Sasha Geffen

  • Still from Willow’s 2021 video Transparent Soul, directed by Child and Dana Trippe.
    music July 12, 2021

    House of Mirrors

    IN THE FIRST OF TWO VIDEOS for her song “Transparent Soul,” Willow thrashes in a featureless white room flooded bluntly with light. The song’s lyrics are full of barbs launched at a disappointing “you,” but Willow is alone in this visual capsule. She sings into and kicks at the fish-eye lens set on the ground, then backs herself into a corner of the claustrophobic box, whose walls have suddenly sprouted security cameras. She aims one at the viewer, threatening us with a reciprocal gaze. 

    The low vantage and ultrawide-angle lens draw a clean line back to the ’90s, when director Hype Williams used

  • SOPHIE, 2019. Photo: Renata Raksha.

    SOPHIE (1986–2021)

    SOPHIE BELONGED TO THE FUTURE. At the last SOPHIE concert I attended, the central item on the merch table was a black T-shirt with white lettering. LIVE IN PERSON! SOPHIE LA000010302017, it announced. Four zeroes ahead of the date, four powers of ten for us to expand into, millennia upon millennia still unwritten. That was the music’s promise—that we would all make it out, that we would spill not just past this present moment, but into the untold expanses of time yet to come. Now those of us who loved what SOPHIE did must chart a future without SOPHIE, reconstructing our worlds around an abyssal

  • Julien Baker. Photo: Alysse Gafkjen.
    music March 18, 2021

    Queer as Folk

    JULIEN BAKER’S MUSIC WRINGS OUT THE BODY. Her lyrics, sung over sparse, echoing instrumentation, as if she were alone in a cavernous room, frequently dwell on physical injury. The title track of her 2015 debut album, Sprained Ankle, casts her as a marathon runner limping toward the finish line. In “Televangelist,” from 2017’s Turn Out the Lights, she’s an “amputee for phantom touch / leaning on an invisible crutch.” “Hurt Less,” from the same album, has her “pitched through the windshield” in a car crash. Baker tangles these visions of wounding and woundedness with meditations on mental illness,

  • Still from Yves Tumor’s 2020 Heaven to a Tortured Mind album trailer, directed by Jordan Hemingway.

    Sasha Geffen

    Sasha Geffen is the author of Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary (University of Texas Press, 2020). Their writing also appears in Rolling Stone, The Nation, Pitchfork, NPR, and Elsewhere. They live in Colorado.



    Montreal-based rapper and producer Ashanti Mutinta distills power from horror. Her latest LP, with its raw final-girl vocals and buzz-saw instrumentals, pins a laser focus on the stressors of living vulnerably in a world that’s hostile to its margins, dredging up fear while offering catharsis.


  • Beverly Glenn-Copeland performing at MoMA PS1 as part of VW Sunday Sessions, Long Island City, New York, 2019. Photo: Nathan Bajar.
    music September 21, 2020

    Ever New

    FOR FIVE DECADES, Beverly Glenn-Copeland quietly transcribed the melodies that floated to him, as he tells it, as if from a distant radio tower. A classically trained singer born to two musicians in Philadelphia, he released his first pair of albums—Beverly Copeland (1970) and Beverly Glenn-Copeland (1971)—after moving to Montreal to study music at McGill University. Both records showcase his agile and adventurous songwriting in a jazz-inflected folk style; neither enabled him to gain a foothold in an industry that had little room for queer Black singer-songwriters. Glenn-Copeland wouldn’t

  • music June 25, 2020

    Madame Butterfly

    FOR MANY WISHFUL LISTENERS, Arca sounded trans long before she publicly identified as such. Even if the Venezuelan-born producer and vocalist hadn’t named her debut album, Xen (2014), after a feminine alter-ego she’d cultivated since childhood, the music, which writhed and oozed like a pupating insect, would have invited such a reading: It stirred with unstable and viscous electronic tones, hinting at identity in flux. Mutant, in 2015, followed suit; both were tellingly illustrated by computer-generated images of ambiguous bodies spilling, tumorous, from their own skins. Before she changed her

  • Sasha Geffen

    1 SOPHIE, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDEs (MSMSMSM/Future Classic) An emphatic departure from her initial singles, SOPHIE’s debut album deploys the producer’s unique pop vernacular to probe questions of identity, survival, and freedom. Plasticky synthesizer sounds warp around vocals from Cecile Believe as the record proposes an ecstatic vision of utopia beyond the body’s historical confines.

    SERPENTWITHFEET, “CHERUBIM” (Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle) A love song doesn’t have to be light. It can dent the earth with the weight of its singer’s devotion. In “cherubim,” serpentwithfeet renders queer