It’s the first Throwback Thursday of the year and to start us off we have Sinéad O’Connor’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the fourth track on her 1990 album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. This song and the entire album were favorites of mine in 1990, and to this day they still are big forever favorites.
I was 21 in 1990. Sinéad was 24. Her young age at the time of this song and album and the fact that she’d become a mother at 20 years old are both woven into the “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Though I’d relate to it in 1990, I’d embrace it even harder in 1992, when I became a young mother. There is something so enormously true to the experience of being in your early twenties with bigger than expected responsibilities that makes up this song and gives it weight and resonance, and a timelessly relatable feeling.
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Sinéad O’Connor
from the album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)
“How could I possibly know what I want,
when I was only 21?”
I was 21 in 1990.
I was 21 when I first heard this song. And though I’d have said, at the time, that I knew exactly where I was going, and exactly what I wanted, I didn’t. Not at all. Not even close.
Deep down I knew it, too. That’s part of what attached this song so securely to my heart, and my music-infused psyche. I felt it in my bones. I felt it even more still when I was 23, and a young, single mother. And today, at 49, listening to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, I still feel it in my bones.
The Emperor’s New Clothes (in literature) is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. In the story, the emperor orders fine clothing, 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.
Sinéad has said that she related to the story and how fame, and the “public”, and critics, etc. judged her. I hear it in the song. But, to me, I also hear the frustrations and challenges of figuring out who you are at a young age, with so much riding on what you choose, and who you become. Being in your twenties is hard stuff.
It’s not so easy being in your forties either. Or any age, for that matter. Maybe that’s what is so timeless about this song. You can still relate to it long after you are 21.
At least I know I can.