Simon Cowell has cast a long shadow over British music these last 10 years, so long that it can be quite hard to recall that pop was not merely a production line of flatpack-assembled warblers, but a revolutionary space. Still, with X Factor down in the ratings and limping on like a dying horse, there’s the faint promise that Cowell might yet be overthrown. And if anyone can do it, it might just be SOPHIE.
SOPHIE is not a girl, but a dude: London-based producer Samuel Long, who debuted in 2013 with ‘BIPP’. Airy and drumless, with a rubbery bassline and a diva vocal as sweet as popping candy, ‘BIPP’ set the formula for what was to come: a cute, hyper-stylized club music pitched somewhere between the dayglo EDM explosions of sometime labelmate Rustie and the cuteness of J-Pop. ‘Product’ collects eight such nuggets – SOPHIE’s four singles to date, plus attendant B-sides – and presents it in a variety of different packages: as a conventional CD, in black and pink bubble cases, and as a download packaged with a “silicon product” that resembles something one might purchase with a tube of lube at Ann Summers.
This is club music that’s more art-school than street, and sometimes you find yourself marveling at its audacity. ‘Lemonade’ is a crush song made from bubbly melodies and 100mph synths. ‘MSMSMSM’ is a low-slung trap banger dotted with alien, metallic melodies. ‘Hard’, featuring chipmunk rapping from GFOTY of fellow London club conceptualists PC Music, dares you to find it irritating – then dives in and catches you with a smacker right on the lips.
Is it all a spoof? The title, ‘Product’, certainly has the ring of Malcolm McLaren-style pop art prankery. But whereas PC Music’s output can feel a trifle smug, you get the clear sense that SOPHIE is enraptured by the sadness and elation of a good pop song. He’s already been in the studio with Charli XCX and Madonna, and listening to ‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’, you sense he’d like to add Katy Perry to that list. One thing’s for sure: Simon Cowell better watch his back.