Josep Baró Casanovas
Independent Researcher | Published: 17 March, 2023
ISSUE 18 | Pages: 118-136 | PDF | DOAJ |

Creative Commons 4.0 2023 by Josep Baró Casanovas | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

The Cranberries have been considered to be one of the major rock bands from Ireland. From 1993 until 2019, they released eight studio albums, and hit the world charts with songs such as “Linger” and “Zombie”, before disbanding following singer Dolores O’Riordan’s death. After two very successful and critically acclaimed records, The Cranberries’ third release To The Faithful Departed (1996) became the target of harsh criticism, as the press considered it to be lyrically shallow. As a result, The Cranberries’ third album has been traditionally analysed in that way. This paper aims at providing a new, comprehensive analysis of The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed by bringing the band’s then recently achieved stardom into focus, as such an experience had a significant impact on the four members’ emotional state, and hence in the songwriting. Thus, it is hoped that the present article will provide a greater understanding of how the lyrics of The Cranberries’ 1996 album reflect the struggles of a band achieving celebrity status in the music industry. This essay can be viewed as innovative for two reasons: firstly, there has been a lack of academic research on The Cranberries, and secondly, it offers a new reading of their third record To The Faithful Departed.

The Cranberries son considerados una de las mayores bandas que ha dado Irlanda. Desde 1993 hasta 2019, año en que se separaron después de la muerte de su cantante Dolores O’Riordan, lanzaron ocho discos de estudio y varios de sus singles, como “Linger” y “Zombie”, se convirtieron en auténticos éxitos. Después de dos discos muy bien recibidos por la crítica, su tercer trabajo To The Faithful Departed (1996) fue objeto de reseñas muy duras por parte de la prensa, ya que se consideró que sus letras eran por lo menos superficiales. Por consiguiente, el tercer álbum de The Cranberries ha sido analizado de este modo a lo largo de los años. El presente artículo pretende ofrecer un análisis nuevo y exhaustivo de To The Faithful Departed, centrándose en el impacto emocional que tuvo el estrellato en los componentes del grupo y, por lo tanto, en las letras del disco. El propósito del siguiente análisis es ofrecer una mayor comprensión sobre cómo To The Faithful Departed refleja el estado emocional de una banda que acababa de convertirse en celebridades dentro de la industria de la música. Este artículo puede considerarse innovador por dos razones: primero, porque el estudio académico sobre The Cranberries es nulo y, segundo, porque ofrece una nueva lectura de su tercer disco To The Faithful Departed.

The Cranberries; Dolores O’Riordan; rock; letras de canciones; música; psicología; fama; celebridad.


The Cranberries were an Irish rock group that became one of the most successful bands in the world in the 1990s. From 1993, when they released their first album, until 2018, when they disbanded following singer Dolores O’Riordan’s death, they released eight studio albums, and hit the world charts with songs such as “Linger” and “Zombie”. Their second album alone – No Need To Argue (1994) – has sold over 17 million copies (Leas 2014: par. 6), and the band’s catalogue about 50 million units worldwide (McGoran 2019: sec. “The Cranberries”). As a result, The Cranberries have been said to be “Ireland’s biggest musical export since U2” (Buckley 2003: 240).

The Cranberries were formed in the town of Limerick, Ireland in 1989 under the name The Cranberry Saw Us by drummer Fergal Lawler, and brothers Mike and Noel Hogan on bass and guitar, respectively. A year later singer Dolores O’Riordan joined the group, and in 1991 they renamed themselves The Cranberries. Gradually, the band started to play for slightly larger audiences, and in 1993 they released their first record Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? As Eoin Devereux puts it, the title summarised the feeling of the band at that time: “Why shouldn’t a band from a small city in the southwest of Ireland get signed, conquer the world and make a great record?” (2018: 33). Indeed, they would conquer the world in just one year’s time. Even though the album did not sell well in the first months, their first single “Linger” entered the Top-10 in the United States, which put them in a position to embark on a US tour. By the end of the year, they had sold 800,000 copies of their first album in the United States alone, and their single “Linger” had peaked at number 9 in the Billboard Charts (Devereux 2018: 41).

The following year, 1994, was a key moment for The Cranberries, as their first record Everybody Else… reached the top of the charts in Ireland and the UK, and their second release No Need To Argue became a major worldwide success straight away. For the following months, the band toured Europe, North America and Australia extensively, playing for significantly larger audiences than before. By the end of 1995, The Cranberries had played over 300 shows in the previous two years; they had been nominated for virtually all major music awards, and both albums had already become multi-platinum. In other words, the title of their first album had just become true.

