It all starts with that voice: An affectively powerful instrument that has you moving with the music from first listen. As for the songs: Riveting teen rallying cries like “Skyline” and “I Got It” and “Girls Will Be Girls” are prompted by scorching rhythmic tracks and a songwriting depth that contradict her age.
More than just your average New York City Alpha girl, 16 year old Sophie Beem has no qualms about delivering hard hitting rhymes that strafe her U.E.S. turf. She illustrates her New York stories with swagger intact, churning those tougher adolescent moments into a transcendent songwriting diary that sets her apart from other teen pop peers; the young artist poised to serve deeper inspirations on her upcoming album due out later this year. It’s that emotional edge – and that voice - that first turned heads at Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, when an impromptu showcase at their Manhattan headquarters in the Fall of 2014 prompted the entire office to drop what they were doing and gather to applaud Sophie.
Sophie credits emotional lines she scrawled into verse to get her through her parents’ divorce a few years back as her most meaningful turn on the road to becoming an artist; heartbreak transformed into a musical lane where she could bear the heartache. They don’t teach that at summer music camps she attended, but she did learn how to work a stage and play guitar; it was a safe space to nurture her earliest musical inclinations. “I attended Frenchwoods, a performing arts camp, from about 9 to 13, but I was still kind of shy. I usually preferred to sing in my room. I was the kind of girl who wasn’t always eager to share it,” she says.
A far cry from the last two years of development and the intensity of her current training schedule; collaborating with producers, performance coaches and choreographers from morning until night prepping for her first major tour, opening up for Charlie Puth in March 2016. She does still find time to reflect on the amazing rollercoaster ride she’s experienced so far.
“What a lot of people don’t know is I tried out for The X Factor a couple of years ago and got what I call the four ‘duhs,” she laughs. “Usually they ask you do just one cover song at the audition but I had four in my back pocket and they kept asking me to do more. When I was done, the show host said to the four judges, ‘OK guys is she’s in or not.’ And Demi Lovato said ‘duh…what do you mean, obviously she’s in.’ And Britney Spears followed her lead with ‘duh duh.’ And then L.A. Reid was like: ‘duh, duh, duh.’ Simon Cowell seemed a little annoyed with where this was going but added one more ‘duh.’
So, basically I got four duhs – like 4 yeses – which I thought was really cool – really unique that I got a response like that.” She passed that audition, but eventually would not be chosen to advance past the mentored 40 finalists, even though Simon Cowell also conveyed that she was ’ born to do this.’
It was her first taste of the unpredictable grind of show business, and another turning point to contemplate at only 13 years old. “The entire X Factor experience was really new to me. I’ll never forget me and my mom standing in line for the first auditions starting at 5:00 AM in the rain with garbage bags over us. It had been raining for five hours straight and we had to pass three rounds and three days even before the celebrity judges took the stage.”
But where most teens might have been devastated from such an unforgiving brush-by with stardom, Sophie took it all in stride. “I actually knew it would be OK, because the truth of it was I wanted to write my own songs,” she says. “There were like thousands of people at that audition, and here I was going from singing in my room to doing that. There was some part of me that knew it wasn’t real; that I may not have been ready, but it did help me decide that I wanted to go from trying to make someone else’s songs my ‘own’ to writing my own songs.”
And she did just that, writing a batch of songs that she would eventually perform at various locales around New York City. “When you are 13-14 your options are limited,” she laughs. “I wrote like ten songs I think, that I was really proud of. I started performing them downtown at open mics or for my mom’s friends; for whoever would listen. Then I progressed to doing a set at this cafe in New York every week; it was like I had a residency.”
Sophie also played New York’s legendary club The Bitter End, where yet again she blew away Parkwood executive with her voice and swagger. She offered to reach out to Beyoncé. “She was on her tour in Amsterdam at the time. I was asked to put together a package for Beyoncé with a personal letter, photos, and videos. I was like ‘Dear Ms. Knowles…’ I was excited to tell my story and grateful for the opportunity that someone like her would listen to what I had to say; care about what I was experiencing. I think she saw in me more than just an Upper East Side girl who wants to be a singer. She could tell I had gone through some things and that deep down I have a soul.”
Needless to say - Sophie did pass that audition.
Signed to Parkwood Entertainment, she began working in Nashville with other songwriters for the first time, joking that in the beginning it “was a lot like speed dating.” But she began to trust the process. “It is like bringing your diary and opening up right there in the room with nothing but a piano and a guitar and another writer you’ve never met before.”
From Nashville she travelled next to L.A. and then back to New York City, where her unbelievable story began. “I met so many talented people, but ultimately, most of my songs connect with New York. It’s really where I began to find my sound, rythmic pop with urban leanings, and where most of my album was written.”
Most of the producers on the upcoming album are New York based, including sought-after names such as Kinetic & Onelove(“Airplanes” for B.O.B., Eminem, and others) on “Skyline” and “Bodyguard,” and The Eleven (Meghan Trainor) on “Girls Will Be Girls,” which was also co-written with indie artist Sizzy Rocket (“Bestie”).
“Girls Will Be Gils was just a fun song that has a great message,” says Sophie. “What I love about writing is bouncing ideas off each other. Sizzy and I would go back and forth in my room and she actually had the concept of doing a girl power song and I was so down with that. The whole intro of the song is about me dreaming of basically doing what I love and never forgetting to be me. There’s a line in there about how ‘every girl wants to be a famous actress model superstar queen’ and ‘It’s better to be an original, free your inner individual.’ And I even get to mention my “Alexander McQueens” You’re not afraid to dream out loud when you’re young. Now, I realize there’s no limit as to what I can do.”
In just nine months Sophie wrote over 80 songs and together she and Beyoncé vetted and chose the top ten songs. “I remember working in a small back corner office at Parkwood. I played my newest song “Bodyguard” that I just wrote. I could tell that she was in love with the song because we were all dancing in our seats and she asked to play it two more times. I knew that she approved and it was as if we’d done this a million times before” And with another successful meeting coming to an end the Parkwood team burst into the room with cupcakes to celebrate Sophie’s 16th Birthday. A sweet 16 party she’ll never forget.