Routinely described alive and now dead as "troubled", the key point about Sinead O'Connor is missed. The world is troubled, which is why she once wrote an article called "It's No Measure of Health to be Well Adjusted to a Profondly Sick Society".
Sinead O'Connor never accepted the troubled world as it is and directed her immense talent to an assault on it's absurdities and crimes. She paid a high price -- the victim of real cancel culture -- but never stopped.
Alive, O'Connor was dismissed by the media as "the crazy woman in pop's attic". Now in death she gets patronised. An astonishing line in The Guardian's obituary declared she "lacked the determination needed to keep a top-flight pop career afloat". (They have since edited it to "she lacked the obessive drive needed" after a predictable backlash, like the cowards they are).
The briefest look at her life makes the statement ridiculous.
O'Connor grew up in what she later said was an abusive household. At 15, after being caught shoplifting, she was placed in an infamous Magdalene asylum for 18 months. Of her time in one of these institutions finally forced to close in the 1990s due to abuse scandals, she said: "I have never—and probably will never—experience such panic and terror and agony over anything."
With this trauma compounded by her mother's death in a car accident when she was 18, O'Connor began a solo singing career in the mid '80s, Her defiance was obvious from the start -- refusing pressure from her record company to conform to societies expectation of feminine beauty to better sell her product, instead shaving her head. O'Connor's record company freted about how to sell her, but an ABC piece posted since her death described the impact O'Connor's refusal had on young women in Australia at the time.
O'Connor's most famous controversy was speaking out about institutional child abuse in the Catholic Church, but she faced backlash over outspoken support for the marginalised from the start. The evidence is in the lyrics on several songs off her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got -- released several years before the Pope controversy.
On "Black Boys on Mopeds", which declares England "the home of police who kill Black boys on mopeds", she sings: "These are dangerous days, to say what you feel is to dig your own grave."
On "Emperor's New Clothes" she states:
Everyone can see what's going on
They laugh 'cause they know they're untouchable
Not because what I said was wrong
The Pope controversy was still three years away.
That album made O'Connor a global superstar, but her mainstream career was killed in the US by the Pope incident. Elsewhere, she was derided or marganlised in the mainstream industry. But she said she never wanted to be a pop star, but became a singer because she "wanted to scream".
Just some examples of O'Connor using her voice to support the persecuted or marganised through out her career that have been shared around social media since she died:
* Appeared at the 1989 Grammy's with a Public Enemy image on the side of her head, at a time the racist music industry was refusing to recognise hip hop as a legitimate genre. (She subsequently refused to accept a Grammy she was awarded and spoke about how the industry uses awards to control artists.)
* Wore a t-shirt of the Dublin AIDS Alliance on Ireland's biggest talk show in 1990 at the height of of the stigma and discrimination targeting HIV+ people. A HIV Ireland spokeperson said: “Many people living with HIV recall, years later, the profound impact of seeing Sinéad in the T-shirt and listening to her advocating for people living with HIV and Aids who felt judged, marginalised and frightened.”
* Respected the cultural picket line called for by the Palestinian people and refused to perform in Israel. The pompous windbag scabs Nick Cave and Thom Yorke should learn from her straight forward point: "There’s not a sane person on earth who in any way sanctions what the fuck the Israeli authorities are doing,"
* In her last public appearance, she dedicated an award for "classic album" at the Choice Music event to refugees in Ireland. At a time of rising xenophobia, she said from the stage: "I want to dedicate it to each and every member of Ireland’s refugee community. And not just the Ukrainian ones. You’re very welcome in Ireland. Mashallah. I love you very much and I wish you happiness.” (O'Connor had a long history of supporting refugees, donating all revenues from a 1991 EP to Kurdish refugees trapped in Iraq after the First Gulf War.)
Sinead O'Connor. Nice voice, needs more determination.
Of course, O'Connor's stunning singing voice was a big part of her creative successes. But this can't be easily seperated from how her she chose to use it.
O'Connor combined technical prowess with an intense passion and capacity to express raw emotion. That can't be faked, but comes from a deep determination to confront the world at any cost. It led to an avalanche of misogyny -- blatantly in public threats from a Hollywood star to violently assault her but just as much in media dismissals of her as "crazy".
O'Connor has left behind a remarkable creative legacy, one that doesn't just span the 10 albums of her own but a huge array of collaborations across many genres. It includes, almost as a footnote, some arguably definitive versions of a series of traditional Irish folk songs.
The world has lost a remarkable voice -- in all senses.