With these events in mind, by the end of 1995, The Cranberries began working on their third record To The Faithful Departed (1996). However, critics appraised the new album harshly. While the reviews of Everybody Else… included expressions such as “a derivative pleasure” (Raggett, n.d. “Everybody Else”) and “a fledgling band at their best” (Sweeney 2018: par. 9), and while the press considered that its follow-up No Need To Argue contained “a number of charmers” (Raggett, n.d. “No Need”) and “gorgeous songs” (Bernstein 2019: par. 5), To The Faithful Departed was received with contrary feelings, as critics considered its lyrics too simple. For instance, Joe Ehrbar writes that the anti-drug song “Salvation” is “a shallow look at drug abuse” (1996: par. 13), while Ned Raggett states that it “preaches against heroin addiction in a manner worthy of afterschool specials and with about as much depth” (n.d. “To The Faithful”). As for the anti-war song “War Child”, James Stafford considers that the track “comes across as pedantic at best” (2016: par. 8), and Charles Aaron believes that it can be compared to “a maudlin spotlight moment you’d expect at a school assembly from the youth choir’s biggest butt-kisser” (2018: par. 3). With reference to the other anti-war song on the album “Bosnia”, Aaron needs only one word to describe its lyrics: “abominable” (2018: par. 3). Regarding “I Just Shot John Lennon”, for Neil Strauss the song is “weakly written” (1996a: par. 1), to which he later adds that O’Riordan’s advice to Lennon – “he should have stayed at home” – made “Salvation” in fact “seem profound” (1996b: par. 3). Similarly, Ehrbar writes that the song on Lennon’s assassination is “as profound as an 11 p.m. news broadcast, doing little more than restating the obvious” (1996: par. 10). As for the album as a whole, Lorraine Ali considers that, even though the social side of the lyrics is interesting, the verses in general are “as obvious as a public service announcement and just as moving” (1998: par. 1), which makes the record “as insubstantial as a bowl of dry Crunch Berries” (1998: par. 5). In a similar fashion, Strauss points out that beneath the social and political issues addressed, there is nothing but an “emptiness” that results in “an album best summarized by the title of an earlier Cranberries song, ‘Ridiculous Thoughts’” (1996b: par. 1). Likewise, Stafford, in his 20th anniversary review of the release, considers that two decades later the album can still be described as “a disappointment” (2016: par. 9). In sum, over the years, reviews of The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed have been far from positive, as the album has been reported to be essentially lyrically shallow.

It is hoped that the present article will provide a more insightful look at The Cranberries’ third record. That is, even though the songs may not be lyrically complex, this paper aims at claiming that the quality of the lyrics lies in how they portray the emotional changes that the band were experiencing in relation to their massive success. Therefore, in the following essay I will argue that To The Faithful Departed can by no means be considered a shallow album. Conversely, The Cranberries’ 1996 record is of significant interest, as it reflects how fame and celebrity were having an impact on four young Irish musicians that had just become one of the most successful bands in the world.

In the following pages I will briefly review academic literature on the psychology of fame and celebrity, and the harmful dynamics of the music industry. Later, I will analyse particular songs in the album by paying attention to the lines that reveal the band’s emotional state at the time of recording. In order to support my arguments, I will rely on interviews published in the media and the band’s biography, all in connection with the phenomenology of fame and celebrity.

Literature review[2]

Although stardom does not affect every person in the same way (Giles 2000: 108; Schaller 1997: 294; Schultz 2009: par. 7), it has been argued that its psychological impact can be detrimental for many public figures. Indeed, scientific literature reveals that “there are important cognitive stressors associated with distinctiveness” (Schaller 1997: 292). For the purpose of this article, I will give a brief overview of the psychological consequences of fame and celebrity status[3] by focusing on the following aspects: how celebrities develop a sense of vulnerability in public; how their personal relationships are affected; how they undergo a sense of loneliness, and how they must cope with the conflict between having a public and a private self identity. Lastly, I will provide an overview of the harmful dynamics of the music industry.

How fame increases the sense of vulnerability

Celebrities tend to develop a sense of vulnerability in public. In the book Illusions of Immortality, David Giles argues that in the first stages of fame celebrities tend to cope with public exposure fairly well. It is in the following stages, when public attention intensifies, that celebrities are addressed by their fans more frequently, which results in a growing fear of physical attacks, and increasing targeting by paparazzi (2000: 94-5).


Physical attacks on celebrities have not been uncommon: tennis player Monica Seles was stabbed in the midst of a match in 1993; singer Leona Lewis was attacked during a book-signing session in 2009, and Hollywood actor Brad Pitt was hit in the face while signing an autograph in 2014, to name a few. Some have even been killed by their fans – e.g. John Lennon, killed at the entrance of his residence in 1981, singer Selena, murdered by the president of her own fan club in 1995, and guitarist Dimebag Darrell, shot while performing onstage in 2004. However, it must be pointed out that, despite the magnification of these cases, research shows that it is much more common for the general population to be stalked and killed than celebrities (Davis and Chipman 1997: 168-70; Habib 1999). Although physical assaults on public figures have risen in the last 175 years (Goleman 1989: par. 7), statistics do show that most fans are harmless, and therefore attacks on celebrities are still rare (Davis and Chipman 1997: 166; Ferris 2001: 33; Habib 1999: par. 10). Research also suggests that such misconception derives from a more extensive press coverage (Davis and Chipman 1997: 166; Ferris 2001: 28), and a more serious approach by authorities (Habib 1999: par. 11).

Nevertheless, regardless of statistics, celebrities tend to feel vulnerable due to their high profile. While fans are likely to know many details about their idols’ agenda[4], celebrities are unaware of their fans’ intentions. This creates an “asymmetry of knowledge” that results in an “asymmetry of power” (Ferris 2001: 28). Consequently, fans become more powerful than their idols because they have access to more information. As a result, this “radically asymmetrical relation” (Ferris 2001: 44) creates a great deal of anxiety in celebrities, hence their growing sense of vulnerability (Ferris 2001: 36). As an anonymous security guard points out, “[t]he stars? Don’t touch ’em, don’t approach ’em. When it comes to the stars, most are paranoid and the rest are uneasy” (cited in Ferris 2001: 41).


As privacy is considered to be “a fundamental human requirement” (Giles 2000: 97), paparazzi become a major cause of distress for celebrities. For instance, Hollywood-star Greta Garbo claimed that “[t]he story of my life is about back entrances and side doors and secret elevators and other ways of getting in and out of places” (cited in Swenson 1997: 264-65). Likewise, Disney-star Selena Gomez recalls feeling “really violated” when she would be photographed at the beach when she was still underage (cited in Amed 2017: sec. “Do you remember…?”). These examples reveal the uneasiness aroused by paparazzi, as their presence alone, even without harassing, already becomes a cause for anxiety (Bushak 2013). On top of that, not only have paparazzi grown in number in the last decades, but their methods have also become more aggressive (Murray 2013), as they are not interested in celebrities alone but also their families (Giles 2000: 98). In some territories, laws have been passed to protect celebrities and their children from aggressive paparazzi (Berkowitz 2017: 177; McGreevy and Mason 2013). However, other laws protect photographers in public places, which makes celebrities’ right to privacy difficult to maintain (Murray 2013: 883).

