The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
“She didn’t know what she wanted but she knew what she didn’t want to be.”
– Record producer Glen Ballard on Alanis Morissette
I remember being around seven or eight when I was introduced to Alanis Morrisette. I was driving to school with my dad when “You Oughta Know” came on the radio. He turned the volume up, and by the second chorus, we were singing at the top of our lungs: “You, you, you, oughta know.” That day it clicked. I wanted to be like Alanis Morissette when I grew up. She was just. So. Freaking. Cool. As I got older, I had a new understanding of her and her music. On her debut album, Jagged Little Pill (1995), she sang about love, anger, pain, life and female identity, all of which resonated with me and the rest of the world. In fact, it still holds the title of the second biggest-selling debut album by a female artist. However, her rise to fame was not a smooth one. As a young woman in the music industry, she was subjected to sexual harassment by her superiors, blatant sexism by critics and her labels and struggled with her identity. Despite that, she remained authentic to herself and her art, allowing her to become one of the most influential female musicians of our time.
Alanis Morrisette was born in Ottawa, Ontario (she’s Canadian!) in 1974. At 15, she was already writing songs, signing with labels and performing. Her life was like a Hollywood movie, but behind it was something darker. In a recent interview, Alanis opened up about being sexually harassed by her male superiors. She recounts that she was constantly hit on and oversexualized by the people she thought she could trust. She felt alone and vulnerable, blaming herself for giving in to their advances. This is a common issue that many women face in the entertainment industry that we have just begun to acknowledge. These unwarranted sexual advances continued during her time working with MCA Records. In addition to that, her label exclusively prioritized her appearance over her music, which Alanis quickly grew tired of. Executives wanted her to emulate the look of a young, beautiful, naive pop princess, so when she began deviating from that in both her style and genre of music, they were quick to drop her.
Reluctant to give up, 19-year-old Alanis packed her bags and went to LA, where she met songwriter and producer Glen Ballard and produced a demo copy of “Jagged Little Pill”. She was signed by Maverick and quickly gained popularity with her song, “You Oughta Know,” an edgy, loud revenge anthem about heartbreak. One of my favourite lyrics from the song is: “Does she know how you told me / You’d hold me until you died? / Til you died. / But you’re still alive”. These lyrics are so raw and personal, but whoever she wrote that song about deserved it.
Her album was released shortly after. Although it was widely loved by the public, it was heavily criticized by male critics for being “too angry.” She quickly earned the title of “Angry White Woman.” Critics are notorious for diminishing the experiences of women in music simply because they do not fit the mould of hyper-femininity the industry pushes on them. This view that her music was threatening and rage-filled dismissed the rest of the album and the point of her music entirely. Songs like “Perfect” and “You Learn” were not angry; they were poetic and powerful. Yes, some of her lyrics were cut-throat and brutal, but it was that brutal honesty that empowered women. Despite negative criticism about her and her music, her fans were able to peel back the layers of her album and realize that she was singing about more than just resentment and anger. She sings about female life and female identity in a way that can transcend gender… isn’t that “Ironic?”
Something that I love about Alanis is that she is authentic and that reflects in her work. Despite the industry pressure to hyper-sexualize herself, appeal to the masses and stay quiet, she did not. She did things her way, dressed how she wanted, sang about and did what she wanted. She broke the rules of fame, paving the way for other women to become successful in the music industry while also remaining authentic. Today’s female artists, including Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo, cite Alanis and her music as their inspiration. So, when I grow up, I want to be like Alanis Morrisette.
*** below I have included a playlist of songs by Alanis Morrisette scan the Spotify code and it will take you there***