“My face is the front of shop / My face is the real shop front / My shop is the face I front / I’m real when I shop my face.” In just four lines of scrambled song lyrics, trans hyperpop artist SOPHIE radically refigures the conventional interface between the I of face, body, and gender, and the shop of capital, product, and consumption. The lines echo the body-centred protests of feminisms from the ‘60s onwards and gesture toward the contemporary commodification of rhytidectomy. But they also willingly approach the aesthetics of a kind of hyper-consumerism, and do not engage it in simple opposition to an affirmative body politic. SOPHIE’s 2018 song “Faceshopping,” rather, explores a stranger and more ambiguous entanglement of (trans) identity, resistance, and explosive consumption. 

Here, I read these four lines and their hyperpop body in the context of what Paul B. Preciado calls the “technogender” turn of the “pharmacopornographic era” (118, 112). ‘Technogender’ helps me to situate the social and economic infrastructures that “Faceshopping” engages with, and to place the song in the context of a trans and “transing” body (Bey, 69). But Preciado’s chapter does not really offer a toolkit to read the song’s position within these infrastructures as a resistant mode of entanglement. For that, I turn to Marquis Bey’s recent rethinking of transness as a general “political androgyny” that undoes, at its most structural level, “what the human is and works toward creating something new in its wake” (75). As I explore below, by implicating face in shop, hyperpop's maximalist 'techno-plastic' aesthetic frustrates a normalised view of resistance against gender normativity as also being a resistance against consumption culture. As such, SOPHIE’s song nudges the conversation toward a more complex question: how does the willful implication in consumption in “Faceshopping” spark a generative project of trans undoing? How, indeed, does the song’s androgynous relation to shop make space for ‘something new’?

self, sound – shop

“Faceshopping,” the third single on SOPHIE’s only studio album OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES, starts out softly, with the lines transcribed above, sung in a femme voice. Though the order-switch logic of the lyrics already hints at an unusual sense of plasticity, modularity and transition, nothing ‘hyper’ really hits the pop until the last “face,” less than thirty seconds in. From the final “face” onwards, the song is composed of compressed and distorted beats, highly unintelligible digital voice modulation, and a plethora of synthetic and hyperactive soundbites and waveforms. Despite such avant-garde form, “Faceshopping” marks the last push in the popularisation of SOPHIE’s work and the broader embrace of hyperpop, a UK-based microgenre developed by a small group of LGBTQIA+ artists from the 2010s onwards. Academia, however, has thus far failed to engage the genre in any substantial way. Scholarly work on hyperpop has mainly amounted to a few unpublished master theses and Ph.D. dissertations, most of which tend to approach the trans politics in the genre’s experimental sound design as clear-cut cases of sharply oppositional and emancipatory self-expression. Patrick Williams, for example, describes hyperpop as the “stress-testing of gendered sound;” Eva Sophie Ogilvie-Hanson finds in SOPHIE “new modes of embodiment generated through our increasing reliance on technology;” and Augie Savoy similarly pinpoints a “genderbending aesthetics.” (ii; 8; 18). Though these texts are helpful when it comes to the analysis of the self-sound or gender-technology relationships in a song like “Faceshopping,” all neglect a third term interwoven throughout such hyperpop relationality: its turn to the shop. If SOPHIE explores “new relationships between body and sound,” as many critics have it, then “I’m real when I shop my face” triangulates the enmeshments of identity and sound technologies with the realism of contemporary consumption culture (Ogilvie-Hanson 8; my emphasis). To thus understand the resistant quality of these self-sound entanglements, we have to turn to the (dis)solution, in the late capitalist marketplace, of the very ‘self’ that traditionally does such resisting – we have to take the shop seriously as hyperpop’s home.