Besides which, more and more frequently, most media, even those considered as serious, have been reported to be tainted with sensationalism (Morton 1997). Famous artists often spend more time answering questions about their private lives than their works. As Giles claims, “the brutal reality of the modern age is that all famous people are treated like celebrities by the mass media” (2000: 5). Thus, as sensationalism becomes “profitable” (Morton 1997: par. 1), talented artists are put at the same level as someone who is well-known merely due to public exposure (Giles 2000: 26).

How fame affects personal relationships

As they become public figures, celebrities are given a status of heroes, which eventually affects their social interactions (Giles 2000: 85-86). As renowned American journalist Lewis Lapham argues, while the ancient Greeks would give supernatural qualities to elements in nature, “[t]he modern Americans assign similar powers […] to individuals blessed with the aura of celebrity” (cited in Neimark 1995: par. 3). This process of glorification affects friendship and family bonds negatively, as it creates “emotional distance and contributes isolation” (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 196). As a result, in their personal relationships, many famous artists are left with doubt whether they are wanted for who they are or for what they are (Giles 2000: 95). Reflecting on how her relationship with relatives and friends began to change after becoming famous, Irish singer Sinead O’Connor said the following:

As soon as I went to number one, everything went mad. I went from a person to a product – bam! Just like that. I became a ‘star’ even to my best friends and family. They didn’t seem to be able to communicate with me on any other level except as some weird sort of, I dunno, famous object. (cited in Giles 2000: 85)

Furthermore, many fans feel that they are entitled to request anything from their idols, and subsequently feel disappointed when their hero does not meet their expectations. Especially in today’s social media – but also in the past[5] – fans complain about the quality of their favourite artists’ new album, the setlist of the shows, the towns and countries that have been left out from the tour, amongst a whole range of other related topics. Some admirers may even take the non-fulfilment of their requests as a personal attack. Thus, the aura derived from fame becomes a burden, and adds another layer of distress to celebrities’ state of mind (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 188).

How fame accentuates loneliness

Even though famous people are continuously meeting other individuals – e.g. through promotional events, award ceremonies, fan conventions, TV appearances, live performances, meet & greets, casual approaches in public space – these interactions tend to be rather shallow and dishonest[6]. Thus, famous people tend to be treated in a way that makes them feel “larger than life”, something that eventually has negative consequences, as celebrities feel “lonely at the top […] on an island of recognition” which separates them from the rest (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 186).

Furthermore, celebrities tend to engage in what Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl call “para-social relationships”, a type of relationship that is established between the star and its audience and which is nevertheless “not susceptible of mutual development”[7] (1956: 215). As a result, spectators feel like they know their stars just as they know their friends (Horton and Wohl 1956: 216). However, this does not happen vice versa, as celebrities are unaware of their fans as individuals. These para-social relationships make the celebrity live with “the feeling of being known, but not knowing (original emphasis) people” (Giles 2000: 91). Therefore, despite celebrities’ high number of personal encounters, the sense that they do not have true, reliable friends can be equally proportional, hence the growing sense of loneliness (Giles 2000: 95). For instance, even though he was received by masses whenever he travelled, Charles Chaplin admitted that the experience did not fulfil him: “I had always thought I would like the public’s attention, and here it was – paradoxically isolating me with a depressing sense of loneliness” (cited in Giles 2000: 91). In a similar manner, pop star and actress Lady Gaga is clear about the less charming side of popularity: “I don’t think I could think of a single thing that’s more isolating than being famous” (cited in Cavassuto 2016: par. 2). In the case of professional musicians, this experience is aggravated by the loneliness derived from touring (Gross and Musgrave 2020: ch. 3-5). Hotels, for example, can become not only a relaxing place, but also a source of acute anxiety. On the one hand, hotel rooms may become a place of protection, as artists spend most of the time there to avoid public exposure, but on the other hand, this in turn may result in extreme distress derived from isolation. As producer Mat Zo reports, “[f]or those with anxiety, hotel rooms are like prison cells” (cited in Britton 2015: par. 4).

How public figures deal with their public and private selves

Celebrities are affected by a process which makes them feel that they are only useful as long as they satisfy someone else’s demands (Giles 2000: 85; D. Kenny 2014: par. 2; Rockwell and Giles 2009: 203). As psychologist Dianna Theadora Kenny puts it, many famous artists become “suffocated, caged and possessed by their minders, exploiters and fans” (2014: par. 3). As they need to live up to an unattainable “ideal self” (Schaller 1997: 293-94), celebrities tend to feel trapped between two spheres, that is, the public and the private (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 203). Although this has been reported as a necessary adaptation to separate their public persona from their private life (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 196), it has also been argued that the conflict between the public and the private self becomes a stressful process in which celebrities must cope with the duality of feeling as a commodity, or isolating themselves (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 203-04).

The combination of the expectations and the pressure derived from fame may thus result in “an anxious and often solitary existence” (Gross and Musgrave 2020: 56). The more successful artists become, the more mental disorders they tend to develop, as they progressively lose control over their lives in an industry in which most professional decisions are taken by others (Gross and Musgrave 2020: 85). As pop star Lauren Aquilina puts it, “I would say that there’s a small team of people within the industry who can single-handedly decide where your life is going for the next year, and that has been a really difficult thing for me to wrap my head around” (cited in Gross and Musgrave 2020: 18-19).

