I've done so many bad things it hurts
Yeah, take me to church
But not the ones that hurt
'Cause that ain't the truth
And that's not what it's worth
Yeah, take me to church
Shuhada' Sadaqat, professionally known as Sinéad O'Connor (December 8, 1966 – July 26, 2023), was an Irish singer-songwriter and activist well-known for her fiery delivery and honest, politically-oriented lyrics, whose subjects ranged from the Irish famine to feminism. She was also known to straddle a number of different genres, such as folk rock, reggae, and Indie Pop. After her 1987 debut The Lion and the Cobra and her 1990 follow-up I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, O'Connor continued to maintain her staying power in the music industry, collaborating with a wide variety of artists and experimenting with various styles.
She was best known for her cover of Prince's song "Nothing Compares 2 U", which topped the charts in 1990. The music video, which featured a close-up of O'Connor performing the song in a single take, received heavy rotation on MTV and grew an iconic status, going on to win Video of the Year at the channel's Video Music Awards that year. While she won multiple awards for the song, and her album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album in 1991, O'Connor began to distance herself from the fame, boycotting the Grammys and eventually withdrawing her name from consideration for all future awards. This led to a breakdown during the mid-1990s, though she recovered.
She was also a contentious figure, sparking controversy after she refused to have the American national anthem performed at her concerts (Frank Sinatra was very offended). She accused Prince of domestic abuse against her (although this was later patched up) and made certain comments against people who criticized her shaved head, but she is probably most notorious for ripping up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992 to protest child abuse in the Catholic church, single-handedly unleashing the wrath of virtually every Catholic in the Western world. While she did not regret her actions, she did state in an interview that she wished it wouldn't have inspired that knee-jerk reaction and instead have had more of an impact toward ending the actual abuse. She also attracted negativity regardless of herself from Madonna, who, according to O'Connor, in her own words, said "that I look like I had a run-in with a lawnmower and that I was about as sexy as a Venetian blind."
O'Connor tended to keep her views on religion and her own sexuality ambiguous, and continued to maintain her bald head to challenge preconceived attitudes toward female beauty. She was an enigmatic figure but kept an assertive and opinionated attitude, and she continued to inspire attention no matter what she decided to discuss next.
- The Lion and the Cobra (1987)
- I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (1990)
- Am I Not Your Girl? (1992)
- Universal Mother (1994)
- Faith and Courage (2000)
- Sean-Nós Nua (2002)
- Throw Down Your Arms (2005)
- Theology (2007)
- How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? (2012)
- I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss (2014)
Tropes about Sinéad O'Connor and her work:
- Abusive Parents: "Troy" from The Lion and the Cobra and "Fire On Babylon" from Universal Mother are about her abusive mother.
- Alternate Album Cover: The European release of The Lion and the Cobra depicts Sinéad gazing to the right and shouting. The North American release, meanwhile, features a different photo from the same sessions depicting her solemnly gazing downward.
- Amicable Exes: Frequent songwriting partner and drummer John Reynolds was her first husband. They divorced in the early '90s but continued to work together until her death.
- As the Good Book Says...: The title of her debut album, The Lion and the Cobra, and her double-album compilation She Who Dwells In The Secret Places Of The Most High Must Abide Under The Shadow Of The Almighty. Both are references to Psalm 91, which is recited in Irish Gaelic by Enya at the beginning of her song "Never Get Old."
- Boyish Short Hair: When she was first signed to a record company she had conventionally short-ish hair and a guy at her record company told her to grow it out to look more feminine, so she shaved it all off. Later grew it out but mostly kept it short.
- From her 2018 conversion to Islam until her death, she had adopted the hijab.
- Break-Up Song:
- Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis was in a brief relationship with her sometime during the early nineties. When he confessed his love to her, O'Connor left him, prompting Kiedis to write "I Could Have Lied" about her. This song was included in the 1991 album Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
- On the other side of the coin, O'Connor had a brief on-and-off relationship with Peter Gabriel after her fling with Kiedis, during which time the two collaborated on Gabriel's "Come Talk to Me" and "Blood of Eden". O'Connor would end the relationship because she felt it was non-committal and unsatisfying, and wrote 1994's "Thank You for Hearing Me" in the wake of that.
- Calming Tea: The video of her version of "Chiquitita" by ABBA consists of Sinéad singing to the camera while preparing a cup of tea for the viewer, who's clearly the subject of the song. She even offers a biscuit. At the end of the video, the POV actually dives into the tea, and comes out above the clouds.
- Cover Album: Am I Not Your Girl? (standards and torch songs), Throw Down Your Arms (classic reggae songs), Sean-Nós Nua (Irish folk songs), and her contributions to Red Hot + Blue (Cole Porter, "You Do Something To Me") and Red Hot + Rhapsody (George Gershwin, "Someone To Watch Over Me").
- Cover Changes The Meaning: Her version of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina", which might have been written in the first place about her own difficult relationship with her home country.
- Her versions of folk songs like "Peggy Gordon" and "Molly Malone" become songs of lesbian, rather than heterosexual, love. Word of God says the former was intentional—she recorded the song for a female friend who had lost her lover.
- The Cover Changes the Gender: Her cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" does this indirectly; instances of "boy" are changed to "girl" and vice-versa, which in combination with the change in performer shifts the perspective from that of a man pining after a recently departed ex-girlfriend to a woman pining after a recently departed ex-boyfriend.
- Averted with her cover of "House of the Rising Sun" where she goes with the male point of view popularized by The Animals.
- Cultural Rebel: She often went against the traditionalist attitudes of Catholicism, the dominant religion of her home country. Most (in)famously, she ripped up a photo of The Pope on a live TV broadcast, and converted to Islam in late 2018.
- Fan of the Past: She covered a lot of torch songs and standards, most of which were first recorded before she was born.
- Female Empowerment Song: "No Man's Woman" is about asserting independence as an individual rather than property.
- Fisher King: In "Nothing Compares 2 U" she says all the flowers in her garden died when her boyfriend left her.
- Genre Roulette: Dabbled in pop, folk, folk-rock, reggae, jazz, funk, and dance. Also put out an album of standards and torch songs (Am I Not Your Girl), an album of reggae songs (Throw Down Your Arms), an album of Irish folk songs (Sean-Nós Nua), and contributed to the Cole Porter and George Gershwin tributes Red Hot + Blue and Red Hot + Rhapsody.
- Hell-Bent for Leather: Fond of leather jackets in her early career, as seen in the videos for "Mandinka" and "I Want Your (Hands On Me)".
- Inaction Video: Her award-winning video for "Nothing Compares 2 U" is basically her singing the song in front of the camera.
- The Lad-ette: Often came off as this. Shaved head, tomboyish clothing, smoked like a chimney, fond of bawdy jokes, and swore like a sailor.
- Letters 2 Numbers: "Nothing Compares 2 U". Justified since it was written by someone who was well-known for this trope.
- Police Brutality: "Black Boys on Mopeds" is inspired by a Real Life case of racially biased police violence.
- Self-Deprecation: Her memoir Rememberings has a healthy amount of this, along with a ton of cheerful snark. In it, she recalls that when people began destroying copies of her albums outside her US record label in New York (because of the whole picture-of-the-Pope incident), she thought it was hilarious, and put on a disguise and joined them. Whereupon she got interviewed by a TV crew, which had mistaken her for a real protester. She pretended to be from Saratoga.
- Self-Referential Track Placement: "Three Babies" appears as track #3 on I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got.