the inside track

9 Songs That Wouldn’t Exist Without SOPHIE

SOPHIE’s influence was quite literally all over the place. Photo-Illustration: Vulture, Shutterstock and Getty Images

SOPHIE’s sudden death at 34 this past weekend shed light on the producer’s wide catalogue, with even longtime fans finding new credits by the pioneering pop artist. While SOPHIE entered pop with a singular vision on songs like 2013’s “BIPP,” the producer rose to prominence by working with everyone from Charli XCX and the PC Music collective to Madonna and Vince Staples. SOPHIE released the singles compilation PRODUCT in 2015 and the revelatory solo album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES in 2018, but those only tell a partial story of the producer’s wide, influential career. So this list of songs focuses on a few that didn’t bear SOPHIE’s name but wouldn’t exist without the musician — whether because SOPHIE produced them or influenced the artists who performed them.

“Hey QT,” QT

PC Music came on the underground scene as troublemakers, reinterpreting pop’s formalistic rules to the point where some critics mistook the music for parody. SOPHIE was never officially part of the label but worked with A.G. Cook and his acolytes over the years, beginning with this easy to swallow piece of bubblegum pop. The song itself is a theme song to PC artist QT, named for her eponymous energy drink — released shortly after SOPHIE picked “advertising” as an encompassing musical genre in an interview and followed by a raucous concert turned product promotional stunt at SXSW in 2015.

“Bitch I’m Madonna,” Madonna, featuring Nicki Minaj

The best Madonna song of the past ten years wouldn’t exist without SOPHIE, who shares production credits with Diplo on Madonna’s 2015 album, Rebel Heart. SOPHIE’s touches come through in the details, like that caffeinated, cheeky pre-chorus. By the time SOPHIE referenced a Madonna hit years later on the producer’s own transcendent pop banger “Immaterial,” it was more than earned.

“Vroom Vroom,” Charli XCX

Vroom Vroom, a four-song 2016 EP, changed Charli XCX’s entire career trajectory. Before, she was a DIY spirit trying to fit a top-40 mold; after, she slowly became pop’s preeminent experimentalist. SOPHIE produced the entire EP, and the title track stands as Charli’s brash, playful reintroduction. “Bitches know they can’t catch me,” Charli speak-sings over SOPHIE’s synths, more dissonant than anything she’d sung over before. She had continued to work with SOPHIE on songs like “Roll With Me,” “Lipgloss,” and “Out of My Head.”

“Yeah Right,” Vince Staples, featuring Kendrick Lamar

Vince Staples claimed his adventurous second album, Big Fish Theory, wasn’t a rap record — it was an electronic one. The credits backed him up, including two beats produced by SOPHIE. Other Big Fish Theory songs glisten and groove, while a track like “Yeah Right” pits Staples against the beat, heavy and industrial. “At that time in my career, I was at the point where you’re reassessing how you feel about yourself, what your purpose is, what your sonics are,” Staples told Rolling Stone. “SOPHIE had something that we were looking for.”

“Hot Pink,” Let’s Eat Grandma

“Hot Pink” begins as an unassuming pop song before crashing into a wall of synthesizers. SOPHIE had a talent for making electronic music feel visceral, and few songs do that better than “Hot Pink,” the first of many breakout moments for English avant-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma. As impenetrable as the chorus sounds, the duo cut through. But this song still has pop bones, and that twinkling outro is an equally classic SOPHIE touch.

“745 sticky,” 100 gecs

In the wake of SOPHIE’s death, no one touchpoint came up more than 100 gecs, the frenetic experimental-electronic duo that broke out in 2019. Critics have compared them to everything from 3OH!3 to Sleigh Bells, but their irreverent mishmash of genres wouldn’t be possible without SOPHIE challenging concepts of pop years prior. While 1000 gecs single “money machine” presented gecs at their most palatable, album opener “745 sticky” was a much more assertive announcement, from the vocal manipulation (especially for Laura Les, herself a trans woman) to that all-over-the-place drop.

“Nonbinary,” Arca

SOPHIE features elsewhere on Arca’s latest album, the dance floor–aimed KiCk i. But the album, which marked the public coming-out of Arca as trans, sits on the shoulders of what SOPHIE accomplished a few years prior with “It’s Okay to Cry,” which properly introduced the producer’s unedited voice and trans identity for the first time. “What a treat it is to be nonbinary, ma chérie,” Arca declares on the opening track, “Nonbinary,” over a mess of clangs, pops, and zaps. Arca said she wanted “to explore gender euphoria” on the album, echoing how many critics had described SOPHIE songs like “It’s Okay to Cry.”

“SLIME,” Shygirl

The last SOPHIE-produced song released before the producer’s death was this slick track from London rapper Shygirl. “SLIME” is hazier than many SOPHIE productions, but no less confident, with the pulsing beat underlining the explicit images of Shygirl’s bars. The song called back to the transgression of SOPHIE’s early music — the 2015 singles compilation, PRODUCT, came with a sex toy — while carrying on SOPHIE’s practice of boosting new artists, from Quay Dash to Banoffee to Shygirl.

Untitled, Lady Gaga
Rumors of a collaboration between SOPHIE and Lady Gaga swirled for years, but while the producer didn’t end up credited on Chromatica, Gaga’s collaborator BloodPop confirmed the three had been in the studio together. SOPHIE was one of the first to work on the album, BloodPop told Entertainment Weekly, chopping audio of Gaga’s sports car into samples. And, he added, “We still plan to finish those songs and present something special within the Chromatica universe.”

9 Songs That Wouldn’t Exist Without SOPHIE