How artists’ mental health is affected by the dynamics of the music industry

Even though the music industry may be seen as a realm of pleasure, it has conversely been defined as a business “full of people struggling and suffering from a variety of overlapping economic, psychological and addiction issues” (Gross and Musgrave 2020: 2). In an industry that has been described as “volatile and competitive” by nature (Ketibuah-Foley 2019: par. 1), artists can seldom refuse abusive contracts, and they are signed and put on tour simply to fill the coffers of record labels (Byrne 2013: 215-22). Accordingly, the music business has been compared to a “24/7 industry” (Jones and Heyman 2021: ch. 2 sec. “Burnout”) where artists can very rarely take a day off (Jones and Heyman 2021: ch. 1; Savage 2020). For instance, Brit-Award winner Ellie Goulding has reported being threatened to be blacklisted by a radio station after she insisted on cancelling her live performance due to exhaustion (Savage 2020: par. 9), while hip hop superstar Kanye West’s contract with publisher EMI is said to include a stipulation that prevents him from taking an extended hiatus ever (Gardner 2019).

There is empirical evidence that supports the idea that music careers and mental health issues go “hand-in-hand” (Loveday, Musgrave and Gross 2022: 1-2). The number of musicians that have succumbed to the music industry is quite significant[8]. Besides those cases included in the infamous 27 Club[9], mental health related deaths in the music industry have not been uncommon in the last few years. To name a few, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, Linkin Park lead vocalist Chester Bennington, and The Prodigy singer Keith Flint, all committed suicide after long, successful careers in the industry. Other less tragic cases include pop star Justin Bieber, as well as rock legend Bruce Springsteen, who have both recently spoken out on their struggle with depression.[10]

In summary, the detrimental effects of fame and celebrity status in combination with the dynamics of the music industry might be summarised in UK pop star Jesy Nelson’s statement after leaving her bandmates of Little Mix: “The truth is recently being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health. I find the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard” (cited in Beaumont-Thomas 2020: par. 4).

Analysis: The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed

The aforementioned literature review on the phenomenology of fame and celebrity is of major importance to understand The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed, an album that was recorded precisely when they had just become one of the most successful bands in the world. With this in mind, the following analysis will show how particular lyrics in The Cranberries’ third album reflect the band’s emotional state after having become celebrities. This interpretation will be undertaken by focusing on the band’s biography, with particular attention to singer and lyricist Dolores O’Riordan. Accordingly, I will argue that lyrics in To The Faithful Departed reveal a sense of vulnerability, a change in the singer’s personal relationships, a feeling of loneliness, a growing distress derived from the conflict between their public and private selves, and a bitter feeling towards the music business.

“He paid the price”: Vulnerability and stalking

Firstly, a fear of stalking is demonstrated in the song “I Just Shot John Lennon”. What makes this song interesting is the particular way that the first verse ends:

It was the fearful night of December 8th,

He was returning home from the studio, late.

He had perceptively known that it wouldn’t be nice.

Because in 1980, he paid the price.[11]

These last four words – “he paid the price” – highlight the idea that fame does not come for free. It has a price, and the price is that public figures are exposed to other people’s intentions. Ultimately, the cost of being famous might be one’s assassination. As has been pointed out in the literature review, although statistics reveal that celebrities are not stalked more than ordinary citizens, the speaker[12] may be aware of the “asymmetry of power” (Ferris 2001: 28) that is established with the fans, and develop a sense of vulnerability accordingly. Consequently, although O’Riordan’s lyrics could be compared to a report on John Lennon’s last moments[13], it is interesting to note that the four-word statement “he paid the price”, rather than a description of the events, is in fact a personal view. This key sentence becomes very relevant in a moment in which The Cranberries were at the peak of their career. Thus, O’Riordan’s addition of this statement could be said to spring from her experience as the band leader in a moment of major public exposure. Reflecting on their US tour in 1993, O’Riordan declared that being approached in the street could be quite intimidating:

I was suddenly hugely famous. It was very scary. I remember I went to Victoria’s Secret to buy underwear. Some said “Oh, my God, that’s The Cranberries’ singer”, and I said, “Oh shit”, and I dropped the knickers I was about to buy and ran out of the shop and they all ran after me […] I said, “Shit, where will I go?”, and I saw an alley and hid behind a load of dumpsters. I just remember thinking “what has happened to my life now?” (cited in Devereux 2018: 38)

On top of that, her concern for her personal security can also be seen in the following account:

We all love music, but nothing can prepare you for the fame aspect of life that no matter where you go some people will recognise you; some people will be nice, some people won’t be nice, but ultimately you don’t feel normal. (The Cranberries 1999)

Similarly, in “I’m Still Remembering”, she mentions John F. Kennedy out of the blue: “They say that good people are always first to drop […] Remember JFK, ever saintly in a way”. As was the case of John Lennon, the US president was shot dead in a public space. Just like Lennon, the price that Kennedy had to pay for being famous was his life. As O’Riordan wrote the song after two multi-platinum records, the reference to Kennedy therefore seems far from a coincidence. Thus, these lines in “I’m Still Remembering” may be another example that reflects The Cranberries’ singer’s concern for her personal security as a celebrity.

“You’re so distracted from the real thing”: Vulnerability and paparazzi

The song “Free To Decide” captures the anger of the speaker against the tabloids. Here, right from the first verse, she criticises the fact that her private life has become a subject of interest: “I’ll live as I choose / or I will not live at all”. She detests the tabloids’ chatter on her persona, as she would rather commit suicide than lose her individuality. The song goes on, and in the fourth verse another stinging reference to the tabloid press is included:

So to hell with what you’re thinking,

And to hell with your narrow mind.

You’re so distracted from the real thing,

You should leave your life behind, behind.

