How 'Jagged Little Pill' changed everything & what Alanis Morissette thinks about it now

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill' Turns 20

You first see her adorably goofing around on an awkward children's TV show, harmless and saccharine. Her albums are stuffed full of candy cotton, melt-in-your-mouth fluff, pop confection expertly crafted by the genre's ageless machine of writers, producers and managers.

She is dying to escape, fighting to stay alive, drowning because no one wants to see anything but the kid she outgrew long before anyone thought her audience could handle it.

Lather, rinse, repeat: from Britney to Miley, this is the modern fable of a pop princess.

And then it explodes, sometimes brutally (Britney barefoot at the gas station), sometimes beautifully (Demi rising out of rehab like a skyscraper) -- but more often than not some messy combination of the two.

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There were few role models for a successful "not a girl, not yet a woman" transition during the late-'80s and early-'90s, and only one clear superstar: Janet Jackson broke free of her infamous family, first as a teenager with the "if you're nasty," defiant Control and then a softer, sultry Herb Ritts-ified makeover with janet.

Then Alanis Morissette -- a polite young Canadian best known for cutesy skits on You Can't Do That on Television and a couple of bubblegum records -- decided she had had just about enough of what everyone expected her to do.

She was sick of guys in the industry who were too busy looking at her body to listen to her ideas. She was totally over cheating ex-boyfriends who had found bland replacements. She wished nothing but the best for them both.

There was just one very important question to ask as she ditched her old image: "Is she perverted like me?" (Also a couple follow-ups: "Would she go down on you in a theater?" and "Are you thinking of me when you f**k her?")

Alanis Morissette through the years
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How 'Jagged Little Pill' changed everything & what Alanis Morissette thinks about it now
Alanis Morissette, right, and Mario Treadway arrive at the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year event at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Alanis Morissette performs on stage during the 6th Annual ELLE Women In Music Celebration Presented By eBay at Boulevard3 on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HILTON - Alanis Morissette performs at the reception for the 8th Annual Hilton HHonors Charitable Golf Series Finale Event on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 in Los Angeles. The three-day event, held at the famed Riviera Country Club raised money for City of Hope, the leading research, treatment and education center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. (Photo by Casey Rodgers/Invision for Hilton/AP Images)
Alanis Morissette arrives at the 4th Annual Production Of The 24 Hour Plays After-Party held at the The Shore Hotel on Friday, June 20, 2014, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Singer Alanis Morissette attends Kiehl's Earth Day Celebration at Kiehl's on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision for Kiehl's/AP Images)
Alanis Morissette sings the national anthem before Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies Monday, Nov. 2, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Alanis Morissette arrives at the 39th Annual American Music Awards on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Singer Alanis Morissette poses at a rehearsal studio in Burbank, Calif., Wednesday, May 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Canadian-born singer Alanis Morissette performs in New York's Rockefeller Plaza during her appearance on the NBC "Today" television show, Friday May 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Musician Alanis Morissette performs as part of Nissan Live Sets on Yahoo! Music in Los Angeles on Monday, April 24, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark Mainz)
Singer Alanis Morissette arrives for the 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on Monday, Jan. 16, 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Canadian singer Alanis Morissette sings during her first concert of her Germany tour in Hamburg's Congress Center, northern Germany, on Wednesday, April 13, 2005. (AP Photo/Christof Stache)
Singer Alanis Morissette from Canada performs at the MTV India Immies 2004 Awards, in Bombay, India, late Friday, Dec.10, 2004. Morissette is a seven-time Grammy award winner. MTV Immies is the biggest India Music awards. (AP Photo/Rajesh Nirgude)
Singer Alanis Morissette arrives for the New York premiere of "De-Lovely" Monday, June 21, 2004. "De-Lovely" is an orginal musical portrait of American composer Cole Porter, filled with his songs. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)
Photo by: Lee Roth STAR MAX, Inc. - copyright 2003 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Telephone/Fax (212) 995-1196 11/05/03 Alanis Morissette at the Environmental Media Association's 13th Annual Environmental Media Awards. (Los Angeles, CA) (Star Max via AP Images)
Photo by: Stephen Trupp STAR MAX, Inc. - copyright 2003 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Telephone/Fax: (212) 995-1196 5/10/03 Ryan Reynolds and Alanis Morissette at the premiere of "The In-Laws". (NYC) (Star Max via AP Images)
Photo by: Peter Kramer STAR MAX, Inc. - copyright 2002 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Telephone/Fax: (212) 995-1196 10/28/02 Alanis Morissette at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. (NYC) (Star Max via AP Images)
Canadian pop star Alanis Morissette smiles as she poses prior to a news conference to present her new album "Under rug swept," in downtown Milan, Italy, Monday, Feb. 4, 2002. (AP Photo/Fabio Polimeni)
Canadian singer Alanis Morissette performs during the Echo 2002 music award ceremony in Berlin on Thursday night March 7, 2002. Morissette was a special guest at the ceremony. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Canada's rock star Alanis Morissette performs during the May Labour Day concert on the Tor Vergata University grounds in the outskirts of Rome, Monday May 1, 2000. Thousands of faithful attended earlier in the morning Pope John Paul II celebrating the Jubilee of the workers on the same stage. Some 400,000 people attended the concert. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Canadian singer Alanis Morissette smiles in front of her poster prior to a news conference at Beaufort Hotel in Singapore Friday, Oct. 29, 1999. The singer, once labelled an "angry young woman," is here as part of her Asian tour, said that while she feels more at peace now, she still gets angry. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Canadian rock singer Alanis Morissette performs at the Ariston Theater in Sanremo, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 27, 1999 as guest star of the Italian song contest "Festival of San Remo." (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Alanis Morisette performs in London's Hyde Park, Saturday June 29 1996 at the rock concert in aid of the Prince's Trust. (AP Photo/Louisa Buller)
Alanis Morissette performs "Uninvited," for which she won a Grammy as the best female rock vocal performance, during the 41st Annual Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles Wednesday, Feb. 24, 1999. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Alanis Morissette sings during the first night of her world Junkie Tour at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Saturday, Jan. 30, 1999. (AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber)
Singer Alanis Morissette performs in concert at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 12, 1998. It was Morissette's first concert for her new album. (AP Photo/Randi Lynn Beach)
Alanis Morissette perform's at the charity rock concert in London's Hyde Park, Saturday June 29 1996 in aid of the Prince's Trust. The concert attracted 150,00 people to the park and is expected to raise 500,000 pounds (750,000 dlrs) for charities sponsored by Britain's Prince Charles. (AP Photo/Lousia Buller)
Alanis Morissette accepts the award for Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1996. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Singer Alanis Morissette arrives at New York's Radio City Music Hall, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1996, for the 13th Annual MTV Video Music Awards. Morissette won the award for Best Female Video. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Lippman)
Alanis Morissette, with her Grammy award on the floor next to her, accepts the award for Best Rock Female at the 38th annual Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1996. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)
Alanis Morissette thanks her producers after winning the "Album of the Year" at the 38th annual Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1996. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)
Alanis Morissette, who chose not to hold her Grammy awards, poses for photographers backstage after winning Best Rock Album, Jagged Little Pill, and Best Rock Song, You Oughta Know, at the 38th annual Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1996. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) <%% 0 PICTURE_OK HEADER_OK 0 2 %%>
Singer Alanis Morissette rehearses with her band for the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1995. The 12th annual bash airs Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern from Radio City Music Hall. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Jagged Little Pill, the album that changed everything for me and almost every other thirtysomething woman I know, came out 20 years ago -- the same week I graduated from high school, suddenly armed with a soundtrack-slash-survival guide to being a girl in the world.

