While her entrancing brand of stuttering electronic dance music clatters and clangs in the background, Sophie Xeon's musical alter ego SOPHIE is both present and absent throughout the self-directed music video for her third single 'Faceshopping' (2018). Oscillating between the white canvas and black mirror of a panoptic screen, grotesque animated versions of the artist’s cosmeticized face flash, mutate, deflate and flicker across an empty non-location. Mechanical percussion sounds clash against artificial keyboard noises in a disjointed, uneven manner, creating a fractious posthuman sensorium that exacerbates the dehumanising CGI effects wreaking havoc on SOPHIE’s animated visage.
The sassiness of lyrics “I’m real when I shop my face” embrace unsavoury aspects of self-love which are deemed corrosive elements of consumer culture’s cash-generating narcissism. However, beneath an unflappable veneer of bold and confident dissent, SOPHIE’s video encapsulates fundamental paradoxes connected to the contemporary practice of digitally beautifying one’s image – or, indeed, [photo]shopping one’s face.
Playing with the postcinematic ‘inverted panopticon’ technique that characterises so many of today’s digital music videos, SOPHIE forces us to gaze at all the contortions and twists of her mutating features as the viewing experience becomes increasingly uncomfortable and unsettling. Emphatic lyrical rallying cries for digitalisation’s empowering superficiality are thus juxtaposed against nightmarish transformations of SOPHIE’s face, thereby generating sophisticated sensations of incongruity between overlapping strains of horror, awe and gorgeousness which [over]flow from unfiltered and unstrained approaches to online self-mediation.
Towards the video’s denouement, we visualise an animated version of SOPHIE’s suspended torso floating into nothingness. Does the wisdom of self-mediated perfectionism offer serene, angelic transcendence? Perhaps the price of ‘shopping’ or ‘selling out’ our identities catapults the soul into an unending purgatorial drift within, between and beyond online and offline media worlds? Unlike fame-hunters and shameless self-promoters pursuing stardom through makeup tutorials on Youtube and amateur modelling careers on Instagram, SOPHIE’s music video depicts digitalised self-mediation as a volatile, unstable force of expression, a new and unknown power that must be respected and harnessed wisely in order to capture those precious glimpses of divine technophilia.
'Faceshopping' actively performs the defiant, determined aspects of self-promotion to address a complex, contradictory phenomenon of our contemporary networked environment. When left unchecked, disfiguring corollaries engendered by excessively narcissistic behaviour may deflate our fragile, oversized egos, transforming the most beautiful and charismatic beings into ugly, empty shells. Exemplifying self-mediation's tensions within our congested and contested digisphere, SOPHIE’s posthuman aesthetics cautiously obfuscate and, simultaneously, joyously commingle simplistic dichotomies between: nobility and narcissism - vitality and vanity - the precocious spirit of innovative human instincts and wave after rampant wave of our cold, arrogant, dehumanising technologies.