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Sophie Ellis-Bextor isn’t just having a moment – she is the moment. Everyone who’s watched Emerald Fennell’s prickly, provocative, queer-coded black comedy Saltburn is obsessed with the scene where Barry Keoghan’s character, scheming social climber Oliver Quick, dances to ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ in the nude. Thanks largely to the film’s popularity on TikTok, Ellis-Bextor’s shimmering disco hit has just climbed to number two on the UK Singles Chart, matching its original peak from 2002. 

“It really is a bit of magic – I’m aware that this is a unique experience,” Ellis-Bextor says over Zoom. In a way, though, the so-called ‘Sophaissance’ has been a few years in the making. During the pandemic, her fabulously chaotic Kitchen Discos were a real tonic: live-streaming from her London home, Ellis-Bextor would sing her classic hits – ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’, ‘Get Over You’, ‘Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)’ – while trying not to trip over her husband and sons. Then last year, she released her seventh studio album, the sweetly sophisticated Hana, and played to massive crowds at Glastonbury and Mighty Hoopla, the queerest music festival on the summer calendar. 

Ellis-Bextor, whose 2007 third album Trip the Light Fantastic and 2011 follow-up Make a Scene are especially beloved on Gay Twitter, has a long and loyal association with the LGBTQIA+ community. She even performed with era-defining queer club collective Sink the Pink during their early days at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. “I think the word ‘icon’ gets bandied around too freely, but Dame Sophie Ellis-Bextor is the real deal,” Sink the Pink’s Glyn Fussell tells GAY TIMES. “She somehow straddles a very thin line between being a class act and a ridiculous human being. And I think that’s why we should bow down and salute her.”

She’s also a completely lovely human being with a healthy sense of self-awareness and plenty of empathy. When we bring up her endlessly relatable 2004 hit ‘Mixed Up World’ – “When you’re feeling kind of mixed up, just remember it’s a mixed up world” – she replies thoughtfully: “Who doesn’t have moments in life where they feel a bit unsure? I think people are really digging deep a lot of the time.” So, let’s take the weight off by talking about all things Saltburn and Ellis-Bextor’s upcoming dance-pop album. 

Saltburn‘s director Emerald Fennell said: “There’s no other song to me that so perfectly contains all the evil glee, the sheer FUN, the irresistible camp of ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’.” Did you realise it was quite so camp when you wrote it?

I do think that when I’m writing and performing, there’s a certain mood I like. I did it a little bit with ‘Groovejet’ as well – it’s a mood that’s slightly flirty but a little bit eyebrow-raised and arched. Also, the pop scene at the time was so keen – very shiny and friendly – and I just wasn’t coming at it from the same angle. That’s why in the ‘Murder’ video I wanted to be evil, I wanted to be a baddie! [My co-writer] Gregg Alexander already had the lyric “it’s murder on the dancefloor”, which I just thought was so evocative. It has a little bit of mischief to it and I enjoyed playing with that.

I just thought ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ was so evocative. It has a little bit of mischief to it and I enjoyed playing with that.

Can you remember what you thought when you first watched Saltburn?

It definitely gave me that feel – which I haven’t got from a film for a long time – where I wanted to keep talking and thinking about it. I guess that’s a testament to Emerald’s vision because not every film has such a strong sense of who it is the whole way through. I also found it really funny. I was so taken by the entertainment of watching it that I forgot I was there at the screening because my song was involved.

Emerald’s obviously one of those directors who uses music like another character because it just transports you; I really enjoyed the whole soundtrack. When ‘Loneliness’ by Tomcraft came on, I was like, “I haven’t heard this in ages, but it’s amazing!”

Speaking of Saltburn, which character do you think would be a Sophie Ellis-Bextor fan?

Golly. Funnily enough, I haven’t really thought about that! But I think maybe Archie’s character could have a little bit of a thing with disco-pop. You can imagine it, can’t you?

I reckon Elsbeth definitely danced to Groovejet in Ibiza when the song first came out.

That’s a solid answer because I suppose she’s more my peer. I can imagine that too.

Can you foresee a gig this year where Barry Keoghan joins you on stage? Fully clothed, of course.

I was lucky enough to meet him at the premiere in Los Angeles, and he was saying that the nudity didn’t faze him at all – it was just the dancing. So I’d say he’s more likely to come out naked and not dance than come out dancing.

