Notable moments from Sinead O’Connor’s trailblazing career

The Nothing Compares 2 U singer was a major cultural figure who was unafraid to stand up for what she believed in.

PA Reporters
Wednesday 26 July 2023 21:34 BST
Irish singer Sinead O’Connor performs during the Italian State RAI TV programme in 2014 (Antonio Calanni/AP)
Irish singer Sinead O’Connor performs during the Italian State RAI TV programme in 2014 (Antonio Calanni/AP)

Irish singer Sinead O’Connor was considered one of the most talented vocalists of her generation.

However, the Nothing Compares 2 U vocalist was also a major cultural figure, was unafraid to stand up for what she believed in.

Here are some of the most famous moments from her trailblazing career:

New York radio ban

In 1990, O’Connor’s refusal to allow the American national anthem to be played before her concert at the Garden State Arts Centre in New Jersey caused her music to be banned from several radio stations in New York.

Explaining her actions at the time, she said she had a policy of not allowing national anthems to be played before her concerts because they had “nothing to do with music in general”.

– Boycotting the Grammys

She boycotted the Grammy Awards in 1991, refusing to accept her trophy for Best Alternative Album. O’Connor said that the awards “acknowledge mostly the commercial side of art”, adding that the main reason for their existence was “material gain”.

– Tearing up a picture of the Pope

Perhaps the most infamous, and at the time controversial, moment of O’Connor’s career was her decision to tear up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992.

Appearing on the US show with her head shaved and wearing a white dress, she performed an acapella version of Bob Marley’s 1976 song War.

She sang the lyrics: “And we know we shall win/As we are confident in the victory/Of good over evil”, before holding up a photo of the Pope to the camera and tearing it in half.

The next week, actor Joe Pesci hosted Saturday Night Live and held up a repaired photo of John Paul II and said if he had been on the episode with O’Connor he “would have gave her such a smack”.

– Being booed at a Bob Dylan tribute show

Days later, O’Connor appeared at an all-star tribute for Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden and was immediately booed. She was due to sing Dylan’s I Believe In You, but sang War again, acapella.

Although consoled and encouraged on stage by her friend Kris Kristofferson, she left and broke down, and her performance was kept off the concert CD.

Years later, Kristofferson recorded Sister Sinead, for which he wrote the lyrics: And maybe she’s crazy and maybe she ain’t/But so was Picasso and so were the saints.

– Becoming a priest

O’Connor was ordained as a priest by Michael Cox, a bishop from an independent Catholic group, in 1991.

She announced that she wanted to be known as Mother Bernadette Mary.

– Coming out as a lesbian

In 2000, O’Connor came out as a lesbian. However, in 2005 she said that she was bisexual, adding: “I’m three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay. I lean a bit more towards the hairy blokes.”

– Converting to Islam

O’Connor announced in 2018 that she had converted to Islam and would be adopting the name Shuhada’ Davitt, later Shuhada Sadaqat — although she continued to use Sinead O’Connor professionally.

– Row with Miley Cyrus

Pop star Miley Cyrus made reference to O’Connor’s iconic Nothing Compares 2 U music video in the opening shots of her video for her hit song Wrecking Ball in 2013.

In response, O’Connor published an open letter to the former Disney star warning her about the dangers of being sexualised in the music industry, writing: “The message you keep sending is that it’s somehow cool to be prostituted… it’s so not cool Miley. It’s dangerous.”

She added: “I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers, that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career.”

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