A stirring defense of Sinéad O’Connor’s music and activism, and an indictment of the culture that cancelled her.
In 1990, Sinéad O’Connor’s video for “Nothing Compares 2 U” turned her into a superstar. Two years later, an appearance on Saturday Night Live turned her into a scandal. For many people—including, for years, the author—what they knew of O’Connor stopped there. Allyson McCabe believes it’s time to reassess our old judgments about Sinéad O’Connor and to expose the machinery that built her up and knocked her down.
Addressing triumph and struggle, sound and story, Why Sinéad O’Connor Matters argues that its subject has been repeatedly manipulated and misunderstood by a culture that is often hostile to women who speak their minds (in O’Connor’s case, by shaving her head, championing rappers, and tearing up a picture of the pope on live television). McCabe details O’Connor’s childhood abuse, her initial success, and the backlash against her radical politics without shying away from the difficult issues her career raises. She compares O’Connor to Madonna, another superstar who challenged the Catholic Church, and Prince, who wrote her biggest hit and allegedly assaulted her. A journalist herself, McCabe exposes how the media distorts not only how we see O’Connor but how we see ourselves, and she weighs the risks of telling a story that hits close to home.
In an era when popular understanding of mental health has improved and the public eagerly celebrates feminist struggles of the past, it can be easy to forget how O’Connor suffered for being herself. This is the book her admirers and defenders have been waiting for.
Allyson McCabe is a writer, reporter, and producer whose work is often broadcast on NPR, and her byline appears in the New York Times, BBC Culture, Wired, and other publications.
Absolutely brilliant, heartbreaking, insightful, and personal.