REVIEW: ‘Nothing Compares’ (2022) Celebrates Sinéad O’Connor’s Political Music

“A provocative piece of the pop star’s story”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kathryn Ferguson’s Nothing Compares chronicles the life and career of Sinéad O’Connor. The documentary is compiled with interview footage and voice-overs of the people closest to O’Connor, as they recall her career’s rise and fall. It’s a provocative piece of the pop star’s story that shows how her political stance changed everything. Her image is unlike anything that was seen during that time and created many narratives about who she was; her buzzed head and provocative performances raised many questions and made people angry. Here, Ferguson revives O’Connor’s childhood in a Catholic household and rise to fame by standing against the norm.

The documentary begins with soundbites of O’Connor and her friends and family talking about Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert in Madison Square Garden in 1992, where she ended up getting simultaneously booed and cheered for by the crowd. The story then rewinds back to the very beginning of O’Connor’s life. Her journey to stardom was unintentional — she used music as therapy, the only medium to express her frustrations at home and the difficulty she had connecting with religion. Her youth was filled with rage due to her difficult childhood. She wanted to start a conversation about feminism, the Gulf War, racism, and the Catholic church’s abuse of women. O’Connor was a force against nature, using her anger and putting her thoughts into words, and it made a lot of people angry. Her resilience and strength to talk about matters that were taboo or anything that was unpatriotic led to her downfall. 

Nothing Compares shows her ups and downs, and mainly focuses on the risks she had taken in her career. Music is a medium that has been used to uplift and reach out to the masses. In retrospect, the documentary dives into O’Connor’s emotional messages. From her controversial Saturday Night Live appearance where she rips a picture of the Pope on live television, to her reluctance to sing the U.S. national anthem, she knows how to provoke people, even if that wasn’t her intention to do so. As Ferguson suggests, O’Connor’s defiance, is what makes her music and career special and thought-provoking. 

A black and white photo of Sinéad O’Connor in a cropped black leather jacket, holding a mic in both hands with a live band and audience.
Image courtesy of Showtime.

O’Connor’s image has been a subject of many discussions, as the documentary shows numerous interviews where hosts ask her about her buzzed head. Her record label wanted her to have a “pop star” image or a “girly aesthetic” because that is what sells to the general public. Her black jacket and buzzed haircut were compelling and confusing for the ‘80s, and on top of that, she was pregnant on the cover of her first album. O’Connor discusses why her American and other international album covers had to be different because her buzzed head was too confrontational. Even her music reflected her anger towards the oppression of women. While she was soft-spoken and seemed shy in interviews, her music was loud and let out a big roar, which carried an exhilarating, unique power that reached a lot of youth at that time. 

Nothing Compares is an excellent documentary; however, it suggests O’Connor is the first pop star to make protest songs, which isn’t entirely true. Ferguson makes the point of letting the audience believe that O’Connor’s presence in the industry is evident and influential. While this is true, O’Connor is not the first pop singer to make controversial songs that discuss the oppression of women and the war. She does have a confrontational nature about her and today’s pop stars have used her as an influence, but O’Connor isn’t the first pop star to cement this trend of expressing politics through music in the industry. 

Regardless, Nothing Compares shows O’Connor’s downfall and the treatment she received from the industry and fans alike for her many controversies. The documentary emphasises how while radio stations and stores refused to play and sell her music, and newspapers demeaned her every day, she continued to release albums and tour around the world. Even when her pop stardom vanished, her one-of-a-kind voice never diminished her values and what she believed in. Nothing Compares tells the story of a young girl turned woman who voiced her views through music, using it to protest and spread messages of the ongoing crisis of the world, which she still continues to do. O’Connor plays a crucial role in the industry, and her music and the documentary invites newer audiences to experience and celebrate her politics.