These journalists are portrayed as narrow-minded, as the pieces of news that they write have nothing to do with “the real thing”. Here, as highlighted earlier, the speaker may be hinting at the experience of many famous artists that are treated like other celebrities with no particular talent, other than being well-known for appearing on TV (Giles 2000: 26). Thus, paparazzi are “distracted” because they are unable to see “the real thing”, that is, the artist’s real reason behind their fame – i.e. their works. Although The Cranberries were a band with two very successful albums on the market by the end of 1995, they were approached by reporters that were more concerned with their private lives than with their career. An illustrative example can be seen in an interview on RTÉ, the national broadcaster of Ireland[14]. There, the host Pat Kenny (1999) starts the interview by pointing out that O’Riordan is in the midst of the band’s European tour, and the singer then takes the opportunity to give her thoughts on the shows so far. Nevertheless, Kenny seems to find O’Riordan’s words irrelevant, and barely thirty seconds into the interview, he stops The Cranberries’ singer and asks something that makes her uneasy: “What forms Dolores O’Riordan? What kind of childhood did you have? Were you happy?”. As soon as she hears such intimate questions at the very beginning of the interview, O’Riordan’s facial expression changes completely from excitement to incredulity. To make matters worse, the interview goes on with questions such as “what kind of teenager were you?”, “what kind of kid were you at school?”, and “there’s some story that your mother told you to join the convent”, none of which had anything to do with the reason O’Riordan was in the studio that evening, that is, to promote The Cranberries’ new album and tour.

Furthermore, the song also points to paparazzi’s harassing methods that have been so often reported by celebrities:

So return to where you come from,

Return to where you dwell,

Because harassment’s not my forte,

But you do it very well.

This verse may be read as a declaration of war against the tabloids. She is telling them to go home, and is exposing their violence in opposition to her integrity. As discussed earlier, paparazzi’s methods have become more aggressive over the years (Murray). The song may parallel O’Riordan’s life as a celebrity and the way she felt harassed even in the most intimate moments. As she declared after her grandmother’s funeral,

There were things like I’d have photographers following me around the supermarket […] and having people taking photographs of me when I was at my grandmother’s funeral. It was on the front cover of some newspaper the next day, me at the funeral with my grandmother laid out. (cited in The Irish Times 1999: par. 4)

Such an experience may also be seen in the promotional video for the song by means of three symbols[15]. Firstly, a famous person – O’Riordan herself – runs away to the desert after being photographed by a bunch of harassing paparazzi right at the entrance of her home. Later, O’Riordan is characterised as a bird within a cage. That is, the bird is caged as an exotic animal that remains powerless against harassing photographers. Lastly, O’Riordan appears within a frame as if she were naked. Like a bird within a cage that can do nothing but stay there for others to enjoy and comment, O’Riordan is naked without any privacy left and framed for display. Unable to step outside this frame, she becomes a picture for everybody to contemplate and criticise.

With this in mind, the song “Electric Blue” may combine the fear of stalkers and the abhorrence of paparazzi into a general feeling of great vulnerability. There, the speaker talks to someone’s blue eyes:

Electric blue eyes where did you come from?

Electric blue eyes who sent you?

Electric blue eyes, always be near me.

Electric blue eyes, I need you.

The image of an eye as a symbol of guidance has been common. In Ancient Egypt, the Eye of Horus was associated with healing and life. Likewise, in the Christian tradition, the Eye of Providence has been represented as the combination of the Holy Trinity’s triangle and the eye of God, that is, God’s all-seeing eye provides spiritual guidance. Therefore, from the very beginning, the song can be read as a plea for guidance and protection, as the speaker asks those blue eyes to be near her. The verse that follows is in fact written in Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church: “Domine, Domine Deus, / Domine, Adiuva Me[16]”. Similarly, following the Christian tradition, in the third verse the speaker evokes the image of a guardian angel: “Always be near me, guardian angel. / Always be near me, there’s no fear”. In other words, the song reflects a vulnerable speaker searching for protection. Again, O’Riordan’s thoughts help us to understand the lyrics, as she declared in 1996 that “[i]n the song I’m kind of thinking that maybe somebody sent my husband to protect me” (cited in Cranberries World, n.d. “Electric Blue”). The fact that she wrote the song in the late 1995, when she had become a public figure, and the band was about to embark on another world tour, makes this song very relevant when it comes to linking its lyrics and O’Riordan’s experience as a celebrity. Therefore, as hinted in “I Just Shot John Lennon” and “Free To Decide”, it may be argued that O’Riordan is aware of the perils of fame, as she addresses this feeling by introducing three protective images in this song – i.e. the guiding blue eyes, a prayer in Latin, and a guardian angel. Once more, the speaker’s need for protection may parallel O’Riordan’s experience, as she claimed that “I’d been on tour for a year or so and I was feeling sick, so we cancelled a few gigs we had in Ireland. And I woke up one morning when the doorbell rang, and there was a man standing at my door with a camera, and I said, ‘What? Leave’. I was frightened” (cited in Cranberries World, n.d. “Free To Decide”).

“I am not more acceptable than them”: Personal relationships and fame

Lyrics in To The Faithful Departed also point to the way famous people’s relationships are affected. In “The Rebels”, the speaker remembers when she and her friends were teenagers: “Seems like yesterday we were sixteen / We were the rebels of a rebel scene”. She goes on by remembering the good times that they would spend when they were “wearing Doc Martens in the sun”, “drinking vintage cider having fun”, and “paint[ing] our toenails black and let[ting] our hair grow”. However, in the second verse, there is a change in the speaker’s status, as she asserts that “What I am now’s what I was then / I am not more acceptable than them”. Even though she claims not to have changed, she is now being considered as “more acceptable than them” – i.e. her friends. In other words, by pointing out that she is not “more acceptable”, she is acknowledging the fact that her relationship with her friends has been affected by, to use Lapham’s aforementioned terms, “an aura of celebrity”.

