Just hours after the news broke that Sinead O’Connor had passed at age 56, P!nk found the most fitting way to pay tribute to the powerful, pioneering vocalist whose calling card was emotional poignancy and fierce independence.
On the first U.S. date of her neon-lit, fittingly titled Summer Carnival tour, the acrobatic singer stopped spinning for a few minutes, turned down the bright lights and acknowledged that the world had lost one of its most cherished voices, one that had meant everything to teenage Alicia Moore back before the world knew her power.
“When I was a little girl, my mom grew up in Atlantic City and I used to go down to the Ocean City Boardwalk with my ten dollars and I would make a demo tape… I would make a little cassette tape and imagine it was my demo for the record company,” P!nk told the crowd while standing center stage with piano player Jason Chapman as a hush came over the sold-out baseball stadium.
“And it would always be either ‘Greatest Love of All’ by Whitney Houston or ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ by Sinead O’Connor. So in honor of Sinead, and in honor of my very, very talented friend Brandi Carlile I asked her if she would come out here and sing this song with me.”
The last-minute addition to the tightly scripted and choreographed show featuring the headliner and her opening act was a tall hill to climb at best. O’Connor’s famous rendition of the Prince-penned ballad is one of modern music’s most moving, gut-wrenching love laments. More subdued than the equally untouchable Houston song, “Nothing Compares” is perhaps even more of a vocal challenge because of an implicit, rending emotion that’s impossible to fake.
The heartache in O’Connor’s version, however, could not have been in better hands than P!nk and Carlile’s, however, as the two friends hugged midstage and proceeded to put on a masterclass in impromptu song interpretation. (Keeping in mind, however, that there is plenty of YouTube evidence of both women having sung the song before, so they clearly know its contours.)
“It’s been seven hours and 15 days/ Since you took your love away/ I go out every night and sleep all day/ Since you took your love away,” P!nk sang gently over minimal piano and keyboard accompaniment, her voice floating crisply over the rapt audience.
With tears visible on a number of fans on the stadium’s packed floor, Carlile took over, crooning, “I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant/ But nothing, I said nothing can take away these blues,” the signature crack in her voice adding an extra layer of sorrow on what was already a very sad day for music.
Matching her grit, P!nk leaned into the second verse, wailing, “where did I go wrong?” before they came together to power through the verse, “I went to the doctor and guess what he told me/ Guess what he told me/ He said, ‘Girl you better try to have fun no matter what you do’/ But he’s a fool.”
Carlile then let out a high, lonesome wail as both women appeared to get in their feelings about the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 ballad that turned O’Connor into a global superstar, for good and ill. Neither made the song about them. But what made the song theirs in that moment was the clear conviction that it meant something special to both women, and to all of us, a gift they honored by sharing it with their most adoring fans as the raw feelings were still very fresh.
“You never know what people are going through,” P!nk said after the performance. “It’s not that hard to give people a smile… we’re all learning that lesson together now.”
It was a wise and painful message on what was an otherwise joyous night. And without saying it, they ended by looking deeply into each other’s eyes and beautifully singing the words that will now cement O’Connor’s memory in our hearts and minds forever: “Nothing compares to you.”
Watch video of the performance below.