Apocalyptic visions abound in late capitalism: films in which earthquakes ravage the Earth, books about mankind serving machines. Philosopher Mark Fisher’s dystopian worldview seems subdued by comparison, but it is––horrifyingly––already here. Fisher sees humanity as bound to a late-capitalist system that serves only elites, is careening toward self-destruction, and has rendered us unable to imagine an alternative path. According to Fisher, we have lost even the ability to invent musical forms. Our music scene is one big “retro” echo of the past, while the innovation of new musical forms has been stymied alongside our stunted political and economic imaginations.
Fisher’s musical pessimism is justified, but it overlooks a movement which, far from imitating the past, bases itself entirely on the freshest sounds of the present. This movement, dubbed “hyperpop,” pushes the synthetic elements of pop music to their extreme. It distorts vocals, overwhelms the ear with bass and synth lines, and deconstructs percussion. Not only does it avoid samples, but it also lacks any recognizable human voices and sounds. Paradoxically, this brazenly digital aesthetic has shocking emotional depth. Perhaps cyberspace can be the site of our liberation. No hyperpop album articulates this better than SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.
On this record, SOPHIE sketches a vision of a new world in which technology has cleared the way for true collectivism. From electronic ballads to deconstructed bangers, SOPHIE’s songs all strain toward a collective dissolution of identity. Most pop music sews together a haphazard sense of self from one’s consumer choices, singing of such disposable actions as one-night stands and nights at the club and drinks and drugs. SOPHIE’s hyperpop foregrounds that very disposability, singing of shopping one’s face and pretending and he/she/they being a ponyboy, conveying the absurdity of any sense of self at all. Both sonically and lyrically, this album conveys the exhilarating anonymity available in our digital age.
In many ways, the internet is undoubtedly a dark and divisive place. Yet in a late-capitalist world, which calcifies our identities and dissolves solidarity, SOPHIE imagines cyberspace as the last place where one can still find independence from selfhood and embrace the blurring of identity that creates true collectivism. “You could be me and I could be you,/ Always the same and never the same.” Sung by a distorted chorus over SOPHIE’s bouncing basslines and club synths, these lines don’t suggest sadness or existential crisis, but celebration. They compel us to dance with the other “immaterial girls” and “immaterial boys.” Selfhood is arbitrary; by becoming immaterial, we clear the pretension of individuality away and realize how much we truly share.
Mark Fisher was largely correct in his diagnosis of our dilemma: late capital has convinced us of the myths of our identities, taught us to see our wealth as individually earned rather than structurally, our suffering as individually deserved rather than systemically punishing. But there are things to be hopeful for. There is the possibility that digital connection will allow us to see past our individualism, realize our shared goals, and build a new economic and political system that truly serves us. Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides uncovers this future without regressing into nostalgia. SOPHIE didn’t just reignite the possibilities of today: she gave us hope for a whole new world.