Excuse the religiosity, and feel free to picture whichever god suits you, but god bless Sinead O’Connor.
“What is this cunt doing on the cover of Rolling Stone? Music has officially died. Who knew it would be Rolling Stone that murdered it?”
This is far from O’Connor’s first celebrity beef. It’s not even her first beef with the younger generation, though it seems unlikely that Kim Kardashian will respond as Miley Cyrus did last year in a weeklong exchange of insults between Cyrus and the “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer. That time, it was Cyrus’s sexual escapades that caught O’Connor’s attention. In the wake of her racy music video for “Wrecking Ball,” O’Connor wrote an open letter imploring Cyrus to reconsider her displays of her body, calling Cyrus’s actions the dangerous result of the music industry’s desire to push women artists into public prostitution.
“I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos,” O’Connor wrote. “It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping. Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”
Never mind that O’Connor is kind of barking up the wrong tree when it comes to the world that Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian have come to represent—Rolling Stone hasn’t been a real music magazine in well over a decade and the use of female sexuality in music has overcome male objectification to become a viable means for women artists to assert their agency.
But O’Connor has overcome any need to be right or wrong. She’s righteously true to herself, even if that means coming off as contradictory. For every Sinead O’Connor comment, there is an equal and opposite Sinead O’Connor comment, and while the inconsistency of O’Connor can frustrate her critics, in a funny way her willingness to contradict herself is one of her greatest strengths. She is messy and she evolves recklessly, without attempting to make her evolution more attractive to the public. Even when you can’t agree with what she has to say, you can trust her honesty to be a constant. She runs her own website, and if she has a publicist, their contributions to her public image are secondary to O’Connor’s own understanding of herself.
It helps O’Connor’s credibility of course that though her criticisms of today’s pop stars might be off-base, O’Connor’s righteousness has often been pointedly correct and even ahead of her time. People were outraged when O’Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live and ripped apart a photograph of Pope John Paul II, but who now would argue against her point about the Catholic Church’s immoral cover-up of child sexual abuse? She was an early AIDS advocate, she protested apartheid, and most recently she’s boycotted Israel. The media enjoys her tendency to turn out salty quotes, but O’Connor puts her money where her mouth is.
In her own words, “I didn’t want to be a fucking pop star, I wanted to be a protest singer.”
As a result, she’s become one of the most genuinely eccentric and distinct figures in pop culture. She’s a white Irish pop star who speaks most often to Irish national issues, but she can count current very American stars Janelle Monae and Amber Rose among her acolytes. She’s just as likely to release a reggae song as she is an Irish folk song. Her biggest hit is a cover of a Prince track, but she has beef with Prince. In fact, she’ll beef with anyone she feels like regardless of their stature, be it Madonna in the ’90s or be it Kim Kardashian right now. One moment she’s coming out to Oprah as “a dyke,” the next she’s mostly straight and marrying her fourth husband. She’s ripping up a picture of the pope on SNL, and then she’s ordained as a Catholic priest.
More than anything, Sinead O’Connor is enthusiastically herself. A full human being, complete with irrational oppositions; a house divided against herself and still standing. In the age of the publicist and the stylist and the manager and the official press release, Sinead O’Connor stands alone.