I had never listened to Jagged Little Pill in its entirety until last Friday, and my thoughts about it already felt like a Reductress headline "Man Discovers Alanis Morissette For the First Time 25 Years Later." I hope I will get some leeway as a black man for being late to the party, because the 1990s white feminist movements that Jagged Little Pill helped spur and encapsulate were also late to the party about considering women of color. If one pores through the hundreds of artists who participated in the legendary and seminal Lilith Fair tour, it becomes immediately obvious that only a handful were women of color, although the representation improved throughout its initial three-year run from 1997 to 1999.
In fact, "I'm like Estella," the lyric from the opening track “All I Really Want,” is the first skeleton key Alanis Morissette provides the listener in her seminal Jagged Little Pill, whose 25th anniversary Morissette will celebrate with a two-month, 31-city tour, including Dallas on June 14. Estella, Pip's unrequited love interest in Great Expectations, is a society woman who, although seemingly cold and heartless, exercises a great deal of agency and control. Much of Morissette's Jagged Little Pill is an exploration of a young, white woman slamming against the patriarchy from a position of privilege. Often this exploration feels as fierce, fresh and transcendent today as it did when the album debuted. But in other moments it is a, perhaps, even concerning reminder of the failures of having such a narrow point of view.
“Why are you petrified of silence/ Here can you handle this?” followed by a two-second pause was the first moment of that track that felt radical. In our information bombardment, the screen-always-on, social media age, the idea of unplugging is now often advised and indeed petrifying. Culturally speaking, that silence is the chasm that something like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop will never be able to cross; it is the distance between art and marketing. And yet, the fact that I even thought about Goop is telling as well. I believe, “And all I really want is some justice” is a lyric that Morissette means, but, 25 years later, I think about the 57% of white women who voted to elect Donald Trump president and I wonder if they loved Jagged Little Pill too.
“You Oughta Know” makes me understand Taylor Swift’s entire career. I also don’t know how I managed to make it through three decades on earth without hearing the lyrics “Does she know how you told me/ You'd hold me until you died/'Til you died, but you're still alive.” I have heard that there are critiques of Morissette’s lyrics but Jesus, this makes me want to grab a flame-thrower and torch the institution of romantic love, curl up and cry, and then call every ex I have ever had and apologize. I mean, Morissette is relentless: “And every time I scratch my nails/ Down someone else's back, I hope you feel it/ Well, can you feel it?” will make one appreciate just getting told "fuck you." This is rage, storytelling and accountability that has achieved buoyancy.
“Perfect” is familiar to anyone who was in a high expectation pressure cooker growing up; however, with the subsequent "participation trophy" culture failing to make an ideal replacement, it makes one wonder what makes a happy medium.
“Hand in My Pocket” is a vibe — I don’t know about the dichotomies of the lyrics, but this feels like a mumble rap song to me. I want to hear a remix of “Hand in My Pocket” with Lil Uzi Vert, Future, Migos and Frank Ocean.
“Right Through You” is a great feminist banger. What Morissette does really well is express the tone of soft injustice, the rage of the microaggressions. The second half of this song ("you scan the credits for your name/and wonder why it's not there") reminds me of Camp Cope’s 2017 ”The Opener” ("now look at how far we’ve come not listening to you").
“My brothers they never went blind for what they did” from “Forgiven” is possibly the best line about the double standards around masturbation and the denial of female self-pleasure and empowerment that I have ever heard. I went to an all-boys Catholic school from fifth grade through high school graduation, so this song speaks to me. The next song “You Learn” is where the title of the album comes from, but is my least favorite song thus far. I imagine they play this song often at Starbucks.
“Head Over Feet” makes me tear up a bit. Morisette sounds so happy and she deserves it. I deserve it. We all deserve it. Also, can we talk about the difference between friends with benefits and best friends with benefits? I am already changing my 2020 resolutions.
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At first I thought “Mary Jane” was the ballad version of “You Learn,” but Morissette sings the hell out this song, to the point that it doesn’t matter. Next comes the one song that everyone knows: “Ironic.” I feel that perhaps it’s unfair that we judge Morisette on this song. I get it, not everything listed in the lyrics is an example of irony. More damning, “A black fly in your chardonnay” being equivalent to, “A death row pardon two minutes too late” is a really convenient way to sum up the failings of white feminism.
“Not the Doctor” is the Morissette I admire — a good strong cultural critique of male expectations of women in relationships. I think these messages have been so reinforced that this song loses a little bit of its oomph for me, but I can imagine that it would have been a life-changing rallying cry for many when it dropped originally. Perhaps the shift from an artist like Morissette to an artist like Lizzo is that Morissette is still struggling directly with gendered relationship dynamics and Lizzo is more focused on self-empowerment regardless of whom you love.
I think “Wake Up” isn’t even good enough for Starbucks. I don’t quite understand why an 8-minute version “You Oughta Know” happens again for the last track of the album, but I am here for it. (I am going to pretend that there isn’t a strange a capella thing). Maybe more artists should do this, just take their best song and run it back to end their album.
“I am here to remind you, of the mess you left, when you went away” feels like something that should be played before Greta Thunberg appears onstage at a climate change rally. And perhaps the greatest triumph of Morisette is that as she embarks on her tour in 2020, her songs will be relevant enough to earn her a whole new generation of fans.