Meaning of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Sinéad O’Connor

With an official release date of 1 March 1990, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” acted as the third single to “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”, the only album Sinead O’Connor ever dropped that topped the UK Singles Chart and Billboard 200. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Sinéad O’Connor's The Emperor’s New Clothes at

And this song contributed to that success, in that it reached number one on Billboard’s US Alternative Airplay listing, in addition to charting in a dozen other nations.


“The Emperor’s New Clothes” was both written and produced by the late Sinead O’Connor (1966-2023), with John Maybury acting as its video director. Interesting to note is that Andy Rourke (1964-2023), of The Smiths’ fame, plays bass on the track, and the guitarist is John Reynolds, whom Sinead was (briefly) married to at the time. And the entire effort is backed by Ensign Records (and by extension Chrysalis Records), whom O’Connor signed to in the mid-1980s.

The Emperor’s New Clothes


The title of this song is taken from a 19th century folktale written by legendary author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). In it, the titular emperor is successfully duped by a couple of conmen who concocted a scheme such that, most simply put, it was untrendy for people to call out their apparent deception, one which leads the emperor proudly parading through the ‘hood in the buff. 

And in the outro of this song, Sinead is also calling out her detractors as having “a severe case of the emperor’s new clothes”.

Even though the aforementioned story is a folktale, to reiterate it was written by a master author, and the moral of the story has been interpreted in a number of different ways, some of which are quite complicated. So in all honesty, it’s not abundantly clear what O’Connor is accusing the addressees of in the outro. But it may be that, like the emperor, she has concluded that they are vain and proud.


Throughout most of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the addressee is Sinead’s romantic interest. It has been suggested that said individual would be the aforenoted John Reynolds. And the lyrics are pretty descriptive in terms of what they went through. For instance, he became insecure as a result of O’Connor’s rise to fame. 

Also, herself only being 21 at the time (in which this narrative is set), she became perturbed by the “millions of people who offer advice”. Sinead, being who she was, felt as if “they’re twisted”. And therefore she has already resolved not to follow any of their “influence”, so it’s like they’ve become more of a distraction than anything else.


In the second verse, the singer implies that she’s not really the celebrity type. She comes off as someone who prefers chillin’ at home and who values her relationship with the addressee more than stardom. But that said, Sinead also sorta acknowledges, in the chorus, that sometimes she didn’t treat her beau well. 

She doesn’t really see it that way, instead chalking up such mood swings, if they did transpire, to being concurrently pregnant and “scared”. But the implication is that maybe he has accused her of such, so in any event she wants to let him know that if so, it was not intentionally.

“If I treated you mean
I really didn’t mean to
But you know how it is
And how a pregnancy can change you”

It’s in the third verse that O’Connor gets directly at her haters. These are the people who, as implied, mocked and persecuted Sinead, not because she actually did anything wrong but due to the “untouchable” power they possessed which emboldened them to do so. 

But that said, she has also resolved not to live by their ideologies or “policies”. And in not accepting their view of who she’s supposed to be, the vocalist is able to “sleep with a clear conscience… in peace”.

So what Sinead proceeds to prophesy in the outro of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, if you will, is that ultimately those individuals will be undone by their own hubris and tongues. That’s why we postulated earlier that what she means by them having “a severe case of the emperor’s new clothes” points to the notion of said individuals being so full of themselves that they cannot perceive their own nakedness, so to speak.

This is the official music video for Sinead’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

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