’Nothing Compares’: New Sinead O’Connor Documentary Leaves Half Her Story Untold

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A woman with a shaved head stands behind a microphone holding the stand pensively as she looks off into the distance.
Sinead O'Connor during her '90s heyday. (Michel Linssen/Redferns)

Nearly 10 months ago, Sinead O’Connor was thrust back into the spotlight for the worst possible reasons. Following the suicide of her 17-year-old son Shane, she tweeted, “There is no point living without him,” and that she had “decided to follow him." Outside parties intervened and the singer ultimately did not harm herself—but the declaration was another in a string of public breakdowns and cries for help by O’Connor.

In 2015, O’Connor announced on Facebook that she had “taken an overdose.” In 2020, she postponed tour dates in order to get assistance with PTSD and substance abuse issues. “I grew up with a lot of trauma and abuse,” she explained at the time. “I then went straight into the music business and never learned really how to make a normal life.”

The world has subsequently been left with a plethora of questions about how O’Connor is doing; how she is coping; how she is healing. If you’re one of the fans who has wondered or worried about her over the last few years, the prospect of a new O’Connor documentary is probably an exciting one. Unfortunately, while Nothing Compares is an entertaining reminder of what made O’Connor so great at the start of her career, the film barely touches on the last 30 years of her life.

Nothing Compares, thankfully, treats O’Connor with the understanding and reverence that she deserves. Early footage of the artist finding herself—her voice, her art—is thrilling. The pain of the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother remains palpable throughout. And the documentary is clear about the fact that, if O’Connor often resembled a wounded creature fighting for her life onstage, it’s because that’s exactly what she was.

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Viewers will leave Nothing Compares thoroughly reminded of O’Connor’s unique talents, her inspiring determination and the inner strength that made her such a stubborn, inflexible public figure. For those of us who grew up watching the beautiful and enigmatic woman with the shaved head on MTV, Nothing Compares is a wonderful trip down memory lane. For younger generations, it’s a fantastic introduction to her talents, her music and the permanent imprint she left on pop culture. (Commentary from the likes of Kathleen Hanna, Chuck D. and Peaches hammers that last point home.)

If Nothing Compares were part one of a two-part documentary, it would be damn near perfect. It’s a great retelling of her life up to the end of 1992. It’s also a decent examination of the injustice of O’Connor losing her career for (quite rightly) taking a stand against child abuse in the Catholic Church. But there is a dark irony inherent in cutting off O’Connor's story here, at the very same point that American mainstream audiences did. That backlash, of course, arrived after she tore up a photo of the pope live on SNL—something that prompted boos and hostility from even Bob Dylan audiences. (Footage here of Joe Pesci publicly threatening O’Connor with violence over the act has not aged well.)

Sinead O’Connor was just 25 at the time she was blacklisted by the entertainment industry. She’s 55 now, and has birthed three more children, seven more albums and a memoir (Rememberings). That Nothing Compares fails to touch on any of those things is confounding—especially after the film demonstrates that the cornerstone of O’Connor’s career has always been complete, unfiltered honesty, no matter the consequences; no matter what we might think of her.

The movie ends with a montage of the people and movements for whom O’Connor helped carve a path. Pussy Riot, Lady Gaga, the Women’s March and Emma Gonzalez from March For Our Lives are all present. Footage of Billie Eilish screaming “Shut the fuck up about our bodies!” on stage is particularly powerful in the context. And while that’s all valid, it is far too neat an ending for so complex a person’s story.

The one brief moment we do see O’Connor in the present day—also towards the end of the film—is notable for the information it doesn't share. There is no mention of the fact that she is wearing a hijab now because she converted to Islam in 2018. The fact that she stopped even using the name Sinead O’Connor at that time also goes unmentioned. (Her name is Shuhada Sadaqat now.)

O’Connor was interviewed for the film, and narrates at times by voiceover—the depth of her voice now will come as a surprise to some—and her quotes, smattered throughout the film, are some of the most enlightening here. In particular, what she says about the fallout from SNL is astonishing. “I regret that I was so wounded already that that really killed and hurt me,” she says. “It was the proudest thing I’ve ever done as an artist. They broke my heart and they killed me—but I didn't die.”

In the end, Nothing Compares tells us the Sinead O’Connor story we already know. And though it’s well told, hearing what has happened during her decades out of the spotlight would have been more illuminating. Keeping this portion of her life in the dark feels like an extension of the disservice she was done 30 years ago.

‘Nothing Compares’ will be available on demand on Sept. 30, on Showtime. Details here.