Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Alanis Morissette's 1995 international debut Jagged Little Pill became one of the most successful albums of all time. The raw intensity of the album's first single, "You Oughta Know", led Morissette to be labeled the "first lady of rage", though the album itself contained only two songs that hinted at any sort of anger or resentment. Since the extraordinary success of Jagged Little Pill, Morissette's popularity has waned as singers such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera gained attention, though she is still one of the industry's premiere female singer/songwriters. Her latest album, So-Called Chaos, on which she received sole writing and co-producing credits, sold over 115,000 copies in its first week of release.
The early years
Morissette showed a love for singing and songwriting at an early age. When she was 9 years old, she went to the home of singer Olivia Newton-John, one of her early idols, and said over the intercom at the front gates: "Hi, I'm Alanis. I want to meet you one day and I want to be famous, just like you."
In that same year, Morissette wrote her first song, "Fate Stay With Me", at the age of 9:
- I wanted money and hope and
- A dream to carry me forever
- This is all the hope I got left
- Help me to get it together, now
- I can sing or act or dance but I still won't get far
- Unless you help me, please, to be a big star
With the help of her childhood mentor Leslie Howe, Morissette released "Fate Stay With Me" when she was 11 years old. A year later, Morissette auditioned for a role on the Canadian children's television show You Can't Do That on Television, shot in Ottawa, her hometown. Morissette became a recurring cast member, but left after one season.
With the support of her parents and a relentless desire to succeed, Morissette traveled with Howe to New York City to meet with record executives, an experience that she would later write about in songs such as "UR" (from the album Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie):
- Take a trip to New York with your guardian
- And your fake identification
- When they said, "Is there something, anything
- You'd like to know, young lady?"
- You said, "Yes, I'd like to know what kind of people
- I'll be dealing with".
Alanis and Now Is The Time
In 1990, Alanis Morissette signed with MCA Records and released her debut full-length album, Alanis, in 1991. At the time, Morissette was credited simply as "Alanis" to avoid possible confusion with fellow Canadian singer Alannah Myles. The album went double platinum, and its first single, "Too Hot", reached the Top 10 on the Canadian charts. The subsequent singles "Feel Your Love", "Walkaway" and "Plastic" were also modest hits.
In 1992, Morissette was nominated for three Juno Awards: Single of the Year, Best Dance Record, and Most Promising Female Vocalist (which she won). In the same year, she released Now Is The Time, her follow-up to Alanis. The album attempted to move Morissette away from her debut album's dance-pop sound. However, Now Is The Time sold less than half the number of copies of her debut album, and Morissette lost her recording contract with MCA Records.
Moving to Los Angeles
In 1993, Alanis Morissette moved from her hometown of Ottawa to Toronto. Living alone for the first time in her life, Morissette met with a bevy of songwriters, but the results frustrated her. A move to Nashville a few months later also proved unfruitful.
Morissette began making trips to Los Angeles and working with as many musicians as possible, in the hopes of meeting a collaborator. During this time, Morissette met with producer and songwriter Glen Ballard.
According to Ballard, the connection was "instant", and within 30 minutes of meeting each other, they had begun experimenting with different sounds in Ballard's home studio. Despite Morissette's naïveté, Ballard knew he was dealing with a woman wise beyond her years.
The turning point in their sessions was the song "Perfect", which was written and recorded in 20 minutes. Morissette improvised the lyrics on the spot to Ballard's delicate guitar strums. The version of the song that appeared on Jagged Little Pill was the only take the two had ever recorded. With "Perfect", the floodgate was opened, and soon Morissette's thoughts and emotions began pouring onto paper at a frenzied pace.
In Los Angeles, Morissette lived in a small, one-room apartment. On the way home from the supermarket one afternoon, she was robbed at gunpoint. A man rummaged through her bag while another held a gun to her head and made her lie face down on the pavement. Morissette later revealed that her only concern was for the book of lyrics she was carrying in her bag. To her relief, the lyrics were untouched. They would eventually make up the bulk of Jagged Little Pill.
