Name the song “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and most people will immediately think of Sinead O’Connor‘s worldwide hit, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1990 and remained on the chart for 21 weeks. What some might not be aware of, however, is that the song is a cover, and was not penned by the Irish singer herself.
That honor goes to Prince, who wrote the emotional ballad in the ’80s for The Family, the short-lived group he put together in 1984 and signed to Paisley Park Records. The original recording of the song by The Family was included on their eponymous debut (and only) album.
Five years after that release, O’Connor dropped her popular cover, which went on to spawn even more covers, including one by Prince himself. Below, revisit their versions, along with other memorable takes on the song about the emotional aftermath of a breakup.
The Purple One offered a live cover of his own song in 1993, with New Power Generation’s Rosie Gaines joining him on vocals. This take features the late artist’s signature sexy and fun funk-rock sound, as well as lively “conversation” between the two vocalists. Prince included this version of the song on The Hits/The B-Sides.
The Irish artist’s melancholy cover is perhaps the most well-known arrangement of the song. The music video — which earned a 1990 Grammy nod for best music video short form — echoes the anguish of the lyrics by focusing on a close-up of O’Connor’s face as she looks into the camera, her eyes reflecting the pain in her vocals. This version of the song, the second single from her sophomore album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, also earned O’Connor Grammy nods for record of the year and best female pop vocal performance.
The late Soundgarden frontman — who had arguably one of the most powerful voices in rock — performed a stunning live rendition during his appearance on SiriusXM’s Lithium in September 2015. The acoustic take let the rocker’s voice shine, driving home the anthem’s gut-wrenching heartbreak.
The singer-songwriter performed the somber tune at the Emmys in September 2020 to soundtrack the ceremony’s in memoriam segment. Her take began with a more retro feel before the artist started quietly playing the piano. Even when the guitar and drums kicked in, they remained soft, allowing H.E.R.’s vocals to take center stage. Midway into the performance, the artist got up from the piano to rock the electric guitar before she sweetly and softly ended the song with her voice.
Her Madgesty paid tribute to Prince with her cover at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, which took place a month after his April 21 death. Dressed in a metallic lavender suit with a paisley print and a ruffle-collared shirt — an outfit that also gave a nod to the Purple One — Madonna delivered a respectful and quiet version of the song as black-and-white images of a cemetery appeared behind her. Halfway through the performance, she let images of Prince take center stage while she remained quietly standing, the string instruments highlighting the mood.
The Queen of Soul gave the emotionally heavy song a significantly lighter feel with her upbeat cover on Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, released in 2014. Rather than only mourning a love lost, Franklin’s version offers a feeling of hope, and at points feels like she’s celebrating her newfound freedom.
The singer and talk-show host kept her cover short and sweet for her April 14, 2021, Kellyoke segment. Accompanied by only a piano, Clarkson let her voice convey the pain of the lyrics in a chill-inducing performance.
The duo’s arrangement of the hit song is nearly unrecognizable as it kicks off, adding a super catchy synth-pop beat that’ll make you want to dance rather than cry, though the chorus retains the heartache. And like many romances, the tune ends abruptly, without warning.
Fatima Al Qadiri
Here’s a completely different take on the beloved song. The Kuwaiti musician offered a bare-bones version in 2014 titled “Shanzai,” featuring the haunting vocals of Helen Feng. And those lyrics? Performed in Mandarin, though those familiar with the dialect may point out that the lyrics sung aren’t a translation from English, with some phrases appearing to be slang and others from classic poems. It all ties in to the title of the song, which translates into “counterfeit.”