“Nothing Compares” And A Culture That Cancelled Sinead O’Connor

Joshua Adams
4 min readJan 27, 2022
Photo from Sundance press materials

The new documentary “Nothing Compares” opens up with Sinead O’Connor being both cheered and booed at Bob Dylan’s 30th-anniversary concert. Looking back on her rise and fall from pop stardom, it’s hard not to see that as a metaphor for her life and career — an icon enraptured in both adoration and ire.

Directed by Kathryn Ferguson, the documentary follows O’Connor’s journey from Ireland to international pop stardom. Her first music memories were her father singing “Scarlet Ribbons,” her brother bringing home a Bob Dylan album, and her mother’s music collection. But her love for music was connected to deep pain as well. O’Connor says her mother was “physically, verbally, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally” abusive. In the documentary, she recalled when her mother made her live outside in the garden for weeks.

“The reason I got into music was therapy,” she said in the film. “That’s why it was such a shock to me to become a popstar, because that’s not what I wanted. I just wanted to scream.”

After singing in a local band called “In Tua Nua,” O’Connor later moved to London and put an ad in a local magazine to find a band to join. She joined Ton Ton Macoute, and her powerful voice gained her attention from record labels. Eventually she would release her first album “The Lion and the Cobra.” This time was formative for her — a burgeoning music career, pregnant with her first baby, and her mother died. Songs like “Mandika” put her on international charts, while “Nothing Compares 2 U” cemented her within music history.

Though fans loved her for her voice, the singer’s controversial views drew critical attention. O’Connor compared Ireland to an abused child “beat up” by its social conditions; a country where the Catholic church’s power, influence and religious conservatism virtually controlled people’s lives, particularly that of women and girls. The silence she confronted in own her family was endemic to all Ireland; her father making her keep quiet about her abuse was akin to the cover-ups of victims of sexual impropriety and crimes by clergymen. In a directors note, Ferguson stated that she wanted the film to “give context to Sinéad’s controversial actions by exploring the broader history of Ireland, and demonstrating the suppressive culture…

Joshua Adams

Joshua Adams is a journalist from Chicago. UVA & USC. Taught media and communication at DePaul & Salem State. Twitter: @ProfJoshuaA