She would later write about her move to Los Angeles in the song "Unprodigal Daughter" (from the album Feast on Scraps):
- I hit the ground running, although I know not of what toward
- I hit the town reeling, forgetting all that came before
- I felt primed and ready, once surrounded by the palms
- I felt culture-shocked, but dissuaded I was not
Ballard and Morissette recorded the songs on Jagged Little Pill literally as they were being written. According to Morissette, Ballard was the first collaborator who had encouraged her to express her emotions completely and fully without any any fear of shame or embarrassment. As a result, Morissette unabashedly shared everything, from her buoyant love of life ("You Learn"), to her warm infatuations ("Head Over Feet"), to her darkest, most ruthless revenge fantasies ("You Oughta Know"). Morissette drew inspiration for her lyrics completely from personal experiences. For example, as Morissette began meeting with record labels, she wrote and recorded "Right Through You" about the patriarchy she encountered in the music industry (from the album Jagged Little Pill):
- You took me for a joke
- You took me for a child
- You took a long, hard look at my ass
- And then played golf for awhile
- Your shake is like a fish
- You pat me on the head
- You took me out to wine, dine, sixty-nine me
- But didn't hear a damn word I said
The word "shake" referred to the record executive's handshake, which was not warm and firm, but cold and slippery. All was well, however, by the spring of 1995, when Morissette inked a deal with Maverick Records.
Jagged Little Pill era (1995-1998)
- Swallow it down, what a jagged little pill
- It feels so good, swimming in your stomach
- Wait until the dust settles
- - from the song "You Learn"
In 1995, at age 20, Alanis Morissette released her first international album, Jagged Little Pill (lyrics). Expectations for the album were low, and Morissette's manager and long-time friend Scott Welsh would later admit that he didn't expect the album to sell any more than around 250,000 copies. The album debuted at number 118 on the Billboard 200 chart.
- 'Cause the love that you gave that we made
- Wasn't able to make it enough for you
- To be open wide, no
- And every time you speak her name
- Does she know how you told me you'd hold me
- Until you died, 'til you died
- But you're still alive
"You Oughta Know" instantly garnered attention for its use of the word "fuck", one of the first times the word was used by a playlisted female artist. (The caustic lyrics were supposedly inspired by a bad relationship with Full House star, Dave Coulier.) The video went into heavy rotation on MTV and radio. Listeners were shocked, unnerved and delighted by the song, which emerged during a time when testosterone and male rage (in the form of grunge) dominated the airwaves. As one fan put it: "Finally, someone who's speaking for me".
While "You Oughta Know" was a hit, it was the seemingly endless series of singles following it that sent Jagged Little Pill on its meteoric rise to the top. Second single "Hand In My Pocket" showed a calmer, mellower Morissette reflecting on her life, while third single "All I Really Want" made a casual reference to the Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations:
- Do I wear you out?
- You must wonder why I'm relentless and all strung-out
- I'm consumed by the chill of solitary
- I'm like Estella
- I like to reel it in and then spit it out
- I'm frustrated by your apathy
Jagged Little Pill's fourth single, "Ironic", went on to become Morissette's biggest hit. She received heavy criticism for the lyrics, however, which asked the listener after every verse, "Isn't it ironic?", even though the verses described situations that some argued were not ironic:
- A traffic jam when you're already late
- A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
- It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
- It's meeting the man of my dreams
- And then meeting his beautiful wife
- And isn't it ironic, don't you think?
Jagged Little Pill was a phenomenal success. It went on to sell 16 million copies in the United States alone, over 30 million copies worldwide, and its singles have become some of the most recognizable songs of the decade. A backlash, however, was quickly brewing.
Morissette was dismissed by some as a record industry puppet. She was attacked for collaborating with producer and supposed image-maker Glen Ballard, though Morissette was responsible for all of Pill's lyrics and much of the album's music, and such a collaboration was not uncommon for many solo artists at the time.
Others called her sudden image change "calculated", "manipulative" and "greedy", while fans countered that such criticisms failed to acknowledge the possibility that Morissette may have grown artistically since she was a 17-year-old.
