Sinead O’Connor recently wrote an open letter to Miley Cyrus because Cyrus cited her video for “Nothing Compares 2 U” as an influence. It’s an interesting letter for a number of reasons, and I’m sharing parts of it here because it hits on topics we’ve discussed before, which can always use further discussion.
It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
Context is everything. O’Connor isn’t broadly condemning people who sell sexiness. She’s warning a musician that letting sexiness become the main “product” of her music career will cause harm to her and to girls who look up to her – while benefiting the manipulative music industry. This isn’t prudishness, it’s career advice. Too much sexiness becomes a total distraction from talent. And sexiness is more easily lost than talent. Which one should any musician bank on?
She goes on to say:
Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them pray [sic] for animals and less than animals (a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and the associated media).
The career advice has now turned personal. She may or may not be right to suggest Cyrus doesn’t care for herself. One might also argue that her comments about not encouraging girls to walk around naked border on “how not to get yourself raped” advice. But I think her real point is that the music industry attracts more than its fair share of predatory personalities, and Cyrus is very much on her own. Because the “rapists” are already present, all Cyrus – or O’Connor – can do is damage control. And some of the best damage control O’Connor knows of is showing them she’s not easily manipulated.
You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age.. which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.
And here we see that O’Connor is basing her advice on her perception of her own experience, which gives it more personal authenticity.
What do you think about this letter? Keep in mind we’re not talking about someone who’s thought, “I want to be a nude model” and has made that happen for herself. We’re talking about someone who apparently wants to be a musician, and has somehow become convinced the way to go about that is to emphasize sex over the music, which doesn’t really make sense.