The Emperor’s New Clothes was the second song released as a single from I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, Sinead O’Connor’s second album. It was released in March 1990 on Chrysalis Records.
The single found more moderate success than the album’s first single, the hit Nothing Compares 2 U, although it did top the Modern Rock Tracks chart in the US.
Sinead O’Connor was 20 years old when she released her first single (Troy) and had a son with her drummer, John Reynolds. Blessed with tremendous talent and a rebellious streak, she was offered lots of advice, which she often ignored. In this song it has been stated that she works out the frustrations that come with being an unmarried young mother in an Irish Catholic family with a conflicted boyfriend and a burgeoning music career.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. In the story, the emperor orders fine clothing to be made for him, and is given nothing but told that what he is wearing is magnificent, but invisible to underlings. When he parades naked down the street, the people pretend to marvel at his clothes until a child points out that he is naked; an interesting musical metaphor for Sinead’s often vocal responses to those around her judging her.
Editor’s Note: I was 21 when I bought this album, and this song resonated strongly with me, especially the lyric “How could I possibly know what I want when I was only twenty-one?” I would turn the song up high and scream-sing-a-long to it, feeling the sentiment from the core of who I was at the time. The album itself had other significance to me, playing as a soundtrack to a very tumultuous year. That said, it is this song, and that quoted lyric, that brings back who I was that year in full force.