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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.
About the Author
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.
— Margo PriceWhy Sinéad O’Connor Matters
reassesses the oft-misunderstood songwriter and activist through a lens that is both historical and personal...Written in clear and provocative language...McCabe’s impassioned defense of O’Connor in the wake of her many controversies is both heartfelt and persuasive...our protagonist emerges from Why Sinéad O’Connor Matters
as a conquering hero; having weathered abuse, cruelty, and prejudice, not to mention the usual unreasonable expectations too often placed on female artists, the courageous nonconformist emerges wounded but wiser. Ultimately—and most importantly—she is redeemed.
— Aquarium Drunkard
[A] very personal and thought-provoking account of the media’s role in [O'Connor's] stratospheric rise and ultimate implosion…A touching tribute. O’Connor has been the subject of recent and numerous articles, a documentary, and books (including her own), but McCabe’s take is unique in its critical analysis of the media and its attempts to silence and cancel O’Connor.
— Library Journal
I've been waiting for a book like McCabe's because...grappling with what happened to O'Connor—at her peak no less—carries important lessons that resonate today. The woman behind that sublime voice was a fierce, complicated, tormented, defiant badass. Yet somehow, she remains an enigma—despite publishing a memoir—because of how quickly and completely she was discarded from the music world for refusing to compromise her beliefs. The industry and world have ostensibly changed, but it's essential to remember and honor those who went before us.
A revealing reappraisal…McCabe skillfully renders the artist’s rise and ahead-of-her-time activism against the sociopolitical landscape of the 1980s and ’90s, persuasively rescuing O’Connor’s reputation from a mainstream media narrative that ‘all too often dismissed [her] as a slow-motion train wreck.’ Fans will be riveted.
— Publishers Weekly
A superb showcase of the artist as a musician and a person, [Why Sinéad O'Connor Matters
] seeks to discern her persistent drive to make music despite the obstacles in her path and what we can learn from such an unorthodox creative spirit...The heart of this immaculate work lies in how McCabe deftly navigates the turbulent intersection of criticism and compassion. When McCabe talks transparently about her own childhood traumas and how they often mirrored O’Connor’s, her candor is both refreshing and admirable...This book sets a new standard in music criticism.
[Why Sinéad O'Connor Matters
] is about much more than Sinéad O’Connor. The singer becomes a 'window and a mirror into culture,' as McCabe puts it, expanding far beyond SNL, MTV, Bob Dylan, Prince, or any of the well-trod touchstones of O’Connor’s early career. Instead, the story reaches deeper — more about the refractions and the shadows that O’Connor casts on ourselves and on the culture. It asks the reader to consider their own relationship to the forces that once leveraged themselves en masse against O’Connor. It’s a beautiful and compassionate meditation on silence, trauma, healing, and much more.
[Sinéad's] urges to "fight the real enemy" have been disregarded, mocked, and vilified for over 30 years – but McCabe's reexamination of O'Connor's treatment is both a tough lesson and a promising step forward.
— Laiken Neumann
Shifting the focus back to music is key to Allyson McCabe’s Why Sinéad O’Connor Matters
, published just two months before O’Connor’s death . . . The clarity with which McCabe tells these stories can make space for a more balanced assessment of Sinéad O’Connor’s music.
— Spectrum Culture
Released just two months prior to O’Connor’s death, this intimate and moving release from author Allyson McCabe reiterates the lasting impact she left behind. If you’re looking for creative context and thoughtful criticism of the media’s role in O’Connor’s personal and creative well-being, Why Sinéad O’Connor Matters
is an essential read.
— American Songwriter
Part biography, part reflection on the meaning of O'Connor's artistry and actions, McCabe traces the achievements and media-generated scandals of O'Connor's career, and how she consistently sought to beat her own path in a culture that condemned women for veering off the course of sanctioned archetypes...What's most powerful is how McCabe draws on her own experience in parallel with O'Connor's. Perhaps this is O'Connor's most powerful asset as an artist: she opens up a space for people to see their struggles, their resistance and their trauma, in hers.
— The Irish Times