Let's travel back to 2011 for a minute. In the ocean blue sky, a face hidden by a green mask appears as Soko sings the lyrics, "I thought I was an alien." The music video continues as the French singer wanders the streets of Los Angeles, foreshadowing the whole melody of a generation for whom going against the norm will no longer be a stigma, but a force, thanks to the increasingly vocal LGBTQ movement, #MeToo, and growing awareness of our planet's climate crisis.
Born Stéphanie Sokolinski but having gone by the nickname Soko as long as she can remember, the French talent has been making waves in both music and acting for well over a decade. Gaining a cult following for her alternative sound, the star also rose to public prominence for being a Gucci muse and a former flame of Kristen Stewart's. Years later, the multi-hyphenate is still hard at work, traveling between film sets and recording studios. Here on set, she's not tired, although she is coming back from two months of shooting. The reason for her energy? A precious little creature with brown curls and lagoon-blue eyes, named Indigo Blue—her first child. “I have felt so full of love ever since I became a mom," says Soko as she kisses the newest addition to her family. "It soothed my fears. I'm refocused."
Back in 2017, after finding success in cinema, Soko locked herself up to make her own stories, pursuing a creative process she describes as “digest and regurgitate." For a year, she didn't date or even think about romance, instead setting to work surrounded by musicians such as James Richardson of MGMT, James Righton (ex-Klaxons), and Drew McConnell of Babyshambles. The resulting album, called Feel Feelings, is scheduled for release in Spring 2020.
“It was the first time that I was given so much freedom," Soko says of her experience making the album. "I have been making music for fifteen years and, finally, I no longer felt imposter syndrome. [Being able to] work with friends...this is the album I liked the most. [One friend] would play a few chords and then another would add his touch to the drums. I wrote the lyrics in the studio, [which was] a first! I just wanted to stay there, in my bubble.”
The quality of Feel Feelings is a continuation of the musician's two previous albums, but signals emancipation: “[On previous albums], I felt like I had to address my childhood traumas," she says. "Here, I wanted to keep the vulnerability, but also keep the album light and happy."
Between melancholy ballads and powerful pleas celebrating non-conformity, Soko's music tells the universal story of an inclusive love. “I am in a same-sex relationship, and I have a baby–yes, it's possible!" the musician explains. "It was important to talk about visibility, and it is important to normalize my relationship. I am still fighting against the homophobia that is present every day. The other day at the airport, noticing my baby's name, someone said to me, 'You are a little hippie, a little rainbow,' and I replied, 'Yes!' while presenting my girlfriend. We laugh, but people's unease is revealing.” "Looking for Love", "Oh To Be a Rainbow," and the sensual "Let Me Adore You" are all songs celebrating love of any kind. “We are all looking for love, in all its forms,” she explains.
Mid-listening to "Quiet Storm," a song recorded two years ago, Soko recalls a disturbing moment from her past. “It's about domestic violence," she explains. "I wrote it for a friend, but when I recorded it, I understood that I had written it for myself. Seeing this girl with vivid bruises, I saw myself at 18, feeling stuck in an unhealthy relationship. This song is what 18-year-old Soko needed to hear. Once, I heard the cry of a neighbor near my home. I was with Indigo. Terrified, I called 911. I made it my problem because it is simply an intolerable act.” These dark experiences allow her to give a sense of therapeutic relief in her music. “It's magic; it comes from [experiencing both] the rain and the sun," the artist explains. "If one of the two elements is missing, then [there can be] no rainbow. We must acknowledge the sad moments for there to be significance in our joy."
“I was afraid that today this album would have no meaning," Soko says. "On the contrary, it is more relevant than ever!” Since recording her previous album, the French musician's life has completely changed: she is now in a relationship and is raising her son in Los Angeles. “The album was not quite finished when I had my first ultrasound," she says. "The sound of the beating of his little heart was mesmerizing ...I ended up using it in the song "Hurt Me With Your Ego." [When it comes to parenting,] I use the RIE method (An LA-based parenting group; Resources for Infant Educarers), which encourages children to have confidence in themselves. It teaches parents to support their child's feelings while reminding them that they are all valid. I grew up hearing "no," without any explanations to my questions. So I explain things to Indigo and encourage him, whether sad or happy, to explore his feelings.”
Feel Feelings: the title of the album seems crystal clear. For the past year, Indigo Blue has been following his mother onto sets and into the studio. “It breaks my heart to leave him when I go to work," Soko says. "I am privileged: sometimes I can take him, otherwise my partner Stella is also there to take care of him. But many women do not have these options for childcare. There is still so much room for improvement.”
On the topic of being a media figure, Soko describes mainstream media to be in the process of growing in two opposite directions. “On the one hand, mentalities are opening up and evolving, and fashion advertisements are more inclusive," she explains. "But at the same time, we are still in a world that continues to seek extreme, Photoshopped perfection. The ideal world according to popular culture is 'perfectly defined abs and a Colgate smile' that presents no inevitably human flaws. When I started, models and musicians were [considered in different fields], and I didn't feel like a model. Over time, I had to tell myself that if I didn't [also represent myself as a model], it would be hypocritical. If people like me, who are not a size zero, or who aren't accepted by mainstream beauty standards, refuse to let themselves be represented, then there will never be any progress in media perception.”
She switches gears to explain how living in Los Angeles has inspired her. She explains how her song "Blasphémie," written in French, slipped onto the album: “It came out like that," she says. "French hiccups, but it wasn't a sentimental touch on my end." Since her youth, if French media shared pop music in English, Soko took it as a chance to live and breathe the language. After living in California for twelve years, she has spent most of her formidable adult years in a place that has inspired her core values. “The atmosphere is more progressive than Paris, whether we are talking about global warming or animal violence," she explains. "In France, you're subject to invasive questioning when you're vegan. In LA, I don't feel like I have to explain myself at all. On the contrary, I feel the outward perception is that I am a woman who gets things done.”
So what's new for the artist? "I'm living in the moment!" exclaims Soko, who uses the mantra as a mechanism for accepting the past or choosing not to be afraid of the future. And just like her alien-mask-donning era nearly ten years ago, Soko promises to remain full of surprises and contradictions. “I [wear my heart on my sleeve], always allowing myself to be vulnerable,” she says. After our photoshoot is finished for the day, the talent embraces the team and addresses them one by one as Stella places Indigo Blue in his stroller. The picture is perfect, even once the cameras are off.
Find Soko's cover story in the February issue of L'Officiel de la Mode.