SOFI TUKKER: Meaning Behind ‘WET TENNIS’ & How It Landed Them ESPN Fame
“What we really wanted to say with the album is that we always have a choice to look at the positive in every single scenario.”
Those are the words of Sophie Hawley-Weld, 1/2 of the bombastic and colorful duo SOFI TUKKER, echoing the radiant outlook and ethos they plastered all over their latest, internationally acclaimed album, WET TENNIS.
Since its release in April, the Grammy-nominated duo’s second studio effort has been all but unavoidable in 2022, landing on digital marquees of every major streaming platform and most recently, the soundtrack of ESPN’s coverage of the US Open. WET TENNIS, an acronym for “When Everyone Tries To Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe,” is a progressive adventure through sound, style, and color, and the namesake of their global tour run currently spanning three continents.
Amid the European leg and a stopover in Cologne, Germany, Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern caught up with MP3 MAG to talk about how the pandemic inspired the most creative and inspiring SOFI TUKKER-era to date.
Side by side, the duo are like yin and yang — Halpern is a former athlete at 6’7, prefers high-energy dance music, and used to wear all black, while Hawley-Weld regularly performed in all white and has a background in bossa nova music (soft samba music based on traditional Brazilian influences).
Hawley-Weld and Halpern first met back in college, a well-documented encounter that was sparked by contrasting personalities. Hawley-Weld was performing at a local art gallery that Halpern happened to also be DJing at. The latter immediately saw Hawley-Weld’s potential, even if the music was a little slow and “boring” for his taste.
After remixing one of her tracks on the spot, both saw the potential for a fun, dance-focused project — and the two have been working together ever since. Despite the contrast in their taste and personalities, the duo believes their differences are exactly what makes their collaboration special.
“We challenge each other a lot to be authentic,” said Hawley-Weld. “Being like ‘That doesn’t feel like you,’ or sticking your heels in and being like ‘No, this is me.’ We are kind of mirrors for each other in that way.”
They would go on to release their first EP, Soft Animals, which featured the 2017 Grammy-nominated track for Best Dance Recording, ”Drinkee.” This early nod of critical acclaim would preview SOFI TUKKER’s prevalence in other large sponsorships and sync placements.
They’ve thrice been included on the FIFA video game soundtrack (2017, 2018, and 2020), and their song “Best Friend” was featured for the unveiling of Apple’s iPhone X product launch. SOFI TUKKER’s recognition from the Grammy Awards would occur after their debut album, Treehouse, would go on to be nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album.
At its best, SOFI TUKKER offers a little bit for everyone: pop-savvy vocals and melodies in a variety of languages (Hawley-Weld sings and speaks in Portuguese, German, and English, to name a few), instrumentation, and a hybrid live show that is both high powered and immersive. The infectious and vibrant final product is a reflection of SOFI TUKKER’s joint tastes.
“We want to have it showcase all sides of us so it represents a bit of our personalities,” explained Halpern. “A bit of variety that we connect with and love.” Hawley-Weld added: “It’s cool because you get to show more of the whole picture.”
With an increasing profile, the duo began a years-long march into nonstop touring, traveling across the globe for international festival, club, and party bookings. This relentless travel and performance lifestyle is preferred to both, so when the pandemic arrived and canceled all travel it provided an abrupt adjustment period for both.
Surprisingly, quarantine would host the longest “residency” of SOFI TUKKER’s careers.
Like much of the world in early 2020, the duo believed the government shutdown would only last a few weeks, so they thought very little when they pledged a daily stream until things opened back up. The shutdown, of course, lasted much longer than a month, resulting in the duo streaming for over 300 consecutive days. Whatsmore, their live streams pulled in thousands upon thousands each week – inciting dance parties in living rooms across the globe.
Quarantined in their home of West Palm Beach together, this unprecedented downtime and radiant positivity from their fans pushed them to dive head first into building out new concepts and creating music. The duo began work on their next full-length release, which ultimately shaped into WET TENNIS.
“We knew coming out of [the pandemic] that we really wanted to say that we always have a choice to look at the positive in every single scenario,” recalled Halpern. “We were so inspired by the fact that all of these people were showing up every day online.”
When Everyone Tries To Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe
“We also wanted it to be very sexy and athletic too, so we came up with the idea first of WET TENNIS and created the acronym. It just felt perfect because we were able to hit so many of the layers of what it is that we wanted to say.”
The album was released in April of 2022, debuting at No. 12 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic chart. They immediately followed it up with a 13-date North American tour, hitting the likes of Mission Ballroom and the renowned Brooklyn Mirage. More importantly, they immediately began to see their intended positive mantra resonating with listeners and the world around them.
“I love the way that it’s now been used in life,” said Hawley-Weld. “I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing a challenge that I was having. They were like ‘I challenge you to [be] positive… to evolve. You wrote a freaking album about it.’ I’m gonna challenge you to uphold that in the way that you talk and live your life, and I thought that was really awesome.”
In an act of “incredible manifestation,” SOFI TUKKER received further amplification of the WET TENNIS brand and message when their song “Summer in New York” was heard by someone at ESPN. Light bulbs went off — the track would be selected as the promotional soundtrack for ESPN’s coverage of the US Open in Tennis. The event, hosted at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City each August, pulled in an estimated 1.38 million viewers — with SOFI TUKKER at the forefront.
“It really felt like everything that we had envisioned in terms of how we would want people to receive it. So we’re really happy with the way that it’s manifested into the world.”
While continued success and validation surround the SOFI TUKKER project, the duo value most the lessons and growth they yield from each stage of their careers. The WET TENNIS era has allowed them to create their most boisterous and conceptual album to date, and afforded further affluence in the departments of mental health and creativity.
“Both of us have become more ourselves through this process,” Halpern reflected. “Part of being an artist is trying to figure out ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What do I want to say, what do I want to express.’ It’s like an accelerated self growth thing, because that’s part of what making art is about, trying to explore and discover where you are.”
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