What is a creator’s responsibility, truly, when a spotlight and the eyes of the world are upon them? Irish singer Sinead O’Connor is stalwart in her belief on the question: “An artist’s job is sometimes to create the difficult conversations that need to be had.” A new Showtime documentary, Nothing Compares, explores the question through the wildly outspoken and often maligned performer. Now 55, O’Connor used her reluctant pop stardom to platform issues like sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and police brutality in Britain, to a controversial and lasting effect.
In her deep and husky tenor, O’Connor recalls her experience being thrust into stardom with the success of her 1990 cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” “It was such a shock for me to become a pop star,” she muses. “It’s not what I wanted. I just wanted to scream.”
The trailer foreshadows some of the condemned activism O’Connor would go on to undertake with a quote from an early career interview. “Every person’s duty to themselves is to act on their feelings and to say when they think something’s wrong,” she shares. When the interviewer questions her further (“And take the consequences?”) she responds: “I imagine so.”
The consequences O’Connor would experience, of course, would be extreme. The trailer specifically highlights O’Connor’s infamous 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, wherein she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II onstage to protest roiling child abuse allegations against the church. While performing Bob Marley’s War, O’Connor changed the word “racism” to “abuse,” and said into the microphone: “Fight the real enemy.”
Backlash against O’Connor for the incident was swift and virulent. She was banned from NBC for life and booed offstage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert held at Madison Square Garden just a few weeks after.
“I wasn’t thinking to myself I must be strong,” O’Connor recalls in the film’s brand-new interview. “I didn’t know I was strong.” It’s this transformation, and O’Connor’s decision to forgo mainstream acceptance in the name of shouting her truth, where Nothing Compares seems to find both its heart and anchor.
“They tried to bury me,” O’Connor concludes in the trailer. “They didn’t realize I was a seed.”
Nothing Compares will be available to Showtime subscribers on September 30, ahead of a stateside theatrical release on October 2, and a U.K./Ireland release October 7. The film will also have an awards-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles starting September 23.