Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill looms large in our collective pop culture consciousness, especially if you’re a woman who happened to be alive in the ‘90s. The album’s singles were cornerstones of the blossoming alt-rock movement, taking the radio by storm and creating videos that took up residence on both MTV and Much Music (RIP) for quite some time. Alanis’s international debut went on to be a smash success, selling over 33 million copies worldwide and garnering heaps of awards. The songs on Jagged Little Pill still endure for their raw emotionality and their pop culture significance, be it the alleged connection between “You Oughta Know” and Full House or the debate about whether anything in “Ironic” can actually be considered ironic.
With all of this, it’s easy to forget that Alanis had two prior albums (her successful debut Alanis and her not-so-successful sophomore effort Now is the Time), though both were only Canadian releases. It’s even harder to believe that both of these albums were dance pop rather than the alt-rock we now associate with her. After these albums and her first contract were up, Alanis signed with Maverick and met writer/producer Glen Ballard, who helped usher in the next era of her career. The duo began writing for Jagged Little Pill within an hour of meeting one another. “She was so intelligent and ready to take a chance on doing something that might have no commercial application. Although there was some question about what she wanted to do musically, she knew what she didn’t want to do, which was anything that wasn’t authentic and from her heart,” Ballard explained to Rolling Stone. The two wrote most of Jagged Little Pill together, marrying Alanis’s pure angst with Ballard’s pop sensibilities to craft what would go on to be an iconic alt-rock record, one that would inspire artists for years to come.
You can’t talk about Jagged Little Pill without talking about Alanis’s most iconic song. “You Oughta Know,” the album’s lead single and the world’s introduction to the new Alanis, completely shirked her bubblegum pop past for an angrier, more honest image. “You Oughta Know” is a breakup song in which the verses are a slow, spiteful build towards the raw anger that rings out on each chorus. The guitar and bass lines were handled by Dave Navarro and Flea, who were given the vocals and free reign to create their lines. With this rock instrumentation and a pop sense driving the angry but genuine lyrics, “You Oughta Know” has become one of the most iconic breakup songs in music. It doesn’t hurt that the subject of the song has been up for debate for over twenty years; most agree that it’s about Full House’s Dave Coulier, but Alanis herself has neither confirmed nor denied the idea over the years.
Besides its status as one of the most iconic break-up–and karaoke–songs, “You Oughta Know” is also largely responsible for Jagged Little Pill’s success. Prior to the release of the song, Alanis and Glen Ballard were only aiming to make enough money for Alanis to continue recording with Jagged Little Pill. However, L.A.’s KROQ-FM station picked up this lead single, earning attention for its explicit, biting lyrics and its catchy alt-rock style. Alanis immediately had a much larger audience than she had previously, one who was hungry for more music from her.
With each single release, Alanis’s success climbed. Singles “Hand in My Pocket,” “Ironic,” “You Learn,” “Head Over Feet,” and “All I Really Want” all charted high, earning critical acclaim as well as commercial success. It’s “Ironic” that was the most commercially successful rather than the iconic “You Oughta Know,” something made even more interesting when considering the fact that it was also her most criticized for its “mishandling” of the word ironic.
While most of the songs are an alt-rock cocktail of grunge, pop, and Alanis’s runaway vocals, Jagged Little Pill is a rollercoaster of emotions and sound. There’s angst to be found for everyone; rage for your ex on “You Oughta Know,” anger at the male-dominated music industry for taking advantage of female artists in “Right Through You,” the quiet devastation of disappointing your parents on “Perfect,” and relaxed hope on the rock-bouncy “Hand in My Pocket.” There’s even a love song in the form of “Head Over Feet,” which explores a relationship based on friendship and respect. Jagged Little Pill made it clear that Alanis wasn’t afraid to air her grievances with–and hopes for–the world in an honest, raw way, one that was still fairly groundbreaking at the time.Jagged Little Pill was both a commercial and critical success, topping the charts of thirteen different countries, selling over 33 million copies worldwide, and earning nine Grammy nominations and five wins. Its Album of the Year win was record-breaking at the time; Alanis was the youngest person to win the award until Taylor Swift took home the title for Fearless in 2008. The album still continually lands spots on lists like Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and “Women in Rock – 50 Essential Albums,” with good reason. Songs like “You Oughta Know” and “Right Through You” were an introduction to female rage for a generation of listeners, whether they happened to be age appropriate for the contents of the song or not. Jagged Little Pill has inspired plenty of musicians over the years and has been credited with paving the way for artists like Meredith Brooks, Avril Lavigne, and Michelle Branch. The legacy of Jagged Little Pill continues to this day with a new venture: a jukebox musical of the same name, written by Juno and Tully writer Diablo Cody, is scheduled to hit Broadway this fall.