It’s so fun that you got to discuss the scene with him.

Well, it’s funny because I’d actually seen him in the lift earlier that day, but I didn’t feel like it was the time to say “hi”. We were in an enclosed space and he was kind of looking down in a baseball cap so I was worried I was going to be a bit like an embarrassing British auntie. “Hiiii!” You know, that person. So I’m glad I waited until later. 

How significant has your relationship with your LGBTQIA+ fans been in your career?

I’d say it’s kind of everything – they’ve been the keystone of allowing me to become the artist that I am. I can actually trace it back to one specific gig at G-A-Y. After my second album, I had a baby and spent ages making an album called Trip the Light Fantastic. And for me, the stakes were quite high because I felt like if I had a third album [that worked], then I’d be able to keep a career going.

Usually on stage I’d always be quiet, reserved and still. And I was quite nervous before I walked out at G-A-Y because it was the first performance for the album. But then something happened as I walked out where I noticed this big sort of wall of warmth and support and fun. And because I just felt so safe, I performed in a way I’d never really performed before. I could just feel that something flipped and I don’t think it ever went back. All my friends were there that night and saw me being more uninhibited and playful, which was a side of myself I’d never shown on stage before. And honestly, that changed everything for me.

Did you take away anything in particular from performing with the Sink the Pink crew?

Absolutely. I remember performing with them at Bethnal Green’s Working Men’s Club and seeing what that night meant to everyone there. The crowd had put so much effort into their outfits and that’s really special. If everybody knew that was an option for themselves, everybody would want it. Not everybody gets that feeling unlocked – that feeling of being completely included and safe and supported. I think what’s clever about the Sink the Pink crew is that, whatever scale they take [their events] to, they keep the kernel of that feeling. Performing to a whole field of people at Mighty Hoopla last year was just amazing. I felt completely myself and could see everyone was having a lovely time.

We’ve had a few fan accounts get in touch with questions. The first asked: “Does Sophie expect to collaborate with a female pop artist on her next album, which will be a dance record, such as Kylie Minogue or Jessie Ware?”

Thank you for the question, and very good choices! I would like to do that. I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to do a female duet, but they’re quite challenging, actually, because you don’t want it to be twee. But there are so many amazing singers out there and I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Sigrid. She’s got such a good voice and I like her take on pop music. But [the account owner] is right: my next album is going to be a dance record – well, dance-pop. The funny thing is, I was already planning that before all of this happened with ‘Murder’. It’s quite weird, all the serendipity that goes on. 

My next album is going to be a dance record – well, dance-pop. The funny thing is, I was already planning that before all of this happened with ‘Murder’. 

Next, another fan wanted to know if we will be getting a Make a Scene 2.0-type album any time soon…

That’s probably not a bad comparison, but maybe this album is more like Trip the Light Fantastic. On Make a Scene, I was working with a lot of DJs so it was a bit more clubby. I don’t see this [album] being as clubby as that; I see it being more pop. I literally can’t remember the last time I went clubbing so I think that’s maybe not exactly the space I’m in. But it’s definitely going to be music that you can dance to.

Loveofhuns recently reposted the photos from your iconic 2012 Heinz Five Beanz campaign. Does it surprise you that this shoot keeps popping up on social media?

Not at all, I volunteered for it myself! [Comedian] Rob Beckett used to do this thing on Twitter where he would post “morning!” with a picture of someone doing some really dark promotional shot or something. So I replied “morning!” to him with that picture. As I commented on the @loveofhuns post, I still love my Heinz, but my personal favourite is ketchup – ketchup is my life. You know, obviously not everything I do is going to be cool. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool, actually; I just like to enjoy myself. And the dress I’m wearing in that campaign is from my ‘Music Gets the Best of Me’ music video, which I’ve always liked.

I still love my Heinz, but my personal favourite is ketchup – ketchup is my life.

Lastly, we’ve got to ask what are you proudest of in your career?

You mean, aside from the Heinz campaign? Ha! I think I’m proudest of keeping going. When you start out, you’re encouraged to think that you have a choice. People always ask you, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ But actually, you don’t have a lot of say over so much of it, so the fact I’ve been able to keep doing what I love is a massive thing. I’m glad I’m still such good friends with ‘Murder’. I mean, I still love to go out and sing that song. Can you imagine what it would be like now if I didn’t?!