sophie product - staff picks

STAFF PICKS: SOPHIE’s PRODUCT ushers in the age of the 3D-printed pop star

The British producer's debut pushes the line between pop simulation and pop stardom well below the surface.

- Dec 3, 2015
Staff Picks is an exploration of the albums the Chart Attack office can't stop streaming. This time, SOPHIE's PRODUCT: music you can literally fuck yourself with.

Once, when asked how he writes his songs, young English producer SOPHIE explained that he thinks mostly about physics and materials. "LEMONADE" is "made out of bubbling, fizzing, and popping." The song "HARD" is metal and latex. He begins with raw waveforms, he says, not samples, and graphically manipulates the shape to approximate a metallic clang or the sound of a bubble bursting. What he does, he says, is quite like sculpting. It's an aesthetic obsessed with surfaces and their manufacture.

SOPHIE - MSMSMSM (Official Stream)

The pop star business as a game anyone can play. Pop as a grand modernist project. Pop with a straight face. How Warholian!

His first album (or "singles collection," he prefers) is aptly titled then: PRODUCT, as in an article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale. From the outset, the discourse around SOPHIE and his affiliate PC Music has revolved around commercialism. The songs — "LEMONADE" and "BIPP," for example — indulge the neon, over-sugared sonic territory of cartoon channel interstitials and 30-second energy drink spots (hell, he'd help QT develop her own ersatz Red Bull brand). When Billboard asked what kind of music he makes, he answered: "advertising."

The pose pointed towards a distinctly post-modern brand of irony re: the place of commerce in pop. PRODUCT, for example, can be purchased as a $100 skin-safe, odourless and tasteless silicone sex toy (to literally fuck yourself with) that comes with a digital download code. (The SOPHIE merch store also includes a plastic puffer jacket available in pink or green, a pair of lenticular sunglasses with graphic lenses, and embroidered rubber platform shoes, all sold-out, and truth be told, I'm not sure ever really were available for purchase or existed at all beyond the 3D-modelled images on the website, which only emphasizes the point.)

Then, "LEMONADE" appeared in a real-life McDonald's commercial. Suddenly he was in the studio with bona fide pop stars like Madonna and Charli XCX. So is it really a pose? Was he ever winking? He told Rolling Stone: "I think all pop music should be about who can make the loudest, brightest thing... The challenge I'm interested in being part of is who can use current technology, current images and people, to make the brightest, most intense, engaging thing."

The pop star business as a game anyone can play. Pop as a grand modernist project. Pop with a straight face. How Warholian! SOPHIE, in fact, laid allusions to the NYC printmaker, himself obsessed with surfaces, in the lyrics of "Vyzee" — "Make it pop, red and white, tomato soup can" — one of only four new tracks included on the 8-track compilation (and a song which seems to liken musical stimulus to ejaculation).

Just as Andy Warhol coopted the language of advertisement and the mass production mode of silkscreening to explore how, inexpensively, democratically, a non-corporation-sized entity could participate in the proliferation of images, here we have Samuel Long, a.k.a. SOPHIE, borrowing the vernacular of 3D printing — modelling, morphing, extruding rubber polymers — to participate in the production of corporately slick, mass produced-looking material, like a pop enterprise, without the phenomenal resources that might usually require.

Examine his merch shop for yourself or the graphics that accompany every single. SOPHIE's world, like his music, is a thoroughly digital fabrication. But we've entered an era when the digital is easily made material. The line between pop simulation and pop stardom has receded well below the surface.

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