IN 1991, a 24-year-old Sinead O’Connor boycotted the Grammy Awards despite being nominated in several categories, including Best Record. Her reason? The awards primarily celebrated material success.

A sign of things to come from a young artist who skyrocketed to fame almost as quickly as she was left to hurtle back down, all for having the temerity to speak truth to power and refuse to fit into the neat, pretty boxes that a ruthless industry had carved out for her.

So, when the Grammys memorialised her life and career at the latest awards ceremony on Sunday, there was no tribute which could have fit the occasion more appropriately than the one provided by Annie Lennox.

After singing the final notes of O’Connor’s iconic song Nothing Compares 2 U, Lennox held up her fist and said “artists for ceasefire, peace in the world”.

Referencing a collective of more than 300 musicians and actors – Artists4Ceasefire – who have urged the US government to use its influence to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel, Lennox embodied the true spirit of O’Connor’s legacy in a way that few have had the bravery or honesty to attempt.

The National: Sinead O'Connor

It was impossible to watch that moment and not be struck by the parallels between O’Connor’s experience as a woman who dared to challenge powerful institutions – not least the Catholic Church – and those in the entertainment industry today who are being summarily silenced for speaking out on the atrocities in Gaza.

Whether or not Lennox intended to shine a light on the hypocrisy of an industry which cloyingly eulogises the same people it grinds down and casts aside when it suits it, she certainly achieved it. The echoes in her delivery, concluding with that simple yet powerful political statement, of O’Connor’s own infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live (SNL) were surely too strong to be accidental.

Looking back at the recording of that US TV show performance from 1992, where O’Connor sang a reworked version of Bob Marley’s War by adding lyrics related to child abuse, I can only imagine there is something even more unsettling about it now – with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge of the vehemence with which her message was rejected.

The moment which is credited by many with derailing the career of the globally successful musician comes right at the end, when she holds up a photograph of Pope John Paul II to the camera, rips it up, and says “fight the real enemy”.

READ MORE: Star of Bafta-nominated film on struggles facing Afghan women

Shortly afterwards, O’Connor – then just 25 – responded to the huge backlash she had already received by explaining that her statement was about the cover-up of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, in which she had been raised.

She was slated on future episodes of SNL, banned for life by TV channel NBC, booed off stage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert, and she never rose again to the same level of – to use her words – material gain.

It’s important to remember that, reflecting on this turn of events herself, O’Connor later said she felt the incident had “put her back on the right track” as a person, and that it was really the studio executives’ hopes of benefitting from her success which had been derailed.

This is a story which has been recounted many times since her death last year, and one which has won her the commendation she was scarcely afforded in life.

As a woman who struggled intensely with mental health issues – an experience which is not uncommon among those working in the relentless and unforgiving entertainment industry – O’Connor was subject to an onslaught of denigration and mockery from the press and public over the years.

The National: Annie Lennox performs during the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards CeremonyAnnie Lennox performs during the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards Ceremony (Image: Kirsty O'Connor)

These two strands of O’Connor’s story, her activism and her mental health, and the lack of understanding or support she received for either, cannot be separated out. The truth is, it is easy for an entire industry to disregard and discredit those who challenge it, and the implications this has for the wellbeing of the people involved is just collateral damage.

Regrettably, it’s just as easy for the same industry to retroactively alter its behaviour towards a person once they’ve died. The apologies always seem to come after their recipient is no longer around to hear them.

Somehow, just by speaking a few words, and the manner in which she declared them, Lennox brought all of this history into sharp focus at the conclusion of her tribute to O’Connor. This was a choice which did justice both to the woman she was remembering and to the cause she was championing by calling to mind the crisis in Gaza.

Unsurprisingly, Lennox has faced her own backlash from some quarters for her words. Actress and activist Noa Tishby, who was an Israeli special envoy against antisemitism, posted on Twitter/X that “the Grammys were hijacked in favor [sic] of Hamas’ agenda” and that Lennox was “denying Israel’s right to defend itself”. A very normal response to someone calling for peace in the world.

Some have claimed that O’Connor would not have approved of being linked to calls for a ceasefire. Anyone who makes such an argument knows so little of which they speak that they should be thoroughly embarrassed.

READ MORE: Bafta-winning Scottish comic to tour with 'David Bowie and Me' show

In fact, I would venture that if she was willing to accept being part of the Grammys’ In Memoriam at all, this exact tribute is the only one she might have accepted.

In 2014, after cancelling a concert in Israel, O’Connor said: “Let’s just say that, on a human level, nobody with any sanity, including myself, would have anything but sympathy for the Palestinian plight.

“There’s not a sane person on Earth who in any way sanctions what the f*** the Israeli authorities are doing.”

Over the past several months, there have been a number of high-profile instances of people in Hollywood losing their jobs or their agents simply for speaking out in support of the Palestinian people, while many others have been forced to apologise lest they face the same fate.

The third movie in the new Scream trilogy has ground to a halt after its lead actress, Melissa Barrera, was fired for describing the situation as a “genocide” – words which the production company characterised as antisemitism in its public announcement. Barrera hasn’t stopped speaking up for Palestinians, and the long-term impact on her career remains to be seen.

Will it take another 30 years for us to look back on this moment, perhaps when another celebrity has died, and say: wow, they were so brave for speaking up when so few others were?

What a bitter taste it leaves to hear people speak this way of O’Connor now when they had access to the same knowledge she did then, and when so few still are speaking up when it counts today.

Above all, if there is a tribute worth making to the artist and activist that was Sinead O’Connor, it is one which recognises all of this, in all of its messy, horrible, truth. Against the odds, I think that is what Annie Lennox achieved.