Buying all formats of British producer SOPHIE’s new album PRODUCT would set you back over $150. Besides a straightforward digital download of the eight-track release, a “catalogue” issued alongside PRODUCT’s press release highlights a CD in either a standard case, a CD in a pink or black silicon bubble case, and a 12” vinyl bundle. SOPHIE’s online store also stocks some additional merchandise to coincide with PRODUCT’s release: SOPHIE-branded puffa jackets, sunglasses, and platform shoes (none of which seem to actually exist), and a sleek black ‘silicon product’ (which does).
It’s the latter item that’s generated the most headlines. Described as “skin safe, odorless, and tasteless,” it’s basically a SOPHIE-branded sex toy—and one that costs $79 on its own. It’s a novel marketing gimmick, but it’s also exactly the sort of thing he’d sell: while SOPHIE’s music has been discussed variously with words like “cotton-candy,” “bubblegum,” and “cute,” there’s always been a transgressive undertone to it that belongs to the world of fetish clubs, S&M, and kink.
In his 2014 single “Hard” [below], an uncredited vocalist reels off a list of materials that turn them on: besides references to PVC, latex, and leatherettes, there are allusions to surgery-enhanced plastic lips and rubber dolls. “When I Rule The World,” a recent single from pop singer LIZ that was co-written and produced with SOPHIE, deals lyrically with submission and female domination (LIZ herself described SOPHIE as “very specific about how I phrase things”). Even more explicitly, last year SOPHIE created a 30-second composition titled “Torture Garden Intro,” its title a reference to the popular London fetish club, for latex brand Meat Clothing.
These synthetic and plastic materials appear in his music in other ways, too. Whether working on his own material or with pop artists like Madonna and Charli XCX, SOPHIE synthesizes his sounds from scratch, with much of PRODUCT replicating textures from the real world. It’s a overturning of the traditional, codified forms of instrumentation and arrangement, with a drum/bass/guitar model is replaced with plastic/metal/elastic. As he explained in a print interview with The Travel Almanac earlier this year, SOPHIE is interested in making music that is "purely a sensory experience that requires no intellectual analysis." It’s a similar principle to materials like latex, which for some people can provoke an immediate sensual response that goes beyond physical stimulation.
SOPHIE brings these material and textural qualities to the smooth silicon of PRODUCT’s sex toy. While many publications have characterized it as a “dildo” in their reporting, it actually bears more resemblance to a prostate massager, intended for male rectal stimulation. SOPHIE seems to enjoy playing with people’s preconceptions of gender and sexuality in music, going beyond traditional masculine/feminine dichotomies. He emerged from an underground electronic music scene that’s still quite straight and male; now, he’s selling a stimulator for the ‘male G-spot' through one of its most respected independent labels. It’s an idea that extends to his choice of artist alias, too. Although he’s never explicitly explained why he chose SOPHIE as his moniker, he seems well aware of the issues of feminine appropriation that surround it. Speaking to Rolling Stone, he expressed ambivalence about gender binaries, stating “I don't think that falling into those pre-defined [gender] roles helps anything.”
Still, as much as SOPHIE’s PRODUCT embraces visceral, liberating, perhaps even genderless pleasure, it also fetishizes something less sexy: consumerism. SOPHIE takes what is free—sex, streaming his music—and turns it into a physical product. "People don't like it when you take control of your own selling point and overtly present it,” SOPHIE told The Travel Almanac in the aforementioned interview. He was talking about the choice to present QT, a project that he co-produces with PC Music’s A. G. Cook, as both an actual pop star called Quinn Thomas and an energy drink called DrinkQT. He continued: “They want to be sold something...They need a selling point to a musical product, but they don't want to acknowledge that they're being sold anything."
Marketing a sex toy with your music might be a gimmick, but it’s one that follows SOPHIE’s own fascination with visceral response and immediate gratification, as well as playing with expectations of gender and sexuality. As a tool for pleasure, this stimulator only hits the spot if you're happy to pay $79 for it. As much as there are liberatory, playful ideas of sex and materiality here, there’s also a blatant joke about consumerism—and it's up to you to decide if you're buying what SOPHIE's selling.