Sinead O’Connor on ‘I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss’ + Musicians As Heroes of Youth

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The life of Sinead O’Connor has been told more times than one can count. The framework: A woman from Ireland, having suffered through a tremendously bleak childhood, discovered therapy in music and over the years honed her skills into various International successes, primarily the ever-popular rework of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 You.” Cut to a quick rip of the Pope’s picture on Saturday Night Live, comments against the American pledge of allegiance that led Frank Sinatra to state he’d “kick her ass,” a boycott of the Grammies despite being nominated four times in one year, and an open letter to a very grown Disney star about prostitution.

Now, with the release of her latest album I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, O’Connor adds another chapter to the infamous tale. The album shows that O’Connor is simply an artist concerned for the well being of the world, not some fanatical cleric. “When you listen to the journey of the central character, there’s a certain safety warning going on within the record. But it’s nothing to do with Sinead O’Connor and such. It’s a record, really, for women I suppose.” 

While songs like the album’s first single, “Take Me to Church”, caution women against entering “frightening” relationships with men, O’Connor spends lots of her time with the media issuing warnings to young musicians, as well as their audiences (or rather, the parents of their audiences) about the industry she’s found herself in. 

“There are artists, American, female artists, stars, who have come to Ireland knowing that a quarter of their audience is children, and have invited the audience to masturbate repeatedly. I don’t think that’s appropriate. Who simulates masturbation in front of children? The answer to that question is sexual abusers.” 

While O’Connor tactfully avoids any names, her recent dialogue with Miley Cyrus, who replicated masturbation with a giant foam finger during the 2013 VMAs, makes her subject matter fairly obvious. “As far as I’m concerned, there are elements within the music industry who are engaged with the sexualization of minors via certain artists. I’m not suggesting that the artists are consciously engaged in that, but I am suggesting, and indeed stating, that the industry has an interest, in some quarters, in sexualizing minors.” She believes, quite logically, that the sexualization of young performer like Cyrus or Justin Bieber (“I talked about the sexualization of male artists as well,” she reminds me when I mention previous comments about young females) transcends down to the children in the crowds. “If you’re a musician and you look like a minor, and you go on stage with your vagina hanging out, then you’re sending a terrible signal to your audience. You’re sexualizing them before they are naturally ready to be sexualized.” 

Yet, when listening to the new album, one can’t help but notice O’Connor’s own sexual expression, such as in “How About I Be Me,” wherein she sings “And I wanna make love like a real full woman / Every Day / Yeah I said I wanna make love like a real full woman.” O’Connor reminds that sexuality is never fully off the table, and, when conveyed appropriately, an integral part of music today. “Nobody wants to take the sex out of Rock and Roll. Rock and Roll wouldn’t be Rock and Roll without sex…anyone who’s familiar with me knows I’m not a prudish person.” 

Interestingly enough, when asked about the reasoning for sexualizing young singers, O’Connor never mentions money. “Musicians are the heroes of the young. That’s why John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix are dead. Musicians are very dangerous people. These various establishments have no interest in the young people of the world or making the world a better place, so in order to make the young people of the world feel powerless, you have to take the power away from their heroes…so the fact is, with the assassinations, which is what they were, of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, you have the beginning of the end of music as a force for changing things.” 

With that statement, everything seems to click into place; O’Connor is trying to protect you. She too wants to be a heroic musician, not only idolized by her fans but in fact saving them from a grave danger. She believes, quite logically, that certain pockets of the industry are taking away your power, as well as the power of music. In a world where MTV doesn’t play music videos and where Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok” has sold more than any Beatles single, it’s hard not to see her point. Unfortunately, previous controversies dilute the public’s general trust in O’Connor. Statements like those she made upon the wake of Robin Williams’ passing about why one shouldn’t commit suicide are ridiculed rather than seen as protective. With her own public battles with mental health, O’Connor’s viewpoint need not be taken with such a large grain of salt 

“People think that all suicidal people are suffering from mental illness. That’s not true. In fact, most people that are suicidal are not mentally ill. The belief that they are often stops them from seeking help because they think that the only place to go for help is the psychiatric hospital. But in fact there are better treatments, in my opinion, for someone who’s not suffering from a mental illness.” 

The hope is, of course, that with this album—which is truly a profoundly wonderful body of work—that O’Connor will be able to gain back the trust of the audience she so desperately wants to protect. To this day, she refuses to let the music industry take away her power, still declining to abide or conform to rules that would endanger her beliefs. However, when asked about what she wants from the album, her answer is much more modest. “As for the personal stuff, I do think it overshadowed and I would quite like everything to focus really on music, and quiet down with all the other stuff…I suppose [the new work] is not relevant to my past at all. I guess I’d just like people to think of it as a good record, you know? It’s a record of love songs. It’s about love.” 

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Photo credit: All photos by Donal Moloney