Ordinarily, when we look for diversity in popular culture, it's pretty safe to say we don't direct our eyes and ears to the pop charts. Change is afoot, however, in the form of Adelaide group The Sisters Of Invention, whose debut single 'This Isn't Disneyland' has been ear-worming its way into the hearts of listeners worldwide since its release last month.
What makes the group's burgeoning success remarkable, given the prevalence of seemingly facsimiled pop singers clogging the charts, is that each member of The Sisters has a disability.
In the video, directed by Katrina Lucas, the women appear as Disney Princesses - Aimee, 28, as Snow White; Annika, 28, as Cinderella; Caroline, 29, as Tinkerbell; Jackie, 25, as Pocahontas; and Michelle, 24, as Rapunzel - before subverting the cliches: Tinkerbell's wings are cut off, Rapunzel's long braid hacked away, and Pocahontas turns a toy horse into a lasso. As lead singer Aimee says, "We're grabbing peoples minds by the tail, swinging it around our heads and throwing it somewhere over Paris."
Most importantly, 'This Isn't Disneyland' is a ripper track - an entirely intentional choice on the part of the band. "People wouldn't listen to a shitty song," Michelle, who has cerebral palsy and a mild learning disability, says matter of factly. "They wouldn't respond to it." Her band-members agree. "It's a bit like a banana cake," says Aimee, who has Williams syndrome. "People aren't going to eat it if you use rotten bananas and no icing sugar," Caroline, who has cerebral palsy, adds, "no matter how many vitamins and minerals are in the cake."
And that's where The Sisters Of Invention differ from what your average listener or viewer might expect of a 'disabled band': this is no parade of trite ~inspirational anthems~. Rather, they are top notch pop songs that, like any other artists', deal with the emotional truths of life; it just happens that for these women, that involves living with disabilities (and living with people's prejudices about those disabilities).
That didn't stop certain well-meaning members of the community from advising the women against taking their project seriously. Of 'Disneyland', Annika says, "The reason we wrote it was because someone told us we shouldn't be recording our songs and should only be singing for school kids."
The women first met through Tutti Arts, an inclusive community organisation that, in the organisation's words, places disabled visual and performing artists centre stage. It wasn't long before the young women who would eventually become The Sisters Of Invention began collaborating in their own time.
"We started to write our own original songs with the intention to record them instead of just singing covers," says Caroline. "The group became totally different." Producer Michael Ross soon moved to Adelaide to work with the group.
"I first heard Aimee and Annika sing in 2010," he says. "During this very casual lounge room performance, my thinking literally just stopped. I experienced a sober sort of high and was taken into their stories instantly." From there, the songs that would eventually comprise their debut album (due for release in early 2015) sprung forth.
"We tell our story by talking about our ideas as a group and co-write those into original songs," explains Michelle. "Some of us in the group experience anxiety and there are plenty of non-disabled people worldwide that go through that issue. As humans, we all go through some of the same stuff whether you're disabled or not. Us girls relate to each other because we're all in the same boat, in the same room, writing songs from a shared experience as women with disability. And an invention is something new that you create. Hence the band name."
Poignantly, in light of the disability activist and comedian's death this past weekend, all of The Sisters point to Stella Young's comedy as having spurred them on to change their own thinking about disability and in turn to attempt to do the same for their listeners. "You might mean well, but you're not seeing the real us if you don't see our talent," says Aimee. "You're not seeing the real us if you look at us as objects of inspiration."
Crucially, they hope to be able to contribute to visibility in the media. "We don't want to be hidden away anymore," says Michelle. "If you can't see or hear something, it doesn't exist in peoples minds. The person who is hidden away can be so unfamiliar that you don't how to communicate with them. That is just plain awkward and makes me feel like I don't belong. I'd feel like sinking down into the earth if I didn't mean anything [to] people."
Or, as the band, en masse, puts it: "When I turn on the TV, radio or read a news article, it would be nice to see something other than pretty, slim, airbrushed, non-disabled sex-kittens wearing bikinis running along the beach with their hair blowing back while she does sexy moves laying in the sand getting tanned as a wave crashes and washes her bikini off."