For Preciado, consumption and ‘shopping’ are vital to an understanding of gender in the twenty-first century, an era marked by what he calls “biocapitalism’s pharmacopornographic techniques of gender production” (101). As pharmaceutical body technologies (like testosterone and oxytocin) and medical/surgical body techniques become more readily available, “we are witnessing a horizontalization of the consumption of the techniques of production of the body” - techniques that turn gender into a “biotech industrial artefact,” into a technogender (125, 101, my emphasis). Though such horizontalisation and pluralisation are in tension with the simultaneous prominence of pornography’s heteronormative and conservative gender image, Preciado suggests that the advent of technogender marks the recession of any easy border-practice between the self and the ‘shops’ in which that self buys and consumes itself (like drugstores and medical catalogues) (104). 

Enter “Faceshopping.” Refiguring the face as plastically as possible,“Faceshopping” does not merely find a logic of transformation and modulation in its lyric wordplays and sonic experimentation; it specifically takes on this aesthetics of ongoing transition in its play on ‘shop.’ Narratively, the lyrics position the face as a shoppable item, and the shop as a mirror-image of the face (“My shop is the face I front”). Sonically, too, the many dispersed samples and soundbites feel literally ‘shopped,’ as if from a digital database. Moreover, through their modularity, the words themselves seem to take on a user-item quality, as if they’re catalogue items, plastic words to own and put in sequence. The body of the song thus emphasises that the trans sensitivity that refigures the normative dimorphisms of ‘gender’ and ‘self’ into a freeing plasticity-practice is not in opposition to the hyper-consumerism of the twenty-first century West: it is rather a direct expression of its structuring principles.

Though Preciado’s historical work is highly attuned to the problems of body and power, it does not provide a productive vantage on the specific liberatory work that the ‘shoppiness’ does in SOPHIE’s song. We are left to wonder how, if at all, this transgender imaginary, so inextricably entangled with a mood of consumption, also simultaneously succeeds in “giving trans artists a voice,” something most scholars seem to agree on (Jóhannsdóttir, 13). Put differently, the new question becomes: what particularly, in this self-sound-shop entanglement, is affirmative of liveable life beyond the confines of the cis category?


A closer look at the formal structure of the song is helpful here; specifically, its insistence on modulation as generative lyric form. The order-switch logic of the words in the four “Faceshopping” lines, for example, posits formal modularity not just as a means to an end or as a playful space between stages, but as substance itself: the modular logic of these words alone suffices to make up the body of the song. Their shuffled and twirled-around character, that is, puts on display not meaning but the formal logic of metamorphosis; not a story, a message or moral, but modular form itself. If all this is a consequence of gender’s turn to the shop and its modular structure of varying items, we can now read in such modularity essentially the negation of category, linearity and hard-shell binary that gender normativity delivers. We then find in “Faceshopping” an instance of what trans scholar Marquis Bey calls the “radical work of undoing” (Bey 91). We find, in other words, a negation that is generative.

In Cistem Failure, Bey locates trans haecceity in its essential disavowal of the “tethers of cisness” and the “normativity of the gender binary” (44, 65). If transness is fundamentally that which escapes and breaks the M/F logic – hence, breaks logic itself – then the prefix trans* is no longer to be tied to any one body, identity, life or lifestyle, but directly to whatever spawns the local “failure of the system” (xii). Though Bey acknowledges that such ‘glitching’ differs per body and scene of subjection (and they centralise blackness as the epitomal ‘cistem failure’), they do not, however, further conceptualise how or through which means specifically this trans “undermining and subversion” takes place (83). Here, with its insistence on modularity and plasticity, “Faceshopping” presents one casting of the mechanism. If the song disambiguates anything, it is that the body or face is never simply ‘the’ body or face – a singular, unified I – but irreparably caught in incessant unruliness, always inevitably transitioning between multiple moving parts and scales of abstraction. 