In a similar manner, in “The Picture I View”[17], the speaker also points out that her new status has affected her relationships, though this time explicitly for the worse:

I haven’t changed but my life has


All my friends and promises

Went tumbling down the hill

They went tumbling down the hill.

As she sees her personal bonds “tumbling down the hill”, her experience parallels the feeling of loneliness that many artists undergo, as highlighted in the literature review. Such concern can be seen in O’Riordan’s thoughts on her life in 1996: “I just kept thinking ‘I’m not in control any more’. I wanted to go somewhere where people didn’t give a toss about who I was” (cited in The Irish Times 1999: par. 7).

Moreover, the speaker in “The Picture I View” also addresses the fact that many people are disappointed when they feel that their stars have not met their expectations, as has been addressed earlier (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 188). That is, the speaker states that “[p]eople are strange when it’s like as / I did something wrong to them / And I don’t even know your name”. She does not “know [their] name” because she is referring to the experience of para-social relationships that are established between celebrities and fans, and which have been described as “not susceptible of mutual development” (Horton and Wohl 1956: 215). Once more, O’Riordan’s biography may parallel the song. Reflecting on the cancellation of some shows in Ireland in 1994, she recalls being judged by the tabloids:

“She’s too much of a rock star now to do her gig in Ireland, and she says she has a sore knee, yet I saw her running into the supermarket” […] There were just pictures of me kind of shopping, packing my groceries, on the front cover of all the magazines, all the Irish papers and stuff like that. And it was just kind of really bitchy on their behalf. And they were just saying that I was being a little pop star, and I was pulling the Irish shows. (cited in Cranberries World, n.d. “Free To Decide”)

“I miss you when you’re gone”: Loneliness in a crowded room

As highlighted earlier, famous artists tend to feel lonely in the middle of “an island of recognition” (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 186). The song “When You’re Gone” may reflect this feeling. The first verse begins as if it were another love song: “Hold on to love / That is what I do / Now that I’ve found you”. Nonetheless, a look at how the first verse finishes may be quite revealing: “And from above / Everything’s stinking, / They’re not around you”. The speaker has found someone special, and the two of them look “from above”. From this upper view, the speaker and her lover see that “everything’s stinking”, and that “they” – i.e. the others – are not around them. Therefore, the concepts “stinking” and “they” go together below, whereas “I” and “you” are grouped in a different sphere above. That is, the song reflects two spheres that might coincide with the public and the private spheres that celebrities tend to face, as noted earlier (Rockwell and Giles 2009). Following such duality, and in relation to the Christian tradition – as in the aforementioned “Electric Blue” – it may be argued that the fact that the speaker and her beloved are in a higher position may emphasise by opposition the evil that is encountered in earthly life. Thus, “everything’s stinking” and “they” might refer to all the elements that have negative consequences on the artist, hence its stench. Therefore, the speaker as an artist could be said to miss her partner in the daytime when she needs to attend to her professional commitments: “And in the day, everything’s complex / There’s nothing simple when I’m not around you”. Later at night, she changes her public self for her private one, while she meets her partner again, and thus no longer feels lonely: “And in the night I could be helpless, / I could be lonely sleeping without you”. That is, the speaker is unhappy during the day because she needs to step down from above to go to work – i.e. to change from her private to her public sphere. Even though she is certainly not alone in the daytime, she feels more isolated than in her beloved’s company. As has been argued earlier, para-social relationships tend to worsen loneliness (Giles 2000: 91, 95), and hence she knows that her solitude will continue: “I miss you when you’re gone / That is what I do / And it’s going to carry on”. This view may be supported by O’Riordan’s thoughts on her life back in the mid-1990s when she felt lonely in a crowded environment:

I basically had the wrong kind of love and attention around me. I lived six years in a bus with strangers, touring the world with the band, seeing the insides of hotels. I lost touch with my friends. I was lonely all that time. I went nuts I was so lonely. These were days before mobile phones so I had to find a phonebox just to talk to my parents. (cited in Akbar 2011: par. 16)

In short, the one that makes the speaker feel relieved at night in “When You’re Gone” may fulfil the same role as O’Riordan’s parents in her real life.

“I’m trying not to go insane”: The conflict between the two selves

As has been discussed, the realisation of an “ideal self” (Schaller 1997) becomes impossible for many artists, since they have to comply with other people’s expectations, namely fans, producers, managers, or critics. In “I’m Still Remembering” a troubled speaker senses that there is something wrong in her life: “The world has changed or I’ve changed in a way”. There is a conflict in the speaker, as she – her private self – and the world – the public – are weighed up in her mind. As a result, the speaker is on the edge of insanity – “I try to remain, I’m trying not to go insane / I need your affection all the way, all the way” – hence her plea for affection. Once more, this could be compared to O’Riordan’s life, as she once declared that by 1996 she was on the verge of psychological fallout:

We [The Cranberries] got massively famous, we were a bunch of kids out of school into the frying pan into the fire […] when we were touring the first album we kept writing No Need To Argue, and then we recorded that, and went back on the road […] after that, we went back into the studio, and we recorded the ‘hello I’m cracking up’ To The Faithful Departed album […] the whole world goes mad and life as you knew it is gone … I just could not keep up with the pace, and I got really burnt out […] 1996 was like going and going like the Energizer bunny, and so basically I had to go and see a bunch of doctors who sent me to a shrink, and the shrink told me “I see lots of famous people and you’re not really mad; the world around you is mad, so get the hell out of the planet and hide somewhere if you can”. (O’Riordan and Hogan 2012)

