A year after Juliana Hatfield released her solo debut, Hey Babe, she released her followup, Become What You Are, under the banner of The Juliana Hatfield Three, with bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Philips. "My Sister" was the trio's first single and the biggest hit of Hatfield's career, hitting #1 on the Modern Rock chart. The success also landed her on the cover of Spin magazine in 1994.
In the song, Hatfield has a love-hate relationship with her bitchy sister, who is cold and distant no matter how the singer tries to get close to her. But, Hatfield sings, she's also really cool and even brought her to her first all-ages show to see the Violent Femmes and the Del Fuegos – a formative experience for the budding musician. In reality, Hatfield doesn't have a sister; she has two brothers. "I've always been in this sort of perpetual state of existential longing," she told Spin in 2013. "I feel like something's missing. I almost feel like I have a twin who died at birth but no one ever told me that the twin existed. And with this song, I was trying to explore the idea of a sister who I never had."
While writing the lyrics, she was inspired by her relationship with Meg Rafferty, who dated one of Hatfield's brothers and became a surrogate big sister to teenage Juliana. Meg even brought her to the club gig referenced in the lyrics. But Hatfield was also examining her own role as a sister to her brothers. "I was trying to see myself from their perspective. Maybe they thought I was aloof a little bit," she admits.
Todd Philips told Spin about the inspiration behind his distinctive drumming: "That intro drum part took a while to figure out. We used to play it a lot straighter. I was listening to this record Lolita Nation by Game Theory all the time. I was obsessed with a song called 'We Love You, Carol and Alison,' because the drummer, Gil Ray, played the verses with his toms instead of the hi-hats. And I copied that in 'My Sister.'"
The music video, directed by Phil Morrison, was inspired by The Police's promo for "Roxanne
." Says Hatfield: "We copied a shot where Sting is sitting and holding the microphone and the mic chord is leading out from him up toward the camera. I was a big Police fan."
This got a big boost from MTV when the video landed in the network's Buzz Bin, an influential designation to showcase promising up-and-coming artists.
Melissa Ferrick, a fellow guitar-playing singer-songwriter from Boston, caught some flak for recording the answer song "The Juliana Hatfield Song (Girls With Guitars)," a bitter response to Hatfield's success. "Juliana Hatfield doesn't even have a sister," Ferrick complains in the lyrics. But she insists the sour grapes anthem wasn't so sour at all. She told Spin: "It actually wasn't meant as a 'diss' at all. I was and am a fan of Juliana's. We were both on Atlantic along with about 14 other female songwriters. I was brand new and was annoyed by the whole, 'There are so many girls with guitars and we are all the same' thing, so I wrote the song as a sarcastic response, a joke really. The song got a little press, a 'blip' on the radar for me. What sucked about it was, I think people thought I was hating on Juliana, and I wasn't coming from that place at all. It was meant more as a general statement on the scene at the time."
The trio disbanded just before Hatfield embarked on a tour for her next album, Only Everything. Become What You Are remained their sole release for two decades until they reunited for Whatever, My Love in 2014.