Tell Me Baby Where Did I Go Wrong
9 Crazy Sinead O’Connor Moments
Tricia Romano traces back 22 years of Sinead controversies.
Though Sinead O’Connor has been in the news recently for more sensational reasons, now she’s about to attempt to make her real reentry into show business for her music. With a tour, starting Monday night in Los Angeles; a new record, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, that’s already getting rave reviews; and a Golden Globe-nominated song under her belt, O’Connor is primed for a comeback. From her start, with her debut record, The Lion and the Cobra (self-produced when she was seven months pregnant), to her latest contentious pronouncement lambasting talent contests, at only 45, O’Connor’s life could fill a small encyclopedia of memoirs.
We put together a list of the singer’s most controversial and memorable moments of her career.
Sinead Cancels Her First Saturday Night Live Appearance, May 1990
Upon hearing that Andrew Dice Clay had been booked to be the show’s host, Saturday Night Live regular cast member Nora Dunn sat out the show in protest. She was soon joined by O’Connor, who canceled her performance in protest of Clay’s misogynistic, homophobic jokes (though, she could have also boycotted him because he’s just not funny). O’Connor said then: “It would be nonsensical of Saturday Night Live to expect a woman to perform songs about a woman’s experience after a monologue by Andrew Dice Clay.”
Frank Sinatra Threatens to Kick Her Ass, August 1990
On tour for I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, she’d heard that the New Jersey venue she’d be playing traditionally played the national anthem before every concert. She said she “has 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.” Unimpressed, she vowed to cancel the show if the venue did so. Though the venue relented (she was later banned from playing there in the future), her comments made the headlines and radio stations pulled her music in protest. The next night, Frank Sinatra, who was from New Jersey, took the same stage and growled, “I’d like to kick her in the ass!” She 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.”
Sinead Stages a Two-Band Grammy Boycott, 1991
Her record I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got had garnered four nominations. She won the Best Alternative Music Performance. But she didn’t just not show up to accept the award; she actually refused to accept it on the premise that the awards show is steeped in commercialism. She wrote a letter to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Science that stated: “They [the Grammys] acknowledge mostly the commercial side of art. They respect mostly material gain, since that is the main reason for their existence.” She was joined in her boycott by Public Enemy. She had previously performed at the Grammys with the rap group’s crosshairs symbol drawn her shaved head. 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.”
Sinead Tears Up a Picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, 1992
If M.I.A. thought it was punk rock to flip the bird at the Super Bowl, then she’d do well to watch Sinead O’Connor’s a cappella performance of Bob Marley’s “War” on Saturday Night Live. Staring straight at the camera as she sings, she becomes more and more intense as she reaches the end. As the camera zooms in, she pulls out a picture of Pope John Paul II, and tears it into shreds—in a protest against the Catholic Church’s involvement in child abuse (she has claimed she was abused herself). She finishes with a statement: “Fight the real enemy!” The audience is dead silent. The stunt was not revealed during rehearsal, and shocked SNL producers. The next week when Joe Pesci hosted the show, he told the audience: “She was very lucky it wasn’t my show, because if it was my show, I would have gave her such a smack.” Even Madonna got into it with the singer, claiming the move was disrespectful, which had a whiff of hypocrisy coming from the woman who had previously sung in front of a burning cross in her video for “Like a Prayer.”
Sinead Becomes a Priest, 1999
In 1999, the woman who had torn up a picture of a man who most famously represented the Catholic Church became a holy member of the church. Sure it was a “breakaway church”—the Latin Tridentine Church, which was described by writer Ann Powers in Spin as a “conservative Christian sect. But still, Mother Bernadette Mary was an ordained Priest! So, what if she not recognized officially by the Catholic church, she was still a priest, though one who ‘still smokes weed’ and called herself, a ‘strong independent pagan woman,’” noted the Spin article. O’Connor told the magazine: “I’m dealing with the Catholic Church by becoming one of the them and trying to be as nonthreatening as possible.” Later, she was made an Archdeacon after her work with the homeless in Dublin.
Sinead Comes Out as a Lesbian, Changes Mind, 2000
In 2000, when O’Connor gave a lengthy interview to the lesbian mag Curve to promote her record, Atlantic’s Faith and Courage, she revealed: “I would say that I’m a lesbian. 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. But I actually am a lesbian.” But five years later, she amended that statement considerably, telling Entertainment Weekly, “I’m three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay. I lean a bit more towards the hairy blokes.”
Sinead Claims Prince Held Her Captive, Date Unclear! Early 90s?
In one of the most bizarre tales told in the entertainment business, O’Connor has claimed over the years that she was once held hostage by Prince at his L.A. estate. In 2007, she gave an interview to the UK tabloid the Daily Mirror that painted the Purple One as being quite punch-happy. “I met him twice when ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was a hit,” she recalls. “At the time he had a lot of female protégées and I had covered his song without having anything to do with him. He invited me to his house in Los Angeles and started to give out to me for swearing in interviews. When I told him to go fuck himself he got very upset and became quite threatening, physically. I ended up having to escape. He can pack a punch,” she says. “A few blows were exchanged. All I could do was spit. I spat on him quite a bit.”
Sinead Gets Married for Fourth Time, Then Separates From Her Hubby, Then Gets Back Together With Him? Dec. 2011
In late 2011, Sinead O’Connor entered the news again in a typically auspicious fashion: with a shotgun wedding in Vegas, to Barry Herridge, a guy she met on the Internet after posting an advertisement seeking a boyfriend—or rather, a “sweet sex-starved man.” (And noted that she likes anal sex.) She posted the marriage announcement on her website that broke all records for TMI: “For now though, as you will appreciate, it’s a bit of a ‘Can’t. Talk. Cock. In. Mouth’. Situation.” Then, a mere 18 days later, she wrote on her website that she was splitting with him: “I truly believe though it is painful to admit, we made a mistake rushing into getting married, for altruistic reasons, and weren’t aware or prepared for the consequences on my husband’s life and the lives of those close to him. He has been terribly unhappy and I have therefore ended the marriage. I think he is too nice to do so. And too nice to trap.” But then she reneged and wrote on Twitter that she and Herridge had worked it out.
The Twitter Meltdown, Jan. 2012
In early January, O’Connor took to Twitter to seek out professional mental help. The singer had been previously diagnosed as bipolar (and went on Oprah to talk about it) was apparently having an episode and turned to her legions of fans for advice and solace. “i realise i will be in trouble 4 doing this but.. ireland is a VERY hard place to find help in. So having tried other ways 1st im asking,” she wrote. “does any1 know a psychiatrist in dublin or wicklow who could urgently see me today please? im really un-well... and in danger.” But, a few weeks later, she made her Twitter account private and her feed to the public went silent. Not to worry, she posted an update to her website last week: “Health wise though, I am doing very well and recovering very nicely under care of lovely new doctor and am very happy and really excited about my album coming out and extremely excited about starting the tour next week. Delighted the album has got such fantastic reviews. Also all is really wonderful at home.”