Indeed, research indicates that professional artists must cope with a great deal of social and psychological challenges (Vaag, Bjørngaard and Bjerkeset 2016: 234-35). Since they usually become the central figure in the band, lead singers in particular usually experience higher levels of psychological distress due to their more prevalent public exposure (Brugués 2011: 105; Vaag, Bjørngaard and Bjerkeset 2016: 240). The speaker in “I’m Still Remembering” seems to be aware of such findings, and mentions Kurt Cobain: “What of Kurt Cobain, will his presence still remain?”. As David Giles claims, Cobain committed suicide as a way of escaping his inability to fulfil the ideal of the authentic rebel as he became more and more famous (2000: 83-4). Interestingly, the speaker in “I’m Still Remembering” brings the two ideas together: her jeopardised sanity due to fame and celebrity, and Cobain’s figure – the rock star that succumbs to the pressures of the industry. Drummer Fergal Lawler’s view on the highly mentally demanding professional commitments helps us to understand the sense of extreme psychological distress addressed in the song: “It’s very important to have something grounding because it’s such a strange, fast world when you’re on tour. It’s all go go go every day, so you need some stability when you get back home” (The Cranberries 1999). In one sense, The Cranberries’ drummer is asking for affection after the tour, just like the speaker in “I’m Still Remembering” pleads for “affection all the way […] not to go insane”.

“This is not Hollywood like I understood”: The dark side of the music industry

The song “Hollywood” may summarise the main ideas in this article on fame and celebrity status, while also pointing out the dark side of the music industry. In the first verse, the speaker describes a picture:

I’ve got a picture in my head, in my head.

It’s me and you, we are in bed, we are in bed.

You’ve always been there when I call, when I call.

You’ve always been there most of all.

This is a comforting picture; it shows the speaker and her partner in a very intimate space. Not only may the relationship be interpreted as sexual, but it can also be seen as protective, as she points out that her partner has “always been there”. Nonetheless, this fond memory is broken by a revelation: “This is not Hollywood like I understood”. While the first verse is about the speaker’s warm, intimate memories, this transitional line brings the speaker to a different location – her room:

I’ve got a picture in my room, in my room.

I will return there I presume, it should be soon.

The greatest irony of all, shoot the wall.

It’s not so glamorous at all.

This is not a random image. It displays something that is part of the speaker’s life, as she will “return there […] soon”. The preceding hint – “This is not Hollywood like I understood” – may reveal something about the second picture. That is, it could be argued that now the image shows the speaker, not as an ordinary person, but as a celebrity – e.g. a picture of herself either performing or posing, or a poster of the band. Whether she is at home or in a hotel room, she knows she will go “there” soon – e.g. to go on tour, or to perform that evening – because that is what she does for a living. Nevertheless, this second image is in stark contrast with the one in her head, and thus, the feeling conveyed is not that of a fond memory, but of something that, despite its apparent glamour is “not so glamorous at all”. While the picture in the speaker’s head brings her comfort, the one in the room brings her distress. In other words, while she is safe in her intimacy, her public image becomes hostile. As a result, all the glitter that Hollywood is known for vanishes when the speaker screams in anger: “Run away, is there anybody there? / Get away, Get away, Get away!”. That is, after the revelation, now she wants to warn everyone that Hollywood is just a mirage. Interestingly enough, O’Riordan sings louder than ever as the rest of the band play the heaviest chords of all The Cranberries’ work, which may parallel the anger expressed in these two lines. Again, O’Riordan’s biography seems quite significant, as she used to tell everyone at school that she wanted to be a rock star (Devereux 2018: 14). However, little did she know that being so popular would involve more than just singing. O’Riordan’s view on The Cranberries’ schedule in the 1990s may be quite revealing, as she declared that “we were just going from day to day and from hotel to hotel and making videos and all” (2010). Similarly, in another interview she stated that, for a famous band like them, life in hotels could be mentally challenging: “you can’t go downstairs, you can’t go shopping […] [all of this] is going to take an effect [on your mind] eventually” (The Cranberries 1999). For O’Riordan, as for the speaker in “Hollywood”, the rock star life  – e.g. going on tour, staying in expensive hotels – is far from glamorous, hence “the greatest irony of all”.

As fame has been described as a status that triggers “important cognitive stressors” (Schaller 1997: 292), and the music industry has been portrayed as a world that goes “hand-in-hand” with mental health issues (Loveday, Musgrave and Gross 2022: 1), the speaker in “Hollywood” acknowledges the irony behind the glamorous picture in her room, and claims her discomfort with returning “there […] soon”. As the speaker seems to be aware of the disturbing figures on mental health in the music industry highlighted earlier, this second picture becomes the place in which she would rather not be. For the speaker, this Hollywood is revealed as a place that does not correspond with its surface glitter, and therefore she advises any pop star wannabes to run away. Accordingly, the song finishes with both the revelation and the piece of advice merged: “This is not Hollywood / Runaway!”.


This article has offered a new analysis of The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed record. Unlike previous criticism that focused on the lack of literary complexity, this essay has analysed its lyrics in relation to the band’s emotional state with special attention to that of singer and lyricist Dolores O’Riordan. In addition to interviews and excerpts from the press, this analysis has been supported by previous research on the phenomenology of fame and celebrity status. To summarise, it has been argued that the songs “I Just Shot John Lennon”, “I’m Still Remembering”, “Free To Decide” and “Electric Blue” reflect an asymmetry of power between public figures and fans that puts the former in a vulnerable position. Furthermore, “The Rebels” and “The Picture I View” hints at the strain on personal relationships resulting from fame. Likewise, the song “When You’re Gone” conveys the loneliness experienced by celebrities. While, “I’m Still Remembering” alludes to the mentally challenging conflict between public and private selves. Lastly, “Hollywood” shows the contradictions between the glamour that the music industry displays and its reality.

