10 Questions with Sinéad O'Connor

The singer on the power of music, mental illness and why she told Miley Cyrus to not let herself be pimped

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Peter Hapak for TIME

You're currently playing shows on your American Kindness tour. What led to that name?
I've always experienced American people as very kind. And I guess you all get a bad rap as well--unfairly, I suppose.

Many reviews of your latest work emphasize that you sound joyous for a change. Is it weird that people are surprised to hear you happy?
I think it's natural. My records are [about] the journey of someone in recovery. The idea is that you would get to happiness. Otherwise what's the point of taking the journey?

Does music still serve that healing role in your life?
Just listening to music does, but I write from a different place now. When I was younger I had stuff that I had to get off my chest.

Last year you released "V.I.P.," about stars who are silent on world issues. What are the duties that come with fame?
I'm not a musical snob. "Ooo Baby Baby," or whatever, those are as valid as "Working Class Hero" or "Imagine." But there are times artists do need to stand up and not just be entertainers. The song was about Irish artists being silent on the matter of the church reports [on child abuse by priests]. But it translates. The priorities have gone askew. If the rappers and the rock stars are having dinner with the President, that's a problem.

How so?
You become part of the Establishment and you're unable challenge the Establishment.

You're vocal about the need to respect mental illness. How is your message being received?
It's not a question of my message. There's a dreadful practice in this country going on at the moment, which is a complete breach of human and civil rights, of paparazzi lynching--that's what I call it--young female celebrities perceived to have a mental illness, trying to get photos of them looking like they're having breakdowns. The girls are not offered a hug or a percentage. People who might be vulnerable are not going to seek help in a society where if you're believed to be insane, you're going to get treated like crap.

But do you feel people are listening?
What's important is that I'm standing for getting some respect. As it happens, I don't suffer from bipolar disorder. I was a victim of the thing we're talking about. I was told by a doctor who never met me that, from reading the newspaper, he would say I had bipolar disorder.

That issue came up recently when you gave advice to Miley Cyrus, but the note you wrote her first was about how the industry prostitutes artists. When did you learn that lesson?
Every single day. The music business is corrupt. It's full of nothing but vampires and pimps. What was more important that came out of the Miley thing was being able to conversate about mental health and human rights. The two of us, without meaning to, did quite a good job.

Has the business changed in your time?
The sounds of the records and the videos and how artists look has all been taken over by the industry. In a way, music's all been silenced. That's why I feel strongly about the oversexualizing of young women. As long as you're visually distracted, you're not really listening ... Male artists too. Justin Bieber, he's being sold on his sexuality, but he's too young to even understand what's going on.

Which artists haven't been silenced?
We're everywhere, but we don't get played on the radio. We get "crazied" by media. We get treated like we're assholes because we are heroes and heroines, and we're therefore quite dangerous people.