There is a reason Sinead O’Connor is consistently compared to Joan of Arc. Sinead is amongst the countless artists in history so ahead of her time, consistently misunderstood and underappreciated, and somehow without the recognition, she deserves. But she’s still here, and you have the power to give it to her with a Rock Hall induction. I am writing to ask you to do the right thing.
In October 1992, Sinead O’Connor ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live after an impassioned a capella performance of Bob Marley’s “War,” stating into the camera: “Fight the real enemy.” She chose this very moment, shortly after the release of her third album and at the height of her career, to make a bold public protest. She had not told the producers of the show she intended to do this and they, and the nation, were not amused.
It’s one of the most famous — or infamous — events in a career marked by often provocative and brave choices that matter for someone other than herself. Though it was a call to action against the Catholic Church’s grotesque child abuse scandal and cover-ups, there was a collective backlash.
In October 1992—and in the days and months that followed—did you, the reader, defend her either publicly, privately or professionally?
In 1990, she’d opted to not have the National Anthem played before a show, an incident that was misinterpreted (and not unique). Frank Sinatra made some comment — incredibly — about kicking her ass, and saying: “For her sake, we’d better never meet.” How tough did that mob-connected asshole seriously think that made him look?
Perhaps you don’t care about any of that. Maybe it was better and more comfortable for a petite, twenty-something woman to lead the crusade against the Catholic Church and take hard hits against the press. Maybe that was and still is just fine with you.
So, let’s look at her career as an artist and make the case based on that merit alone.
Her first album, The Lion and the Cobra—recorded in her later stages of pregnancy with her first child, and completely re-recorded after firing the original producer—was a wildly successful debut. We had never heard such a naturally ethereal voice, equal parts vulnerable and fierce. It contained the song “Troy,” starting an all-important and extremely-rare-for-its-time conversation about child abuse.
Her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got is famous for the chart-topper “Nothing Compares 2 U.” To this day, she’s the only artist to refuse a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Performance, doing so in 1991, stating that the award represented “false and destructive materialistic values.” It wasn’t about the Grammy, it was about the music industry. To date, she’s released ten studio albums, consistently pushing herself to the highest possible standards. Her work only ever reflects her uncompromising artistry.
I’ve had this letter prepared for nearly a year, even before the 2021 inductees were announced last February. I had campaigned for the Go-Go’s—publishing my first plea for their induction in November 2020, with a follow-up feature in early February 2021. I did it for one reason and one reason only: They deserved it. The fact that they are women, and women are grossly under-represented in your roster, is also kind of fucking important. At their induction, Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine said, “The Go-Go’s will be advocating for the inclusion of more women [at the Rock Hall] because here is the thing: There would not be less of us if more of us were visible…”
Just because Sinead would never campaign for herself doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve this. Inducting her sends a message: That you honor artists who are ahead of their time, those who have chosen artistic integrity over all else, those who are still standing—and performing—in spite of all the adversity thrown their way. And, more than anything, that being true to your art means fighting for what you believe in, no matter what the costs.
In October 2020, Sinead released a beautiful cover of the gospel song “Trouble of the World” in support of Black Lives Matter.
When I interviewed Sinead for a November 2020 career-spanning feature, I asked…why? Why was all the hate directed towards her?
Her response: “When I was young, there was a little ageism…you were considered to be a little upstart if you were young, and of course a woman, and you dared have an opinion you got the shit kicked out of you. And being a woman, well that’s even fucking worse, and a woman with no fucking hair…”
Sinead may be an underdog here, but then again, she always has been. And she’s just fine with that. Sinead doesn’t need your recognition to keep doing what she’s doing. She is, was and will always be, an artist of utmost integrity who refuses to play the fame game. No, she’s not perfect. Show me someone who is. By openly displaying her flaws and vulnerabilities, Sinead shows us exactly what it means to be human.
And that may be the bravest thing she’s ever done.
If the media can attempt to destroy her — for being different, unbowing — then it is your job to honor her as much as possible, not someday, but while she is with us. Show young musicians that fame and fortune isn’t always the proverbial brass ring.
If you’d like to argue this with me, feel free—just know I will never, ever tire of fighting for Sinead.
Absolutely nothing and no one compares to her.