Despite this backlash, the album was nominated for six Grammy Awards. At the 1996 ceremony, Morissette performed a moving rendition of "You Oughta Know", one that all but drained the anger from the song, leaving only an air of sorrow and remorse. That night, Morissette won awards for Album of the Year, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album.
Later that year, Morissette embarked on a one-and-a-half year world tour in support of Jagged Little Pill, beginning in small clubs and ending in large venues. The DVD Jagged Little Pill, Live chronicled the bulk of this tour.
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie era (1998-2002)
- Supposed former infatuation junkie
- I sink three-pointers and you wax poetically
- - from the song "So Pure"
In 1998, Alanis Morissette recorded "Uninvited", a song from the soundtrack to the motion picture City of Angels. The track was never officially released as a single, but nevertheless received widespread radio airplay.
Later that year, she released Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (lyrics), an experimental album with a wordy title and lyrics to match. Morissette once again collaborated with Glen Ballard, but this time she helped produce the album as well.
Fans and critics alike were shocked. Morissette didn't release Jagged Little Pill, Pt. 2, which would have been the commercially savvy thing to do. Obviously, Morissette was no longer pursuing commercial success. Most of the songs on the disc challenged "traditional" song formulas, including "The Couch":
- So here we both are battling similar demons (not coincidentally)
- You see in getting beyond knowing it solely intellectually
- You're not relinquishing your majestry
- You are wise, you are warm, you are courageous, you are big
- And I love you more now than I ever have in my whole life
and "I Was Hoping", which recounts several experiences that shaped Morissette's life, including an encounter in a restaurant with a chauvinistic waiter:
- We left the restaurant where the headwaiter in his 60s said,
- "Goodbye sir, thank you for your business, sir
- You're successful and established, sir
- And we like the frequency with which you dine here, sir
- And your money", and when I walked by they said,
- "Thank you, too, dear". I was all pigtails and cords
- And there was a day when I would've said something like,
- "Hey, dude, I could buy and sell this place, so kiss it"
- I too once thought I was owed something
Upon release, the album started flying off the shelves. Privately, the label hoped for a million copies out of the gate. It sold about half of that. Nevertheless, the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, breaking the record for the most albums sold in a single week by a female artist, with sales at 469,000 copies. As a follow-up to Jagged Little Pill, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie had very little staying power. Its wordy, personal lyrics turned many fans off, and after only 38 weeks, it left the Billboard 200, selling "only" 2.5 million, a huge drop from Jagged. In 1999, the song "Uninvited" won two Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. The first single, "Thank U", was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. That same year, Morissette released the live acoustic album MTV Unplugged.
Many critics wrote off the album as a flop; however, repeating the incredible success of Jagged Little Pill was an almost impossible task that Morissette never expected nor set out to do. Many fans now consider Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie to be Morissette's strongest work to date.
In 1999, Alanis Morissette expanded her résumé by delving into acting. She appeared as God in the motion picture Dogma, directed by Kevin Smith. Smith, who claimed to be a big fan of Morissette, asked her to be in the film several times. She had to turn down the female lead, and by the time her schedule allowed her to participate in the film, only the role of God, which involves virtually no speech and appears at the very end of the film, was left.
Under Rug Swept era (2002-2004)
- What part of history's reinvented and under rug swept?
- What part of your memory's selective and tends to forget?
- What with this distance it seems so obvious?
- - from the song "Hands Clean"
In 2002, after a four-year absence, Alanis Morissette released her third international studio album Under Rug Swept, with the notable absence of Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie collaborator Glen Ballard. For the first time, Morissette took on the role of sole writer and producer.
The album spawned the hit single "Hands Clean". The song's multi-layered lyrics told the story of a young Morissette's affair with an older man from two points of view:
- You're essentially an employee, and I like you having to depend on me
- You're a kind of protégé, and one day you'll say you learned all you know from me
- I know you depend on me like a young thing would to a guardian
- I know you sexualize me like a young thing would and I think I like it
The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 215,000 in the first week, and sold close to a million copies in the United States alone, even though only one song from the album received any substantial radio airplay. Despite eleven very well-received songs, Maverick Records only released two of them as singles, a move criticized by many fans.
