The Curse of Nothing Compares 2 U
1990's omnipotent song about loss, Nothing Compares 2 U, has been called:
The Greatest #1 Hit of the 90's - Troy Smith at cleveland.com
10th Greatest Hit of the 90's - VH1
Top 100 Songs of All Time - Time Magazine
Top 100 Songs of All Time - Billboard
Top 200 Songs of All Time - Rolling Stone
But, as most people know, the song is a cover. First recorded by Prince, it pre-dated its successor by 6 years in obscurity.
But within 3 years of Nothing Compares 2 U becoming a hit for Sinead, Prince was appearing in public with the word "slave" written on his face. Despite his successes, Prince struggled with "the system" throughout his life until his untimely death in 2016.
After Sinead's version exploded into the public's consciousness, she waged lifetime battles against both "the system" and "mental illness." She didn't even like the artist that catapulted her to fame.
And, at the peak of her popularity, instead of cashing in with modeling contracts or clothing lines, she provoked world wide backlash when she ripped up a photo of the Pope. She lived most of her life as a pariah in certain regions of the world, but in the year 2023, she had been praised as "prophetic." Who would have thought that public opinion would have swung into her favor after her death?
Chris Cornell covered the song about a year before his death. He also had lifelong struggles with "mental illness."
I would be remiss not to mention a Nothing Compares 2 U cover from Aretha Franklin's final album before her death.
(I think the song lost a bit of heart in that interpretation.)
Part of the success of the song lies in its beauty, but the other part is the pain that lies within the subtext. That's a real hard formula to replicate and part of the reason that people are so attracted to its sad call.
After Sinead died, tributes poured in from across the music world.
I want to be crystal clear, I am not trying to be dismissive or glib, but the way Morrissey feels is the same way I feel.
“(Sinead) had only so much ‘self’ to give. She was dropped by her label after selling 7 million albums for them. She became crazed, yes, but uninteresting, never. She had done nothing wrong. She had proud vulnerability…and there is a certain music industry hatred for singers who don’t ‘fit in’ (this I know only too well), and they are never praised until death – when, finally, they can’t answer back. The cruel playpen of fame gushes with praise for Sinead today…with the usual moronic labels of ‘icon’ and ‘legend.’ You praise her now ONLY because it is too late. You hadn’t the guts to support her when she was alive and she was looking for you.”
Tributes to Sinead today ARE disingenuous, they didn't love her, they loved the song. Artists trying to glom onto her legacy to promote themselves...
Speaking of which, predicatively Phoebe Bridgers weighed in, "It's abuse to be told to shut up and sing," Bridgers preached. Bridgers pontificated on how O'Connor "taught her - and so many others - to stand up for what's right, even as she got a raw deal from the music industry."
Sinead O'Connor's song was imprinted on the public's consciousness. She was an artist first and a social justice warrior second, years before the term had a name. Because Sinead's art bared universal truths of life, she was able to connect directly with her audience. She wanted desperately to create, not necessarily to churn out product. But the great artistic dichotomy is that you have to move a certain amount of product to make your art your career.
Phoebe Bridgers, on the other hand, is a social justice warrior first and an artist second. It's an important delineation to make. Bridgers never met a mainstream reporter that she didn't like in her quest for self promotion. Every time I sneeze, Bridgers is speaking to the tools at Rolling Stone.
You know what? We are spinning way off track...
Why all the "quotations" early in the article?
Ask yourself: What is the difference between mental illness and genius?
What is the difference between the system and reality?
Let's try this one more time.
In 2003, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes covered Nothing Compares 2 U. I tired of the Gimme Gimmes pop punk covers by the end of their first album. This song shows that just because you CAN do a cover, doesn't mean you SHOULD do a cover.
But a better analogy would be Alice Donut. They sang a depressing song about watching Sinead O'Connor on television.
Did their song engage the masses? No. Did it become a college radio hit? Again no.
But Alice Donut did things on their own terms, they sang about what they wanted to sing about, played what they wanted to play. Did that major label contract ever materialize?
Even though the music business has radically changed from the days of Sinead O'Connor, the curse of doing things on your own terms remains in place.