Before Taylor Swift, another headstrong songstress made her way up the charts by writing explicitly about her ex-lovers. For Canadian singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette, there was nothing more cathartic than spilling her scorned guts into her first internationally released album, Jagged Little Pill. The fact that it has sold over 40 million copies worldwide just goes to show that the people want to hear the raw stuff, man!
Released 20 years ago today on June 9, 1995, the album went on to snag a plethora of honorable accolades, including being named Best Selling Pop Album of the 1990s by Billboard. Nominated for a total of nine Grammy awards, Morissette won five of them including Best Rock Album, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song for “You Oughta Know” along with Album of the Year, making her, at age 21, the youngest artist in history to win the honor – a record she held for 14 years until Miss. Swift came along at age 20 with her album, Fearless. I’m sensing a pattern here.
I remember hearing “Ironic” on the radio back when I was a kid and Top 40 wasn’t as mundane as it is now. I had just moved from Florida to New York so my love affair with music was in the beginning stages. I’m honored to have grown up in that time with such a lush range of music to fall in love with.
“Ironic” became iconic, becoming a staple on Top 40 along with VH1 and MTV soon after. Not only did the song introduce me to the fact that I wasn’t the only person on the planet who thought somewhat adversely but as a second grader, it made me brush up on my vocabulary as one of my teachers brought in the tape to teach us word definitions in the best possible way. Plus, I had always imagined my first driving experience to be as exciting and rambunctious as Morissette portrayed in the video. Still waiting on that one, though.
Spawning five singles that to this day still make me all tingly and nostalgic down to my toes, the previously mentioned “Ironic,” “Head Over Feet,” the ever-inspiring “You Learn,” still-an-anthem-for-every-twenty-something “Hand In My Pocket,” and lead single “You Oughta Know,” (yes, the one about Dave Coulier a.k.a. Joey Gladstone from Full House) Morissette made it pretty clear that keeping quiet just wasn’t in her best interests.
Morissette made it conventional for women to call out their ex-lovers’ melodrama through song, and as much as feminism has made its way around the criticism block during the past twenty years, there’s still this unjustifiable stigma of being called crazy if you, by any chance show any type of fiery, livid emotion towards an ex-boyfriend; something women in music and around the world will continue to fight for unabashedly with guns blazing.
Jagged Little Pill gave women a voice who may have felt silenced and defeated. It reminded us that pain is real and some things society forbids us to talk about; but when there’s no other outlet to pour it, history must be made. It continues to find women in their darkest hours to revive them and show them that, hey, it’s okay to be jilted! It’s okay to be afraid and shunned and ashamed and sardonic. It gave us space to feel out the uncomfortable territory and come out of every harrowing experience a new, better, stronger woman. We need more albums like this.
In 2008, I had the chance to catch Alanis live at Madison Square Garden as she opened up for Matchbox Twenty. It was Valentine’s Day and I was separated from my boyfriend at the time – he was in Florida while I was here in New York. I remember being excited about the show and emotionally drained from our phone call an hour before, which was a normal occurrence while with him. I had never really experienced much relationship woes until that time. Once Alanis hit the stage, I felt like out of all of the female artists in the world, she knew exactly how frustrated I was. “You Oughta Know” came bursting out of MSG’s speakers, into the hearts and attentions of a wistful crowd and into a part of me that was begging to be unshackled. Two years later, the lyrics, “It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced,” came to focus and everything came full circle. We all want to remind them of the mess they left when they went away but what about if they have no intentions of cleaning it up? Do we haunt them in the middle of the night or just make best-selling records chronicling everything they f*cked up? I’m thinking both.
As I’m on the cusp of 27, I’m finding that a lot of things I’m going through now weren’t all that different in the 90’s. “Hand in My Pocket” displays that notion of taking up space and dwelling in the mundane parts of young life when things haven’t really taken off yet – being underpaid, broke, lost but hopeful, and of course, sane but overwhelmed. But in due time, “everything’s gonna be quite alright.” A part of me pictures a re-imagined version tailored to this new generation of mistaking technology for connection, with a chorus along the lines of, “I’ve got one hand on my smartphone and the other is hailing a taxi cab.” Can we learn to love the simple joy of our pockets again, please? For the love of humanity?
To think that one album created out of pure confusion and pain brought so much hope, inspiration and empowerment to so many listeners is why I love music so much. Artists never know how their work is going to be received; when it winds up connecting with so many people, it’s a kind reminder of hope for a better future and that what they have to say is relevant.
Though it may have appeared to look as if Morissette was the angriest woman of the 90’s, “You Learn” had a redeemable quality that to this day cannot be denied even by the harshest of critics. She still recommended that we get our hearts trampled on by anyone. She also reminded us that when the smoke clears we’ll have a new found perspective. We’ll love. We’ll cry. We’ll lose. We’ll bleed and we’ll scream. Jagged Little Pill, through all of its intense moments is a culmination of growing up, moving on and becoming the person you were meant to be.
After all, you live and you learn.