Remember When Sinéad O’Connor Covered Loretta Lynn on That Infamous ‘SNL’ Episode?
Sinéad O'Connor made television history on Oct. 3, 1992, during an appearance as the musical guest star on an episode of Saturday Night Live.
During her final performance of the evening, O'Connor went off-script after an a capella rendition of Bob Marley's "War," ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II while making eye contact with the camera and saying, "Fight the real enemy."
But before that polarizing moment, O'Connor performed another song: A cover of Loretta Lynn's "Success," which O'Connor recorded for her 1992 Am I Not Your Girl? album under the title "Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home."
Stylistically, O'Connor's version of the song is much different than the original, which was Lynn's first-ever Top 10 hit back in 1962. Still, its haunting message — of how financial success can cloud love, and compromise a person's happy home — remains true in both O'Connor and Lynn's versions.
Though they came from different genres, both performers were visionaries, willing to push boundaries and challenge their audiences in the name of speaking their truth.
Toward the end of O'Connor's version of the song, she echoes the phrase, "Am I not your girl?", a lyric that would go on to give the album its title.
Per Rolling Stone, O'Connor spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the song surrounding its release, saying that she cited it as "the most biographical song on the album" and an especially personal one because of the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her mother.
"I didn't see it in terms of being a country song, even though Loretta Lynn recorded it ... but as a song that expressed something important," O'Connor went on to say. "How everyone is concerned with material success and what that can do to people. Success has made a failure of our home ... my home."
A different kind of abuse, and the cover-up surrounding it, was at the crux of O'Connor's unscripted decision to tear up a photo of Pope John Paul II on television during her SNL stop.
The singer's statement was a protest of the Catholic Church's alleged cover-up of the sexual abuse of children — an issue that, in the early '90s, wasn't necessarily on the U.S. mainstream media's radar. O'Connor's views on the issue would go on to be vindicated in the decades ahead — per the New York Times, the Catholic Church has faced scores of lawsuits and investigations revolving around child abuse since the '90s.
But at the time, O'Connor's statement drew some mixture of outrage, criticism, mockery and a few glimmers of appreciation, according to UItimate Classic Rock.
Outraged viewers flooded NBC with calls, denouncing O'Connor's message as an unfounded attack on a global religious leader. SNL cast member Phil Hartman also criticized O'Connor's point of view. The next week, that episode's show host, actor Joe Pesci, reassembled ripped-up photos of the Pope and said he'd have given O'Connor "such a smack" if he'd been there the week prior.
Still, there were some exceptions to the negative blowback O'Connor faced. Showrunner Lorne Michaels not only invited her back, but described her statement as "the bravest thing she could do," citing O'Connor's own tumultuous history with child abuse and growing up Catholic.
Another country star played into this piece of the SNL scandal, too. Several weeks later, during a Bob Dylan tribute concert at New York City's Madison Square Garden, O'Connor took the stage to the deafening, polarized roar of both boos and cheers from the crowd. Kris Kristofferson, another act on the bill, emerged to the stage and told her, "Don't let the bastards get you down." O'Connor then launched into "War" — the same song she'd performed before ripping the Pope's photo on SNL — as the crowd continued its roar.
O'Connor died on Wednesday (July 26) at the age of 56.