she changed my perception of myself without me even knowing it, and she departed when we least expected it. She left just as she arrived.
But, of course, she hasn’t really left us. Her legacy lives on not only through her incalculable impact on music, but through all the queer people she inspired. And we will keep shopping our faces, being anything we want, and playing her music forever.
Words by Tom Chesworth
Photo © Charlotte Wales