Moreover, as I have argued above, it accomplishes this work through the plastic use of words. As such plasticity is deferred or opposed by a cisness that needs hard truths and high walls, the song’s formal and narrative emphasis on modularity and plasticity precisely performs the expressive “destruction” of cis aegis that Bey so insistently promotes (123). But it does so only because it doubles down on the technogender ‘shop’ as its structuring analogy – because it inflates this modular shop structure into the positive body of the song. It is through the shop imaginary, then, that “Faceshopping” transforms pop (a genre already deeply implicated in capital) into hyper-pop; the face into hyper-shop; the lyrical sequence into modular form; and sampling and soundbites into hypercharged formwork. Through this hyperbolisation, then, “Faceshopping” abstracts from the scene of the technogender shop a sense of plasticity that is so all-consuming that it turns ‘shopping’ itself into a mode of cistem resistance. If Preciado allows us to read for the song’s self-sound-shop triangulation, Bey helps to locate in the song’s hypercharge of these linkages a fundamentally resistant and expressive position. In its plastic hyperpop body, the song productively posits a trans/techno/hyper confounding that resists the ‘cistem’ by over-submitting itself to implication.

A note remains on how this trans/techno/hyper “Faceshopping” more broadly retunes genres of ‘emancipation’ and ‘liberation’ to a sense of self untethered from the singular, erect, I: to an I now implicated in plastic form. This note dialogues with a common anxiety on how anything can ever be ‘good’ or ‘right’ if it is also so entangled with modes of capital and consumption, which is fundamentally an anxiety about admitting and living through implication at large. Savoy, for one, writes about hyperpop that “As the style becomes more pronounced and popular, newer artists will align themselves with it regardless of artistic integrity or personal taste. While the early pioneers and true believers have a claim to authenticity, widespread success in capitalism cultivates dishonesty and artifice” (20). But is this proper incongruity? Or does the song perform an attachment that precisely explicates how such ‘artifice’ itself harbours unexpected modes of self-expression from the midst of capital? “Faceshopping”’s (and by extension, SOPHIE’s and hyperpop’s) trans/techno/hyper modularity fundamentally troubles any understanding of ‘integrity,’ ‘authenticity,’ ‘dishonesty’ and ‘artifice’ from the get-go, as all of these notions ultimately repeat the hard cis unity that denies implication and refuses to admit the technifications of its gender. As I have attempted to show, it is through artifice – straight through the thick of a maximalist, absurdist embrace of the shop and its items – that “Faceshopping” articulates transness. It takes on and saturates an embedment in consumption and commodity form so fully that it starts to reach its seams and fissures, and decapitates from there any simple systematic identity form. 

To say “my face is the real shop front” is to enunciate ironically the failure of the product object, and hence to allow difference and friction back in through the interstices. Here, then, we find a transly mode of making space that is not based on the hegemonic I-structures and its genres of forceful antagonism that made space-making necessary in the first place. This is what “Faceshopping” hints at, after all: that there’s something weirdly capacious, cathartic and enticing to giving over to the frenzied chaos of modulation, transformation, transition, dispersion, reintegration, transubstantiation and inflation and popping and twisting and shopping again. It’s not all that bad being plastic.

Works Cited

Bey, Marquis. Cistem Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender. Duke University Press, 2022, Durham.

Jóhannsdóttir, Ronja. Nightcore, Hyperpop and LGBTQ+ Culture. 2021, Iceland University of the Arts, master thesis.

Ogilvie-Hanson, Eva Sophie. Posthuman Production: Technology and Embodiment in the Works of SOPHIE and Holly Herndon. 2020, McGill University, master thesis.

Preciado, Paul B. “Technogender.” Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, translated by Bruce Benderson, The Feminist Press, 2013, New York City, pp. 99-129.

Savoy, Augie. The New Culture Industry: Tracing Democratization, Cultural Pluralism, and a New ‘Stillness’ in Modern Music. 2020, Pomona College, master thesis.

SOPHIE. “Faceshopping.” OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES, Transgressive Records, 2018, 

SOPHIE. “VYZEE.” Product, Numbers, 2015, 

Williams, Patrick. Beyond the Binary: Digital Voices and Transhumanist Expression in SOPHIE’S OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES. 2021, California State University, master thesis.


Jakob Henselmans (University of Amsterdam) works on problems of form and aesthetics in affect theory, queer theory, and psychoanalysis. He taught cinema and narrative at Leiden University, and worked for the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Analysis (NICA). He is the author of the upcoming monograph Reading/Form, to be published by the University of Murcia later this season.

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