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DISPATCH | ‘It’s Okay to Cry’: How SOPHIE’s memory helped me through isolation abroad

<h6>Drew Somerville / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Drew Somerville / The Daily Princetonian

Dispatches at The Prospect are brief reflections from our writers that focus on their experiences during the summer break. This piece is part the Dispatch summer 2022 series.

I don’t know why I chose Athens, really. Other than one classics course and Disney’s “Hercules,” I had no idea what the country would be like. I don’t know anyone here, and it wasn’t like I had dreamt of the city since I was a kid. I grew up in an Italian household; I could have just as easily applied to a program in Rome and felt an ancestral connection to my location. 

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Blind curiosity has marked my experience here, a feeling that I have struggled to get used to. Since before my departure I have been thrown into mishap after mishap: from a hacked debit card to a last minute roommate mishap, from lost baggage to a quasi-stalker, from a stolen wallet to a broken washing machine. I feel like an awkward tween pretending to be an adult in a place they’ve never even heard of.

Throughout it all I have tried to figure out why I chose this place, this program. My internship — a biochemistry lab assistant at the University of West Attica, hosted by Princeton’s International Internship Program — may be only a couple miles from the Parthenon, but I could be doing simple lab work anywhere around the world.

Amid my boredom, I found myself scrolling through a gay “dating” app. I came across a profile that listed “Whole New World” by SOPHIE as one of the person’s favorite songs. I love SOPHIE, so I messaged them to see if we could chat about it.

“Have you heard burn rubber?” I wrote. An unreleased song of SOPHIE’s, it was one of my all time favorites.

“Yeah, I’m a big fan, we were friends when she lived here,” they said.

“Friends? When did she live in Athens?”

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“2020-21.”

“Before she passed away?” I asked, stupidly.

I remember reading in January 2021 that SOPHIE had tragically died when she fell off a roof in some European city. I had just assumed it was a big clubbing hub, like Berlin or Barcelona. 

“Yeah, unfortunately.” 

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SOPHIE had passed away in Athens. 

I looked up details of her death. The accident happened in Plateia Karaiskaki, a neighborhood just minutes from my apartment, and one article even had an image of her own apartment. While taking pictures of a full moon, SOPHIE misstepped and fell off the building. She died in a hospital hours later.

SOPHIE’s death shook the queer community and the music industry alike. Many called her a visionary. The stories she was able to tell with her production and lyrics were inimitable. 

This “dating app” back-and-forth inspired me to re-listen to all of SOPHIE’s discography on my way to work each day. Thirty minutes by train each way and a 15 minute walk in the scorching sun was where I rediscovered the beauty in every song, in everything she produced.

I started with one of her first solo projects, “Product.” A collection of unique and experimental singles, all with colorful, plastic album art, the project marked SOPHIE as a risk taker.

One of the most jarring songs I’ve ever heard, “L.O.V.E.” has been described as a note to what it’s like to be loved as a trans woman: only a few moments of authentic happiness, the rest anxiety inducing and scary.

“JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE” is an amazing testament to leaving a chapter of your life without closure, a feeling familiar to many queer people. Having been forced out of more than one house as a teenager, I am struck by the song’s themes every time I listen to it, and the production is absolutely stunning, with an unresolved build that never drops and intricately mirrors its message, also unfinished.

Upon first listen, “HARD” feels like a fun, fashion head-mover. There’s one lyric, however, that reminds me of another all-too-common queer memory: seeking approval or praise from those who don’t accept you for who you are.

My close friend Evan pointed it out to me the first time. There is a point in the song when the vocalist sings the line “Do I make you proud? I tried so—,” but is cut off before she can say the word “hard,” which is being repeated throughout the rest of the song. 

After “Product,” I listened to SOPHIE’s work that was featured on XCX World, an unreleased album by CharliXCX. 

Most notably, the song “I Wanna Be With U” particularly reflects SOPHIE’s production style: her magical ability to build into choruses and create drops paired with sparkly notes of whimsy was enough to make me close my eyes and start crying on a crowded train back to my apartment one day. 

It was not just the music, but also the pressure of the situation that made me break down in front of dozens of strangers. 

“I do not want to be here,“ I thought.

I was alone in a foreign country with limited resources, and I was only able to romanticize it for so long. So much had gone wrong — mishap after mishap— and I felt crushed. SOPHIE’s music was all I had, connecting me to the friends it reminded me of, and the community it had brought me close to. 

I have tried so hard to find silver linings, to make the experience worthwhile, but the continuous discouragement dulls and conceals any silver lining to be found.

SOPHIE’s music has allowed me to connect with this city and remind myself that it will be worth it. Chapters can end without closure, imperfect and messy as long as we can look back on them and grow. 

I don’t yet know what this chapter will mean for me in the future — maybe something as simple as always checking my pockets when getting out of a cab — but as long as I keep moving, even as I count down the days until my flight home, it will be worth it.

Andrew Somerville is a Co-Head News Editor who has covered USG, University, and COVID-19-related affairs. Andrew can be reached at jas19@princeton.edu.

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