Why Sinead O’Connor’s Controversial ‘SNL’ Performance Was A Decade Ahead Of Its Time

It’s no surprise that things can get a little wild on Saturday Night Live; like the show name says, it’s live, which means anything can happen. One of the sketch show’s most memorable moments came when Sinead O’Connor performed and made a statement that was revolutionary at the time. 

O’Connor’s Powerful Statement On ‘SNL’ In 1992

On October 3, 1992, O’Connor was the musical guest on SNL. One of the songs she performed was an acapella version of Bob Marley’s “War.” During the show’s dress rehearsal, O’Connor ended her performance by holding up a photo of a starving child. 

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However, during her live performance, O’Connor replaced the photo of the child with a picture of Pope John Paul II. The singer held the photo up, tore it into pieces, and said, “Fight the real enemy.” Then, she threw the pieces at the camera. 

SNL’s director at the time, Dave Wilson, made a quick decision to turn the “Applause” signs off, which left the studio silent. Show runner Lorne Michaels recalled, “The air went out of the studio,” and described the moment as “on a certain level, a betrayal [but also] a serious expression of belief.”

The Backlash Sinead O’Connor Faced

The moment forever changed O’Connor’s career—two weeks after the SNL performance, the Grammy-nominated singer was booed off the stage while performing at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. Joe Pesci and the show took aim at O’Connor shortly after.

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While most remember O’Connor’s performance and the swift backlash, many were not aware of the statement she was making. O’Connor ripped up the picture of Pope John Paul II to protest pedophilia in the Catholic Church, as well as the complicity of leading members of the church in covering up these crimes. 

These incidents are now widespread knowledge, especially after the explosive reporting done by the Boston Globe. However, at the time of O’Connor’s performance, most were not aware of the history of pedophilia in the Catholic Church. 

‘I’m Not Sorry I Did It … But It Was Very Traumatizing’

“I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” O’Connor said while appearing on the Today show in 2021. “But it was very traumatizing.” Once the truth about what leaders of the Catholic Church were covering up came out, public opinion on O’Connor’s performance changed. 

She continued, “Ten years after the pope ripping episode, you all then found out in America that this was going on. We always say Americans, they think nothing happened until they found out about it.” Today, it’s no big deal to see a pop star make a political statement during a performance, but O’Connor’s 1992 protest shocked viewers around the world.

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