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The long-awaited image of Sophie in 'It's Okay To Cry'

23 October 2017 | 5:33 pm | Lloyd Crackett

Sophie's new track 'It's Okay To Cry' features for the first time, her physical and vocal appearance moving her from producer to popstar.

SOPHIE has always been physically, and to a degree personally, separate from her music in a way that confused most. Akin to Sia’s wig collection, SOPHIE’s identity as a recognisable form also stood somewhere in the shadows since the release of ‘BIPP’, her debut track that formed the basis of her Product EP in 2015.

Now, in what has taken SOPHIE fans by surprise, she’s unveiled her physical and vocal self with her new track, ‘It’s Okay To Cry’, and revealed that all along there was a SOPHIE image brewing, a SOPHIE image waiting to debut.

The long-awaited reveal of SOPHIE fits too perfectly into her approach to pop. Her music has always satirised current pop, utilising the motifs of pop production in refreshingly hyper ways, yet it now brings about the debate of image in music. Does any artist need to be physically present in their press; does any artist owe their fans their image, their voice and a sign that there is, indeed, a human element?

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In 2015, Grimes voiced her anger at SOPHIE in which she expressed displeasure in that SOPHIE was a male producer (sic) and succeeding off of creating what appeared to be an entirely female image. SOPHIE’s trademark vocals, style and overall finished product were very feminine performing. However, this adds further fuel to the debate of image in music – SOPHIE had never shared how she had identified with the press, and she had never (prior to the latest press release) made explicitly clear who she was. Surely an artist cannot be duping anyone if they themselves never actually claimed to be anyone in the first place.

While SOPHIE has been physically absent from her media in the two years from her first track, she hasn’t exactly been quiet. Following her 2015 release Product, SOPHIE has been collaborating profusely, notably on Vince Staples' ‘Yeah Right’ featuring Flume, Kucka and Kendrick Lamar and on Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP. SOPHIE has become a pop juggernaut without ever creating a public profile, keeping her face and voice away from the spotlight, arguably much like famed and notorious producers such as Stargate, Dr Luke and Metro Boomin (none of which have received criticisms for not being stargates, doctors or raucous subway stations).

The entire construction of the SOPHIE-as-an-artist has always been playing on feminine tropes. There has never been any attempt from her as an artist to display anything male, it was merely the hungry journalist or fan who claimed SOPHIE’s identity and wrote it as if it were fact. SOPHIE has suffered under the public’s constant desire to know more, to know who an artist is. The previous approach to SOPHIE's gender identity forces to the forefront how we treat our pop idols and how often fans and the music press ask for more than is reasonable. In reality, SOPHIE should have always been treated as SOPHIE, and the assigning of a gender to someone who never positioned themselves clearly shouldn’t have happened – it was a needless assumption that further proves the point that pop music is made to be consumed, and so are the artists. An artist puts out music and from that, they should be judged.

‘It’s Okay To Cry’ is an intimate affair offered up for the viewer, with SOPHIE now face to camera, never not the centre of attention and sings assumedly to someone she is intimate with. The production, while still rich and twinkling, is subdued and built for SOPHIE's voice, not anyone else’s. Effects have been used to enrich her voice but still, it retains human imperfection, and it’s personable and relatable unlike so many previous vocal tracks of SOPHIE's. Because of this, the track stands aside from previous releases but it is merely another step in the pop route that all pop artists take. Much in the same way that Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift routinely use each new tour cycle as a chance to redefine themselves, so has SOPHIE. There is also something to be said for remaining faceless until now, and with such an intimate, captivating clip, intentionally defining oneself. SOPHIE bided her time to reveal her full self until it was on her terms, and then revealed herself in exactly how she wanted to be seen. It's a powerful move in any case, but it's like a lightning bolt in the pop machine that someone could do something on their own terms.

SOPHIE has utilised this to debut herself and to clear up the previous misconceptions that surrounded her and her affiliation with PC Music. SOPHIE was forced under the scrutiny of gender identity based on assumptions, yet these same critics always steer clear of the number of male producers who routinely create tracks for easily identifiable female artists. No one made the same arguments about Britney Spears' album Britney Jean in which backing vocalists, autotune and effects are used to such a high degree that it is truly Britney’s image that is the most important part of her participation. The argument against SOPHIE and her music style was always the unwillingness to perform physically, to be up for consumption; as if part of engaging and performing any style of pop music was offering yourself up. The reaction to SOPHIE’s new track proves this with more popular media outlets covering SOPHIE’s music than ever, not only because she is a well-hyped artist but that she is now willing to put a face to a name.

SOPHIE is set to debut a live show for Red Bull Music Academy in LA, and she has said that it will feature all new music and will explore further the relationship between human being and machine. SOPHIE’s music has always been pushing the envelope and with this release, it is no doubt the live show will do much the same. Will SOPHIE’s new music be just as personable as ‘It’s Okay To Cry’? Will her physical and vocal debut fill out her persona so that it can more easily be consumed? Will SOPHIE as an artist break into circles in which she previously only produced tracks for as she is now willing to become a part of her music in this way? Is all fans and press want, someone to look at and define?

It’s unknown what will happen or what will come of SOPHIE’s next performance but it is reassuring to know that she is defining herself, holding onto her image and creating it how she sees fit. As we all construct our own identity and the meticulous construction that Sophie puts into her work only makes us all more aware of it.