"You Oughta Know," Jagged's first official, most shocking single, had been getting early radio play even in my hometown of Reno, Nev., a mid-sized market of missing-to-mediocre cultural taste.

"I just remember not wanting to stop until I wrote a record that really represented where I was at and all my humanity,"Morissette told ETonline. "I really did think I was the only human being on the planet going through whatever it was that I was going through at the time. So when people connected with it in the way they did, I felt less alone."

I definitely felt less alone, driving down the street in my beat-up 1981 Toyota Celica, smoking clove cigarettes and screaming along. I hadn't known before Alanis that women on the radio could be so angry. I didn't realize that women on the radio could even get bleeped.

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Admittedly, I wasn't particularly cool: I listened to what MTV and the radio played me, which at that time was a lot of white boy grunge. Surly Seattle bands got close to what I was looking for, as a misfit adolescent -- but they were neverquite the right fit. I wouldn't discover riot grrrl records until I went away to college, and I had no idea that beneath Reno's seedy casino fronts was a genuine punk scene until I told someone where I grew up and they freaked out about the band 7 Seconds. That was all great news, eventually. But it didn't help me at 13, or 15, or 18.

"There was a time during Jagged Little Pill's pre-release when radio stations would say, 'We're already playing a female,'" Morissette said. That's despite the fact she was on Madonna's label -- which for all Madonna obviously knew about making hits, few took seriously, either, at least until Jagged sold almost 19 million albums in a year. There were 15 weeks during which it moved at least 500,000 units. (Last year, only four albums cracked a million in total sales.) It was the number one album, numbers-wise, of the entire 1990s.

"It was a wave," Morissette said modestly, "and I was on the crest."

I love Alanis for making that album -- but she's dead wrong about that part. She was the sound of the dam breaking.

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