In December 2002, Morissette released a dual CD/DVD combination package, Feast on Scraps, which included live concert footage and eight previously unreleased songs from the Under Rug Swept recording sessions. The album was nominated for a Juno for Music DVD of the Year.
In September 2003, Morissette made headlines for supposedly exclaiming, "Thank you, Brazil!" after a show in Lima, Peru. Morissette and her concert attenders later indicated that she had in fact said, "Thank you, bless you", but by then the damage to her reputation had already been done.
So-Called Chaos era (2004-present)
- I want to be naked, running through the streets
- I want to invite this so-called chaos that you think I dare not be
- - from the song "So-Called Chaos"
In response to the Super Bowl halftime controversy that occurred earlier in 2004, and the stricter Federal Communications Commission regulations that followed, Morissette changed the first line of her song, "Everything", from "I can be an asshole of the grandest kind" to "I can be a nightmare of the grandest kind" for radio.
In April 2004, Alanis Morissette hosted the Juno Awards of 2004, which was held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Sporting a short, new hairdo, Morissette looked like a drastically different person from the angry, long-haired woman who once wrote and sang "You Oughta Know".
At the event, Morissette satirized the public outrage caused by Janet Jackson's breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl. Stepping out of a nightgown and wearing a semi-nude bodysuit, Morissette said, "We live in a land Canada where we still think the human body is beautiful and we're not afraid of the female breast."
The joke was, however, that Morissette was still forced to "remove" her pasted-on nipples and pubic hair because they were not allowed to be shown on public television.
Morissette's music video for the single "8 Easy Steps" featured various video clips spanning her career in music, film and television. Beginning in present day and passing through former videos, movie and T.V. clips and eventually childhood footage, the clips were digitally edited to make it appear that Morissette was singing the song at all of those times.
In May 2004, Morissette released So-Called Chaos. The album debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 chart to generally favorable critical reviews. On May 18, 2004, the cable channel Oxygen taped an unprecedented eight hours of live footage, showing Morissette in New York City promoting the release of her new album.
In July 2004, Morissette appeared in the motion picture De-lovely, a tribute to composer Cole Porter. She performed the song "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love", and had a brief acting role as an anonymous stage performer.
- Alanis, 1991 (released only in Canada)
- Now is the Time, 1992 (released only in Canada)
- Jagged Little Pill, 1995
- Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 1998
- Under Rug Swept, 2002
- So-Called Chaos, 2004
- MTV Unplugged, 1998 (twelve live, acoustic performances)
- Feast on Scraps, 2002 (eight unreleased tracks and acoustic performance of "Hands Clean")
- "All I Really Want", (Jagged Little Pill)
- "You Oughta Know", (Jagged Little Pill)
- "Hand in My Pocket", (Jagged Little Pill)
- "You Learn", (Jagged Little Pill)
- "Head Over Feet", (Jagged Little Pill)
- "Ironic", (Jagged Little Pill)
- "Uninvited", (City of Angels soundtrack)
- "That I Would Be Good", (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie)
- "Thank U", (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie)
- "Unsent", (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie)
- "So Pure", (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie)
- "Still", (Dogma soundtrack)
- "21 Things I Want In A Lover", (Under Rug Swept)
- "Hands Clean", (Under Rug Swept)
- "Precious Illusions", (Under Rug Swept)
- "Eight Easy Steps", (So-Called Chaos)
- "Everything", (So-Called Chaos)
Stage and film
- Dogma, God (1999)
- The Vagina Monologues (1999)
- Sex and the City, Dawn (1999)
- Curb Your Enthusiasm, herself (2000)
- The Exonerated, Sunny Jacobs (2003)
- De-Lovely, unnamed singer (2004)
- American Dreams, unnamed singer (2004)
- Jagged Little Pill, Live, 1997
- Live In The Navajo Nation, 1999
- Feast on Scraps, 2002
- Official website
- Message board
- Alanis Morissette Discography
- Lyrics database
- Alanis Morissette lyrics
- Fan message board
- Italian message board
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