As this month’s GCN interview with Sinéad O’Connor charts her 30 turbulent years in the music business, we thought we’d bring you her top ten, mold-breaking moments.
1. Sinéad Confronts Gay Comedian Kenny Everett, 1989
While on The Late Late Show, Sinéad interrupted an interview with the late comedian, Kenny Everett, asking him why he was vociferous in his support of the Tory party, and appeared at their conference, when Clause 28 had just been introduced. Everett was gay, and Clause 28 stated that a British local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Everett was evastive in his answer, but Sinéad didn’t let him away with it.
2. Sinéad Rips Up The Pope’s Photo, 1992
In October 1992 Sinéad used her platform on Saturday Night Live to protest child abuse in the Catholic Church, which nobody was talking about at the time. Without telling producers in advance, she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II after a performance of Bob Marley’s ‘War’, in which she replaced the words “Until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, In Mozambique” with “Until the ignoble and unhappy regimes which hold all of us through child abuse, yeah. Child abuse, yeah.”
This courageous revolutionary act was a long time before the public became aware of the Catholic Church’s role in covering up child abuse, and the incident ignited a firestorm which saw Sinéad attacked and misunderstood. To this day O’Connor says that she has no regrets.
3. Sinéad Stands Up For Herself at Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert, 1992
As a singer/songwriter who is a direct descendant of Bob Dylan’s courageous brand of songwriting, it was deeply upsetting for Sinéad to walk out on stage to massive booing at this tribute concert in Central Park two weeks after she ripped up the photo of the Pope. She stopped the musicians and sang a raging a capella version of ‘War’, using the words child abuse again, before exiting the stage in tears, into the waiting, supportive arms of Kris Kristofferson.
4. Sinéad Refuses a Grammy, 1990
Sinéad refused to turn up and accept a best alternative music performance trophy for I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got at the 33rd annual Grammy awards ceremony. She said she felt the awards honoured those who had achieved “material success rather than people who have told the truth, or have done anything to pass information to people, or to inspire people”. At the time America was in the thick of The Gulf War.
Seven years later, she told Spin magazine though she didn’t regret other controversial decisions in her career, she did think her Grammy objection was silly in hindsight. “Quite a lot of the other things—like boycotting the Grammys—I wouldn’t do now because they’re just fucking young moody shit.”
5. Sinéad Refuses To Have The American National Anthem Played At Her Concert, 1990
While on tour in 1990 Sinead heard that the New Jersey venue played the national anthem before every concert. She refused to perform if it was played before her concert, saying: “I have a policy of not having national anthems played before my concerts in any country, including my own, because they have nothing to do with music in general.” Her statement sparked a national outcry with radio stations refusing to play her tracks and although the venue later relented, she was later banned for life.
The very next evening Frank Sinatra took the same stage and said: “I’d like to kick her in the ass!” Sinéad was later quoted in Esquire magazine in 1991: “I can’t hit this man back, he’s like 78 years of age, and I’d probably kill him.”
6. Sinéad Becomes A Priest, 1999
Sinéad was ordained Mother Bernadette Mary by the Latin Tridentine’s, thereby defying the Catholic Church ban on women priests. “I’m dealing with the Catholic Church by becoming one of the them and trying to be as nonthreatening as possible,” she said. Later, she was made an Archdeacon after her work with the homeless in Dublin.
7. Sinéad Comes Out As A Lesbian, 2000
With the release of her album Faith and Courage, Sinéad became a member of Ireland’s LGBT community for a short time. “Although I haven’t been very open about that, and throughout most of my life I’ve gone out with blokes because I haven’t necessarily been terribly comfortable about being a lesbian, I actually am a lesbian,” she told the lesbian magazine, Curve. Five years later she told Entertainment Weekly: “I’m three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay.”
8. Sinéad Tells Irish Catholics To Boycott Mass, 2000
In an article in the Washington Post, Sinéad said that the church’s handling of child sex abuse cases has been so inadequate, that Irish Catholics should avoid going to mass. Her article was a moment of redemption for her in the American media, after she’d been so maligned for ripping up the Pope’s picture eight years earlier to protest child abuse.
9. Sinéad Teases Gay Byrne, 2012
This cringeworthy clip from The Late Late Show 50th anniversary show features Sinéad telling a fairly shocking story about Gay Byrne’s behaviour towards her when she was 20. She does it all in the best possible humour, but its hard not to notice something very different going on beneath the smiles.
10. Sinéad Writes To Miley Cyrus
After the 20-year-old Miley Cyrus claimed that ‘Wrecking Ball’s’ controversial video was inspired by the video for ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, Sinéad wrote an open letter to Cyrus warning her against being ‘pimped’ by the pop industry
“I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping,’ Sinéad wrote.
“The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted…”
Cyrus shamefully responded on Twitter by poking fun at Sinéad’s past public emotional breakdowns, comparing her to Amanda Bynes and posting a photo of O’Connor’s controversial ripping of the Pope’s photo on Saturday Night Live. A slew of letters ensued. Watch Sinéad talk about how Mileygate brought mental health into the spotlight in this clip.
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