Elsewhere; Brooklyn, NY

SOPHIE’s a pop star now. Her NYC “stage show” premiere took the aesthetics and form of the Major Pop Event as its guidelines, presentation as justification. She is a pop star because she Is A Pop Star, she Presents as a Pop Star. Materializing onstage to the astonishingly aggressive industrial shivers of a new song (presumably “Whole New World”), she was backed by a strobing LCD wall, two choreographed dancers from the wonderful group FlucT, and vocalist Cecile Believe. In that SOPHIE-script, the wall shrieked out lyrics: “WHOLE NEW WORLD. MACHINES. FEELINGS. WHOLE. NEW. WORLD.” Giant plastic sacs inflated. The dancers held SOPHIE from within them. “PONYBOY” is played very loud. A cabaret-esque song, briefly. More aggression, more strobing lyrics, another new song: “MY FACE IS THE FRONT OF HOUSE.” My face is most definitely the front of house. I feel like I look pretty good. My lipstick is sharp, my eyes look large. Some power tools were projected as well. The songs are Very Aggressive, mutating slabs of sound. SOPHIE dances, is lifted and held by her backup dancers.

A break for a costume change. She’s clothed in a high-necked black something and mini-skirt. Her top reads UNITY. Decades of pop tropes are presented; rave subcultures, hyper-feminine style. She begins to play live, something more ambient, rather moving vocals from Thomson-Hannat. Madonna, of course, rears her head, in another new song, presumably “IMMATERIAL BOYS,” which chants “Immaterial boys/ immaterial girls/ Immaterial/ Material.” It’s the first real pop song in this set that wears the aesthetics of the Pop Star while providing primarily a sort of feminized violence, a violence of presentation, though one that can be enjoyed. This song about immateriality is not violent. Everyone dances. There’s a hyper-fast remix of “HARD.”

There’s maybe some more music and there’s definitely more strobes and clouds on this LCD wall. After a while, there’s a good 5+ minutes of lasers and rhythmically shattered percussion. It sounds a bit like M.E.S.H. It starts to feel frustrating, this presentation of Pop freedom in a context that has hewed to the aggressive, the Very Tense, an urgent anxiety of presentation. The Whole New World is Very Fun, but it doesn’t crest; we feel nervous. Of course, it crests. Another costume change and she emerges in Red, singing, “It’s Okay to Cry.” (Or maybe lip-syncs, but it should be clear by this point that that would still be Very Real.) I love it and am still unfulfilled. This seems fine.

I think about my body, the colors and fluids and fabrics I attach to it. I am drinking Prosecco, which is the only thing worth drinking at a venue in 2018. We cheer and assume she won’t play an encore because this is not that kind of Pop. We are right. I think about presentation, about performance. I think about the tearing open of space and bodies. I want to hear Charli XCX. I am glad that SOPHIE is a Pop Star, particularly when it’s a very Real, very Fake, sometimes stymying Outfit she’s chosen to wear, and earned.

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