Singer Sinéad O'Connor has passed away at age 56. Beat known for her sweeping rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” O'Connor always believed in speaking her mind and using her platform for the greater good. She expressed her political views in powerful songs such as “Black Boys in Mopeds” and “This Is a Rebel Song,” but she sent one of her boldest messages during a live TV performance in 1992 that has now resurfaced since her untimely death. O’Connor’s rallying cry during her 1992 Saturday Night Live performance got her scorching critiques; but, in retrospect, it also confirmed her as an artist ahead of her time.
On October 3, 1992, O'Connor performed a chilling a cappella cover of Bob Marley's “War.” Taking the producers by surprise, she pulled out a photo of Pope John Paul II. She then tore it into pieces to call out the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. The singer finished by saying, “Fight the real enemy!” straight to camera, only to be met with silence in the studio. The audience was clearly left in awe, foreshadowing the backlash she would face afterwards.
Not only did it get her banned from SNL for life, but the guests on the following episode—Joe Pesci and Madonna—even mocked her actions. A few weeks later, she was was booed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert in New York, where she performed “War” once again, as to reaffirm her previous action.
Looking back at that moment, she wrote in her autobiography, Rememberings, that it brought her clarity. “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career,” she stated, “and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.” Despite the fallout, she had no regrets. “I'm not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” she told The New York Times. “But it was very traumatizing. It was open season on treating me like a crazy bitch.”
Nearly a decade later, John Paul II acknowledged the church’s role in the child sexual abuse scandal in 2001. A strong response from the Vatican wouldn't come until years later.
Despite never again experiencing the chart success she had with “Nothing Compares 2 U,” O'Connor continued to have a prolific music career. She launched 10 albums in total, and performed live until 2020.
“It seems to me that being a pop star is almost like being in a type of prison. You have to be a good girl,” she said about her rise to the top of the music charts. But her defiance inspired a new generation of outspoken female musicians. After learning about her passing, Janelle Monae tweeted her now-famous quote “Fight the real enemy,” while singers like Phoebe Bridgers and Sharon Van Etten have recorded their own renditions of “Black Boys on Mopeds.”
Ultimately, Sinead O'Connor stood up for her actions and was never afraid to shine a light on issues that desperately needed attention. She said, “Not because I was famous or anything, but because I was a human being, I had a right to put my hand up and say what I felt.”
Sinéad O'Connor's 1992 Saturday Night Live performance got her scorching critiques; but, in retrospect, it also confirmed her as an artist ahead of her time.
She pulled out a photo of Pope John Paul II and tore it into pieces to call out the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.
“I'm not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” she told The New York Times. You can watch the performance below.