'Faceshopping' (2018) with Sophie Xeon/SOPHIE

Curator's Note

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. 


Awesome stuff Joe!  That song and video were an...experience.  I'm really interested in the fundemental paradox that you're teasing out here that seems to haunt yours and Jenny's post: is there a way to perform any meaningful criticism of the affect of self-mediation without crashing into the ambivilence these works excavate from the methods of mediation itself.  Personal Shopper and "Faceshopping" seem to emphasize both the horrorbile and freeing nature of "shopping" for a self-image.  Is there a type of ideological compromise going on here?  If so, what might it be revealing about the lived experience of self-mediation?  Those questions might be waaaay to large to answer in a comment, but I think your insighfully poking at them.

haha yes, I think 'experience' is a very diplomatic way of putting it! 

'Shopping' and 'selling' metaphors keep cropping up within discussions of contemporary self-mediation... I guess one of the most nefarious lived experiences of self-mediation is our willingness to commodify the self and turn other people into products, rather than a calculated decision to reject the commodification of humans absolutely.

Tensions between critical assessment of self-mediation and the vortex of ambivalance which seems to pervade this particular topic may stem from the ways presenting or 'selling' the self (as though a product in  a shop window, or the digital image of an item available on Amazon, eBay, etc.) are always constructed through subjective lenses.  The 'selling points' that one sees in themself might not necessarily be the same aspects that others regard highly in that individual, and vice versa.  When trying to articulate these tensions, I guess we theorists play similar games and negotiate analogous minefields - and the outcomes may not necessarily correspond with our critical intensions.

Can you think of any music videos which echo SOPHIE's style, or explore self-mediation in a comparable fashion? Working on a project and am trying to pool together relevant resources. 

Cheers, all the v best, Joe

Interesting!  I buy that argument.  I agree with Jenny about Corperate Cannibal.  I also thought of the deflated bodies in Under the Skin (2013).  There's also the Robbie William's video for "Rock DJ."  It seems similar in that the body and its "stripping down" are positioned as a way of being seen and selling the self.

Hi Joe,

  • To your last comment and while reading your post I couldn't help but think of Grace Jones' Corporate Cannibal (Nick Hooker 2008). Steven Shaviro has argued that Corporate Cannibal affectively maps the mutability of the digital and its extensiveness. My advisor, Alessandra Raengo has argued that Shaviro's analysis relies on (but overlooks its reliance on) the affectability and metaphorics of blackness to make its point. It seems that the idea of mutability is very differently approached in these two works although they have a lot of overlap. Is this a result of an increasing pessimism regarding the promise of digital extension, for example. the rise of selfie culture as creating self-imposed limitations to the experience of digital media, or is there something racial happening here as well. I wonder how the idea of shopping  could also be thought through in terms of the appropriations (cultural and otherwise) digital mediation makes possible

Absolutely love Corporate Cannibal - incidentally, I first encountered the video through Shaviro's writings on the postcinematic.

Can definitely see a) connections between the video's aesthetic and Raengo's work with liquid blackness journal, and b) how the 'liquid blackness' concept illustrates ways in which contemporary manifestions of 'blackness' discourses (as demonstrated by Grace Jones) defy rigid or concrete definitions as they flow across borders and boundaries.

'Shopping' and 'corporations' do keep popping up.. A comparison between methods of advertising the self in the 'Faceshopping' and 'Corporate Cannibal' videos could certainly shed some interesting light on the racialisation of certain discourses in our digitalised epoch.

What a great text to put into conversation this week on self-images. There's a lot going on in this video! I was drawn to the break-down moment in the middle of the clip, where the glittery water droplets form text in the absence of SOPHIE's digitally rendered, warped, and chopped face. The song and the text say: "So you must be the one that I've seen in my dreams. Come on touch me. Set my spirit free. Test me. Do you feel what I feel? Do you see what I see? Reduce me to nothingness." I think the ambiguity that Jenny's post and your post point us towards with self-images is the nature of the recipient or reception of the self-image. On this point, I think this middle part of the song gets at Dewey's question of getting at the lived experience of self-mediation, because the clip ambivalently incorporates a dialogue with an imagined object of desire that is also the self. Does any self-image not have a dual address outward and inward, toward a public and back to one's own usually harsher view of oneself? With these lines in the song, SOPHIE could be either looking into the mirror or looking at her Instagram feed of facetuned images, asking her followers and herself if the images align with an unattainable construct of beauty. In either case, SOPHIE desires critique if not annihilation, to be reduced to nothingness. Considering lived experience, I think the trans YouTuber Contrapoints provides another interesting context for this song/video in her recently uploaded video on facial feminization surgery, which incorporates SOPHIE's "Faceshopping" song in light of navigating the cultural constructs of beauty & gender identity. SOPHIE's line of "I'm real when I shop my face" takes on an empowering tone in light of Contrapoints' arguments in her video.

I love that break-down moment in the video! When the shrill voice stops singing with discernable words, the text dissolves into glittery nothingness while the singer ecstatically warbles strange, alien sounds. Perhaps this points towards how elements of SOPHIE's art transcend the limitations of language, articulating certain sensations and feelings in ways that mere words cannot.  However, the video with Contrapoints then challenges this reading, because her clear and enlightening breakdown of the nuances and niches of facial plastic surgery are as empowering and stimulating as SOPHIE's avant-garde audiovisual aesthetics.

I think your observation that self-images are bound with tensions between inward and outward addresses is v v astute - and, maybe, this could also be flipped to encapsulate the sensations experienced by percipients of other peoples' self-images. How do we experience a Facebook friend's self-image inwardly as a complex concoction of signs and symbols, and then, after having processed this new information contained within and surrounding the self-image, how do we project or construct our reactions outwardly in a way that enforces social hegemonies and adheres to social contracts, or indeed challenges or subverts these broader metanarratives?


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