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Why Seonaid O'Connor Matters by Allyson McCabe

University of Texas Press, Music Matters series, 2023

In a tiny nutshell, Sinéad O'Connor (1966 - 2023) matters because she wasn't afraid of saying the truth and being herself.

However, says McCabe, this got O'Connor into a lot of trouble. She was treated with "contempt, mockery and dismissal" by the music industry, the media and the public throughout her career.


In 1992, she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on the TV show Saturday Night Live, to draw attention to sexual abuse in the church before it was widely known. Although she turned out to be right about the abuse, she was severely criticized and ostracized for her act which was considered sacrilegious.

O'Connor rips photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, 1992

Was she discriminated against for being a woman?

She was criticized while well-known male artists were not, for "faults" they had in common:

Evolving religious beliefs (Bob Dylan)

Undefinable sexuality (David Bowie)

Out-of-wedlock children (Bob Marley and innumerable others)

Mental health issues (Kurt Cobain)

McCabe quotes Madonna on being a woman in the music industry:

“If you’re a girl you have to play the game. You're allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy, but don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that's out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified and definitely not played on the radio." - Madonna

But ultimately, the main reason for O'Connor being ostracized, says McCabe, was that "she held up a mirror to society,"...its double standards on gender, and race, and the hypocrisy of the music industry.

Seonaid O'Connor, around 2021

According to her memoir, O'Connor told her children that if she died, they should call the accountant before anyone else, because in the music industry, you're worth more dead than alive.

She converted to Islam, taking the name Shuhada, meaning "truthful witness." (p 179)

I wish I had learned more about her while she was alive instead of after her death.

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