Near the conclusion of Nothing Compares, director Kathryn Ferguson’s poignant documentary on Sinéad O’Connor that premieres Friday (Sept. 30) on Showtime, a message comes on screen reading: “The Prince estate denied use of Sinead’s recording of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ in this film.”
O’Connor’s 1990 version of the Prince-penned ballad became a worldwide hit and was nominated for three Grammys, including record of the year (O’Connor boycotted the ceremony). Its success was propelled by the now iconic video that focused on a close-up of O’Connor’s face against a stark black background, the full emotional weight of the devastating ballad captured by two tears slowly trickling down her cheeks toward the end.
In the portion of the documentary devoted to “Nothing Compares 2 U,” in lieu of the song an ambient score plays over scenes from the video shoot as the clip’s director John Maybury and O’Connor provide commentary. O’Connor recounts that she was thinking largely of her mother, who died when the singer was 16 and with whom she had a troubled relationship, to conjure up her tortured countenance.
Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in April 2016 at the age of 57 without a will. Until this August, his estate had been tied up in probate and complicated legal wrangling. At the time of the film’s request to use the track, Comerica Bank & Trust was administering the estate, whose six heirs are the legend’s full sister, Tyka Nelson, and five half-brothers and sisters: Omarr Baker, Alfred Jackson, John R. Nelson, Sharon Nelson and Norrine Nelson.
Sharon Nelson tells Billboard that the reasons for turning down the documentary’s requests were two-fold, and her admission includes some good news for Prince fans.
“Nothing compares to Prince’s live version with Rosie Gaines that is featured on the Hits 1 album and we are re-releasing that album on vinyl on November 4th,” Nelson said in a statement. “I didn’t feel [Sinéad] deserved to use the song my brother wrote in her documentary so we declined. His version is the best.”
Prince’s version with Gaines initially came out in 1993. Nelson did not respond to a request for more information about the release.
The Prince estate’s decision not to grant usage of the song, which is administered by Universal Music Publishing Group, caused Ferguson to rethink the segment in a way that she says ultimately served O’Connor better.
“Initially we had intended to use the song, but we received a refusal (which as the rights holders, was their prerogative),” Ferguson tells Billboard. “In the end we were very happy with that section of the film. It meant the focus remained on Sinéad’s words, and on her own songwriting.”
O’Connor and Prince didn’t meet until after her “Nothing Compares 2 U” success and, according to her 2021 memoir, Rememberings, it did not go well when they did. In the book, O’Connor writes that Prince chastised her for swearing in interviews and then challenged her to a pillow fight. She claims he had placed something in his pillow to inflict hurt. She called a friend to pick her up and writes, “I never wanted to see that devil again.”
After years of court battles, in August, a judge signed off on a deal finally resolving the disbursement of Prince’s $156 million estate, including his music rights. Two of his half-siblings and Tyka Nelson sold all or most of their shares to Primary Wave. Three other half-siblings, including Sharon, have retained their stakes and partnered with advisors L. Londell McMillan and Charles Spicer, who also control an undisclosed stake, to comprise the other 50%.