It’s really hard to be sad and listen to SOPHIE at the same time. Even in the melancholy that’s overwhelmed me in the hours since I found out about the artist’s death at age 34 on Saturday, bits and pieces of SOPHIE’s work keep jumping out at me and forcing me to crack a smile. There’s the retro horns of the production on Jodie Harsh’s “Tuesday,” which almost feel like a sardonic joke in the context of a career that was always looking centuries ahead. There’s the signature “pots and pans” hook on “Hot Pink,” which crystallize a whole musical ethos that was simultaneously playful and epic. And there’s just the sheer stadium-anthem size of SOPHIE’s most influential hits: “Bipp” and “Hey QT” from the early days or stuff like “Immaterial” from the second act of SOPHIE’s career, when SOPHIE shedded on-stage darkness and anonymity to explicitly and publicly embrace transness and burgeoning stardom.
“It would be extremely exciting if music could take you on the same sort of high-thrill, three-minute ride as a theme park roller coaster,” SOPHIE said nearly a decade ago, back when the artist was still an obscurity and hadn’t yet achieved that dream. “Where it spins you upside down, dips you in water, flashes strobe lights at you, takes you on a slow incline to the peak, and then drops you vertically down a smokey tunnel, then stops with a jerk, and your hair is all messed up, and some people feel sick, and others are laughing—then you buy a key ring.”
None of that semi-ironic, endorphin-boosting intensity lends itself well to just lighting a candle and wrapping yourself up in bed. But, well, we don’t really have a choice right now. As plenty of people have pointed out, the collective public mourning for SOPHIE has also overlapped with a kind of mourning for The Club, and more specifically for the simple joy of being in shared physical spaces with other people. Once upon a time, on a Saturday night like this past one, a select group of the best spots would have filled up with SOPHIE’s music and with hundreds of gay and trans folks who needed strength in numbers to process the shock. Today, and for god knows how much longer, there’s tweets, and texts, and holding the speaker of your phone up to your laptop microphone, and the option of having too many beers and going out in the freezing cold to look up at the moon, with the dreamy bliss in the “Sfire 1” coda playing privately in your ear as you shiver and hold yourself tight.
The world, not something I’m particularly a fan of at the moment anyway, feels like a worse place now without one of our best in it, now that there’s a big gaping hole where “SOPHIE’s next move” used to be. SOPHIE was the future. SOPHIE’s every fearless creative endeavor was like the work of the smartest person living in 2200 A.D. And it just seems so fundamentally unfair to lose SOPHIE at a time when the present is a pause button and the days ahead are all we have. How is anyone supposed to try and bear down and toughen up and make it through these months that are too quickly turning into years when fucking SOPHIE, of all people, can’t even do it? I don’t have a real answer there, but I guess I have the knowledge that I’m going to try to do it anyway.
Correction (7:02 p.m. ET): This piece has been edited to reflect SOPHIE’s team’s request that pronouns not be used in media articles, and that the artist should only be referred to by name.