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Live Review: SOPHIE's dark video for screeching new single 'Ponyboy'

12 December 2017 | 6:57 am | Camilla Patini

British producer SOPHIE has just dropped the official video for ‘Ponyboy’, her new, weird, dark and slightly disorienting pop song about sex (and, ostensibly, desire). It follows on from October’s ‘It’s Okay to Cry’, SOPHIE’s emotionally raw ballad about self-acceptance, and her first solo music since 2015.

‘It’s Okay to Cry’ marked the first time SOPHIE used her own image and voice in her work, confounding previous assumptions about her gender identity which had, until then, been the focus of speculation and rumour. SOPHIE was previously known as a producer who never gave interviews and was rarely photographed, preferring instead to leave room for people to fill in the blanks. While SOPHIE “doesn’t really agree with the term ‘coming out’, she does acknowledge that she “feels more happy presenting [her]self” now.  Furthermore, letting her music speak for itself has had its downsides, as she acknowledges that her intentions have often been misinterpreted. “So now I want to join the conversation,” she says, speaking in an interview with Teen Vogue.

Like much of her previous work, and collaborations with other artists such as LUNICECASHMERE CAT, and VINCE STAPLES, ‘Ponyboy’ features clanging rhythms, dark synths and heavily distorted vocals set to a hyperkinetic mish-mash of EDM, rave and other hard to define electronic forms. But what really makes this song stand out is SOPHIE’s pop sensibility – like her debut album Product, ‘Ponyboy’ is as much about aesthetics and branding as it is about music and sound. Add to this SOPHIE’s recent revealing of herself (both metaphorically and physically), and what you see is the further embodiment of ideas – about pop, authenticity and emotion – that have been there in her music all along.

First debuted live at a show for Red Bull Music Academy as part of their month-long festival in Los Angeles, the video for ‘Ponyboy’ features SOPHIE and New York dance duo FlucT (Monica Mirabile and Sigrid Lauren) in a carefully choreographed performance set to flashing strobe lights and visuals. Words flash on the giant screen in front of which SOPHIE and FlucT are performing, the lyrics' font now a central element of the SOPHIE brand. The other font used directly references advertising/marketing for popular children’s toy, ‘My Little Pony’.

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With these visuals, SOPHIE continues to fuel questions over her music’s relationship to consumerism (in 2015, for instance, she licensed her underground hit ‘Lemonade’ to McDonald’s for use in a commercial, and then titled her debut album ‘Product’ to let us know she was in on the joke.) Aside from the obvious wordplay, she riffs on the branding for ‘My Little Pony,’ with her hairstyle recalling the ponies’ rainbow coloured manes.

It’s never been clear whether this kind of posturing is sincere or ironic, however. In this case, SOPHIE doesn’t seem to have much to say about consumerism per se, but there’s a definite tongue-in-cheek quality in her choice to use a child’s toy as branding for a song about animal roleplay/sexual fantasy.

It’s so rare these days to hear something that sounds so genuinely new, but here it is: compelling, thrilling, dark, liberating and thoroughly of the moment. With 'Ponyboy', SOPHIE continues to produce a sound and aesthetic which pushes at the limits of pop music – exciting stuff.

Image: Supplied