Sister2Sister – Sister

Released: 10th April 2000

Writers: Pam Reswick / Steve Werfel / Joe Muscat / Christine Muscat / Sharon Muscat

Peak position: #18

Chart run: 18-35-49-66

At first glance, Sister2Sister’s debut single – Sister – might have seemed a bit of a turn-of-the-century marketing gimmick. However, the track had been a massive hit in Australia, and there was a considerable push to emulate that success in the UK.

Before launching as Sister2Sister, Christine and Sharon Muscat started singing separately when they were younger before developing their musical identity as a duo. Attending a performing arts school (Brent Street), the sisters joined a singing and dancing troupe called Brent Street Kids. While appearing on Midday – an Australian daytime variety show – performing Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, no less, they were allegedly spotted by singer Tina Arena and her then-husband (also manager) Ralph Carr. After requesting to meet Christine and Sharon, he signed them to his management company and newly launched label (Standard Records). Work subsequently began on their debut album, One.

Sister2Sister’s material is very much a product of the late ’90s/early ‘00s bubblegum pop sound. Yet that, in some respects, does the duo a disservice because, unlike many such acts of the time, Christine and Sharon were heavily involved in creating their music. They co-wrote all ten tracks on One, as did their dad, Joe Muscat, who’d scored a #1 single in Malta during the ‘70s as a member of the band Flames. He also received a co-producer credit on the album. With Sister2Sister routinely performing live during promotional tours – something else not typical of their peers – there was an inherent sense of musicality around the act, which wasn’t necessarily apparent from how they were marketed.

Sister2Sister were not initially enamoured with the prospect of releasing Sister as their debut single. They preferred the more uptempo What’s A Girl To Do, which probably would have been a more credible choice (it became the follow-up, instead). However, after hearing the finished mix of Sister, they were won over, and it makes perfect sense as an introduction to the duo. Furthermore, the notion of Sister2Sister was a logical extension of teen-centric shows like Sister, Sister and Two Of A Kind, which Nickelodeon was broadcasting in the UK and Australia.

The production on the track is gorgeous; a head-nodding, toe-tapping swing beat is filled with dreamy synths, wah-pedal effects and record scratches. It’s quintessential of the era in which Sister was created, providing a backdrop against which Sister2Sister gently squabble back and forth: “She…won’t get off the phone, she won’t leave me alone, when I’m talking to that guy; she…can be a real nightmare, gets me to do her hair, then says it never turns out right”. All of the scenarios are generically relatable while being entirely believable (“She…reads my diary, she borrows clothes from me, and I never get them back again”), which helps Sister quickly establish the relationship between Christine and Sharon.

If that’s all there was to the track, it may come off as a bit precocious and gimmicky. However, it balances the sisterly tension with a saccharine sweetness: “To celebrate the good times, to help me through the hard ti-i-i-imes, to bring me down to earth, remind me what’s important, and who comes first, and who comes first…” that is performed with an immensely likeable sincerity. It’s not always possible to differentiate between Christine and Sharon’s voices during the verses, but when they sing together, the harmonies and ad-libs show how their partnership functions. Sister isn’t necessarily a track designed to firmly establish individual personalities; that would be somewhat counterintuitive to the theme. Nonetheless, what’s apparent is that Sister2Sister have an assured grasp on their strengths when tackling vocal riffs and know how to get the most out of the track.

All of the composite elements of the track – production and vocally – are brought together in the naggingly catchy chorus: “Closer than my closest friend, someone who will be there ’til the end, my sister, sister; deeper than the deepest sea, no one loves you like your family, my sister, sister”. The sentiment is unapologetically twee, but the wide-eyed enthusiasm and enviable closeness between Sister2Sister sells it so well. There’s no attempt to play Sister off as cool; it isn’t. Instead, the track proudly wears all the shiny effervescence of bubblegum pop on its sleeve and is filled with warm, halcyon nostalgia for that reason.

The music video for Sister uses a colour-coordinated split screen effect where Christine is on one side (in purple) and Sharon on the other (in green). They act out scenarios from the track, such as Christine talking on the phone until Sharon loses patience and reaches across to grab the handset or Sharon reading Christine’s diary until she snatches it back. Halfway through the video, there’s a change of style as the duo pick up dog leads and are pulled towards the camera and into a hot pink room with their S2S logo on the wall. They’re joined by backing dancers (plus a litter of Dalmatians) to perform a choreographed routine. It’s shot with a fish-eye lens effect, which was popular at the time. Dynamic camera shots face-on, from above and at ankle height, create the feeling of a spherical, three-dimensional space rather than just an abstract area. Though the concept is simple, it’s evident from the presentation that a sizeable budget was invested in ensuring Sister fits the recognised aesthetic of late 90s/early ‘00s teen-focused media.

By the time Sister was released in the UK, it had already been a big hit in Australia, peaking at #3 and spending ten weeks in the top 10. It later picked up an Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Music Award for Best Independent Release and was nominated for Highest-Selling Single (though lost to Vanessa Amorosi’s Absolutely Everybody). Thus, there was understandable optimism for Sister2Sister in the UK, and the duo promoted Sister heavily, which included supporting Five’s Invincible Tour. Alas, the single debuted and peaked at #18, spending four weeks in the top 75. If nothing else, though, it gave Sister2Sister a platform to potentially build their profile. But that’s where the strategy of a near-simultaneous international launch started to prove problematic…

Throughout 2000, Sister2Sister toured extensively across America and Europe, supporting Britney Spears and Savage Garden. While undoubtedly a lucrative opportunity, it also meant that the duo were simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. While What’s A Girl To Do was successful in Australia, reaching #5, the third single – Too Many Times – suffered from a lack of promotion and peaked at #35. To some extent, the same is also true of their album, One. It got off to a strong start, debuting at #3, but had little longevity and left the chart after eight weeks. In the UK, over six months passed before What’s A Girl To Do was released, by which point any momentum from Sister had long since dissipated. The track consequently peaked at #61.

Looking at things pragmatically, it would have been sensible for Sister2Sister to establish themselves in Australia before branching out to other territories. Or, at least, to have had the international rollout of the album campaign occur in a more measured, manageable way to consolidate their success. Yet, the route Sister2Sister took – quite literally around the world – is something few, if any, acts in the same position of just starting out would have turned down. The experience Christine and Sharon Muscat had touring on that scale at the height of the bubblegum pop era was probably enough to compensate for any commercial shortcomings that occurred as a result.

Although Sister2Sister recorded a second album – and even performed the lead single, Without You – it never materialised. Instead, they established the Sister2Sister School of Singing and went on to provide backing vocals for several artists, including Delta Goodrem. In a neat full-circle moment, Sister2Sister once again supported Five on their recent greatest hits tour, and – proving their pop sensibilities remain as strong as ever – started releasing music again in 2022 (Nothing’s Gonna Bring Us Down Now is euphoric synth-pop at its finest). In the meantime, Sister is likely to remain the song they’re best known for, though it’s far better remembered in Australia than the UK for obvious reasons.

Post Author: cantstopthepop