Thus, The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed affords us with greater understanding of how fame and celebrity was taking its toll on the band at the very peak of their career[18]. As highlighted in the literature review, since the psychological consequences of fame tend to worsen as public figures become celebrities (Giles 2000: 94), it could therefore be argued that To The Faithful Departed could not have been written at any other moment. Although many of the songs on this album continue to revolve around personal relationships, the general feeling is quite different from its predecessors[19]. Unlike the first two records, it is precisely in To The Faithful Departed that the partner is addressed not as a lover per se, but as the protector of a speaker that feels utterly vulnerable. This change in the speaker’s point of view makes this record lyrically different from its predecessors, and thus it may be argued that The Cranberries’ 1996 album is of great value to understand the band’s struggle with the pressures of fame and the music industry.

In brief, To The Faithful Departed helps us to understand the emotional distress of four Irish musicians in a world that has been described as “bizarre, surreal, scary, lonely, creepy, daunting, embarrassing, confusing, and invasive” (Rockwell and Giles 2009: 185). Indeed, O’Riordan once declared that by 1996 “I got sick of being famous” (cited in Akbar 2011: par. 10). All in all, The Cranberries’ To The Faithful Departed depicts a world of fame and success that, as the speaker in “Hollywood” reveals, “is not so glamorous at all”.

[1] I would like to thank Dr Sarah Mizielinska, PhD, for selflessly proofreading the text.

[2] I would like to thank psychologist Sara Avilés Sujas for her advice on this section.

[3] Strictly speaking, there is a distinction between the terms fame and celebrity: while the former has been defined as the state of public recognition for one’s achievements (Turner 2016: 85), the latter has been described as the tautological condition of being known on account of being known (Boorstin 1992: 57). Nevertheless, it has also been claimed that in fact both terms usually overlap in today’s media culture (Gabler 2014: 2-3; Giles 2000: 3; Rockwell and Giles 2009: 180). Thus, within the scope of this article, I will use both terms interchangeably. As will be discussed later, singer and lyricist Dolores O’Riordan was not only famous for her musical talent, but she also became a celebrity due to her media exposure derived from The Cranberries’ success.

[4] For instance, in the field of music, fans know well in advance a whole range of details of their idols’ agenda: e.g. dates of the tour, venues, hotels in town at which artists usually stay, promotional acts if any, etc.

[5] Before the internet era, records used to include a fan club address for fans to send their messages.

[6] As David Giles points out, in the case of famous musicians, the prototypical visit to their record company only provides adulation, as any criticism is unofficially forbidden, and such a servile flattery continues on tour, since most working personnel never say no to any of the artist’s demands (2000: 7).

[7] For instance, the relationship that is established between a singer and their audience in a concert is para-social: fans usually stand in awe, cheer, scream, and praise their stars even though the latter are not listening to them individually. In the spectators’ minds, notwithstanding, the relationship with the artist is unique, which creates a delusional sense of intimacy.

[8] Even though there is no clear distinction between mental health disorders as a consequence of being in the music business or as an individual predisposition (Music Industry Research Association 2018: 9), scientific research has revealed that mental distress and mortality within the music industry are higher than in other sectors (D. Kenny 2014; D. Kenny and Asher 2016; Gross and Musgrave 2020; Loveday, Musgrave and Gross 2022; Vaag, Bjørngaard and Bjerkeset 2014).

[9] The 27 Club is an unofficial list of artists – mostly musicians – who died at the age of 27. A well-documented source is 27: A History of the 27 Club through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse by Howard Sounes (2013).

[10] Justin Bieber’s account can be watched in the short documentary “The Dark Season”, which is available in his official YouTube channel, while Bruce Springsteen’s can be read in his autobiography Born to Run (2016).

[11] Since lyrics were not included in the 1996 release, all quotations from the album have been taken from the 2002 edition (full reference in the Works Cited section).

[12] Even though these songs may not be regarded as poetry, since they are definitely not prose texts, I will use the poetic term speaker to refer to the dramatic character.

[13] Indeed, even the actual words that murderer Mark David Chapman uttered at the crime scene – “I just shot John Lennon” – were included as both the song’s title and chorus.

[14] Even though this interview is from 1999, I have decided to include it, since it exemplifies the line “you’re so distracted from the real thing” very graphically.

[15] The video is featured in their compilation Stars – The Best of Videos 1992-2002 (Universal, 2002) originally released as DVD. As the DVD release is currently out of stock, today the video can be watched on YouTube.

[16] Lord, Lord God / Lord, Help Me (own translation).

[17] Although this song was not included in the original international release, it was featured as a bonus track in the Japanese edition and as a B-side of the “Free To Decide” single. Today it can be found in the To The Faithful Departed (The Complete Sessions 1996-1997) edition, which has been used for citation.

[18] Barely months later The Cranberries would abruptly cancel their 1996 tour, following singer Dolores O’Riordan’s nervous breakdown.

[19] The songs from their first two albums largely deal with personal relationships. There, some lyrics deal with an accomplished relationship – e.g. “Dreams” (Everybody Else…) and “Dreaming My Dreams” (No Need To Argue). Others revolve around friendly broken relationships – e.g. “I Will Always” (Everybody Else…) and “No Need To Argue” (No Need To Argue). Some deal with bitter feelings after a break-up – e.g. “How” (Everybody Else…) and “Daffodil Lament” (No Need To Argue). In some others the speaker addresses an abusive partner – e.g. “Not Sorry” (Everybody Else…) and “Put Me Down” (Everybody Else…). There may be a brief reference to fame in “Ode to my Family” (No Need to Argue) as the speaker mentions “Understand what I’ve become / It wasn’t my design / And people everywhere think something / Better than I am”. Even though this is the first time that O’Riordan hints at the consequences of fame, it would not be until 1996 that such feelings would be explored more in depth.

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| Received: 01-08-2022 | Last Version: 10-01-2023 | Articles, Issue 18