The Story of Pop: 1998 (Chapter 6)

It’s Thursday, and time once again to throw it back with more huge hits from the UK charts as they sounded and looked 25 years ago, with The Story of Pop: 1998. This week: more girl power from three Mancunian sisters who were comin’ atcha…

  • Artist: Cleopatra
  • Song: Cleopatra’s Theme
  • Released: 02/02/1998
  • Writers / Producers: Cleopatra Madonna Higgins / Kenny Hayes / Tim Scrafton / Damien Mendis / Stuart Bradbury
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #3
  • Weeks on Chart: 11

Of the many girl groups we’re set to write about on this series, there are some who you just wonder why they weren’t bigger, when they had the clear talent, presence and enthusiasm to go onto stratospheric success – particularly when their debut made such a splash.

Formed out of Moss Side in Manchester, and originally known as Cleopatra and the Attractions, Cleopatra were three sisters – Cleo, Zainam and Yonah Higgins – and Cleo, their lead singer and songwriter, had been penning her own songs from the age of 9, taking strong inspiration from another family band, the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson.

It was their prodigious talent, infectious energy and awesome voices / three part harmonies that ultimately saw them sign on the dotted line with Warner Records in late 1997. Fast forward to February 1998, and as their self titled debut single “Cleopatra’s Theme” declared, it was “Cleopatra – comin’ atcha!”

It was as impactful as you could ever hope a debut single for a major label signed girl group to be, with a super catchy melody and lyrics just on the right side of precocious and driven: “Hey we’re here (oh) / Fresh new talent’s here and we know (know) / We’re never gonna go / Cleopatra (hey) / We know the way to move so we’re gonna (gonna) / We’re gonna blow the roof”.

With a clever video that clearly displayed their sisterly bond – as well as introducing us to their mum and younger sister, who’d form a wider part of their own narrative both in music videos and other ventures throughout their career – “Cleopatra’s Theme” was only ever destined to be a hit, which upon release is precisely what it became, entering and peaking at an impressive #3 here in the UK.

More success followed for them throughout the year; they had two more top 10 hits with the socially conscious themed “Life Ain’t Easy” (#4 in May) and a cover of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” (#4 in August) from their debut album Comin’ Atcha, which peaked inside the top 20 and went gold, they also supported the Spice Girls on the Wembley Stadium show of their world tour and starred in their own TV show on CITV.

However, this success was but a drop in the ocean compared to that which they experienced Stateside, where Madonna, who was on their label, signed them to Maverick, her own division on Warner Music, even introducing them personally on stage at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards in Los Angeles, a performance that eventually saw “Cleopatra’s Theme” become a top 30 hit on the Billboard charts in the US.

It is perhaps this immediate focus they had to give to this burgeoning success across the Atlantic that meant, in a fast moving pop landscape, Cleopatra lost a bit of the momentum their debut had so wonderfully established; just one more album followed in 2000, Steppin’ Out, but by then the commercial interest had waned. But facts still stand: by all other measures, “Cleopatra’s Theme” is one of the finest examples of a great debut single for a 90s pop band.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1998. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1998.

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