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

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

Singer Alanis Morissette, shown in this undated file photo, received six Grammy nominations, tying with Mariah Carey for the most nominations for any artist January 4, including best new artist, best female rock vocal performance and best rock album. The Grammys will be presented February 28 from Los Angeles.

(Ho New / Reuters)

Alanis Morissette in Paris, France on December 10, 1998.

(Photo by Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The cast and director of the new film " Dogma" pose together at the film's premiere November 9 in Hollywood. Pictured (L-R) are Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, director Kevin Smith, Salma Hayek and Alanis Morissette. 

(Fred Prouser / Reuters)

Singer ALANIS MORISSETTE played a special concert at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles August 17, 2000, capping a tour of such locales as Lebanon and Bosnia, a tour with strong social issues and human rights agenda.

(Photo by Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Alanis Morissette during Alice 97.3 FM Now and Zen Fest to benefit the American Red Cross disaster relief funds. at the Sharon Meadow at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Alanis Morissette during Oxygen Presents 'Alanis Morissette Custom Concert' at Sony Studios at Sony Studios in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Alanis Morissette performs at 'We The Planet.' during Circle of Life Presents 'We The Planet' Concert in Golden Gate Park at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, United States.

(Photo by J. Shearer/WireImage)

Canadian singer Alanis Morissette performs on NBC's "Today" show in New York May 23, 2008.

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Singer Alanis Morissette arrives at the 2011 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Alanis Morissette Sitting in Hotel Room

(Rune Hellestad/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Alanis Morissette at the 12th Annual MTV Video Music Awards

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Alanis Morissette and Alicia Silverstone during Alanis Morissette in 1995 Concert at John Hanson Ford Theater in Hollywood, California, United States.

(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Musician Alanis Morissette, left, and talk show host Rosie O'Donnell stand backstage at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards February 24, 1999 in Los Angeles, CA.

(Photo by Ron Wolfson/Getty Images)

Danny Glover and Alanis Morissette during The Tolerance through the Arts Awards Ceremony at the United Nations in New York City at United Nations in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Ryan Seacrest & Alanis Morissette at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California

(Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Meryl Streep and Alanis Morissette during Equality Now Celebrates it's 10th Anniversary at The Gramercy Theater in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage)

Alanis Morissette played a special free concert at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, the same day her 'Under Rug Swept' album was released.

(Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

Kevin Bacon and Alanis Morissette during Oxygen Presents 'Alanis Morissette Custom Concert' at Sony Studios at Sony Studios in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Alanis Morissette and guest during 10th Annual Rock the Vote Patrick Lippert Awards at Roseland Ballroom in New York City, NY, United States.

(Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Alanis Morissette, Ryan Reynolds and Pink attend The 2003 MTV Movie Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on May 31, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Alanis Morissette and her band perform as part of Alice 97.3's, Alice in Winterland concert for kids, at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium on December 7, 2005 in San Francisco California.

(Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Canadian singer Alanis Morissette arrives at the American Express Jam Sessions at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, California February 11, 2005. 

(STR New / Reuters)

Singer Alanis Morissette, actor Jonah Hill, and actor Chris Kattan talking at the Los Angeles premiere after party of 'Superbad' at the Roosevelt Hotel on August 13, 2007 in Hollywood, California.

(Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)

Singer Alanis Morissette performs the Canadien and American National Anthems before the start of Game Four of the 2007 Stanley Cup finals between the Anaheim Ducks and the Ottawa Senators on June 4, 2007 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Canada.

(Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Alanis Morissette performs at Live Arts Group's 2nd Annual Benefit Concert on December 10, 2009 in West Hollywood, California.

(Photo by Tiffany Rose/Getty Images)

Alanis Morissette arrives to the 20th Anniversary - 2009 EMA Awards held on the backlot at Paramount Studios on October 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

Singer Alanis Morissette (R) is greeted by the Philly Phanatic after singing the National Anthem prior to Game 5 of the 2009 Major League Baseball World Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies in Philadelphia November 2, 2009.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Musicians Benji Madden, Alanis Morissette and Joel Madden backstage during the Rock A Little, Feed Alot benefit concert held at Club Nokia on September 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

Contestant Josh Krajcik (L) and singer Alanis Morissette perform onstage at FOX's 'The X Factor' Top 3 Live Performance Show on December 21, 2011 in Hollywood, California. THE X FACTOR Finale airs Wed., Dec. 21 and Thurs., Dec. 22 on FOX.

(Photo by Ray Mickshaw/FOX via Getty Images)

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Pictured: (l-r) Sean Carringan as Craig, Maya Rudolph as Ava, Alanis Morissette as Amanda  

(Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

Alanis Morissette is seen on November 03, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Actor Bryan Greenberg (L) and singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette attend Montblanc and Urban Arts Partnership�s 24 Hour Plays in Los Angeles at The Shore Hotel on June 20, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.

(Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Montblanc)

Alanis Morissette performs at the Marianne Williamson campaign rally at Saban Theatre on May 19, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.

(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)

Singer Alanis Morissette and husband Mario Treadway arrive at the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)

Canadian-American singer Alanis Morissette, who is being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, poses with Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as she arrives at the 2015 Juno Awards in Hamilton, Ontario, March 15, 2015.

(REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

Singer Alanis Morissette is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during the 2015 Juno Awards in Hamilton, Ontario, March 15, 2015.

(REUTERS/Mark Blinch)


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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