‘Sister’, the much-debated and highly controversial song created by the late and iconic musician Prince, is a track that sits in a particularly small category of his creations which fails to conjure an element of success. Not among the best work of The Purple One, the story behind the track originates is deeply uncomfortably—to put it politely. The lyrical content on the song, in truth, is just downright messed. For a talent as mercurial as Prince was, even he can’t make a song of this nature acceptable.
The song in question featured on his third record Dirty Mind, which, by the album title alone, alerts the listener that the effort is going to be a stark insight into his famous promiscuous head. However, on ‘Sister’, it’s safe to say things took a step too far even by Prince’s standards. The album, on the whole, was met with critical acclaim and was seen as a groundbreaking effort because of its explicit topics, which were later credited for opening the doors for more liberal attitudes towards sex in music.
The reason why this track is so controversial, however, is because Prince hints at an unsettling sexual relationship with his sister. On ‘Sister’, The Purple One sings about the sexual awakening he received from his sister, who was twice his age when he was 16. “She showed me where it’s supposed to go / A blowjob doesn’t mean blow / Incest is everything it’s said to be,” he sings, later adding: “She only wanted to turn me out / She took a whip to me until I shout / ‘Oh, motherfuckers just a motherfucker, can’t you understand?”.
Prince had three half-sisters growing up in Sharon, Norrine and Lorna, who were all a result of his father, John L. Nelson’s, first marriage to Vivian Howard. Norrine was born in 1942, which means that she was 32 when Prince was 16, which adds a level of legitimacy to lyrics that, at first listen, sound farcical and written to be deliberately provocative. With the latter, of course, being an extremely probable outcome, it’s likely that The Purple One was merely attempting to discover just how far he can test the boundaries.
Prince was always an artist who liked to keep his cards close to his chest, so it is somewhat impossible to work out what is real and what isn’t — which is a testament to the mystique of the character he created. In 1983, in a conversation with Musician, however, he insisted that ‘Sister’ is serious. “All the stuff on the record is true experiences and things that have occurred around me and the way I feel about things,” he said. “I wasn’t laughing when I did it, so I don’t suppose it was intended that way.”
“That’s why I stopped doing interviews. I started and I stopped abruptly because of that. People weren’t taking me seriously and I was being misunderstood. Everything I said they didn’t believe anyway. They didn’t believe my name. They didn’t believe anything,” he vehemently added.
Prince famously blurred the lines between art and reality so impressively that even his insistence that this song was based on fact is still difficult to tell whether it was factual or, conversely, it was just an attempt to whip up as much controversy as possible. If this song is, in fact, fictional, then it shows that there would be no stopping Prince in his quest for breaking down social norms and ‘Sister’ is proof that even he would sometimes miss the mark.