25 Years of Living and Learning with Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill

The '90s icon brings an album's worth of lessons and memories on tour in 2020

Alanis Morissette // Photo by Philip Cosores

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In a 1995 MTV News interview, Alanis Morissette was asked what had inspired the title for her new album, Jagged Little Pill.

“So ‘jagged little pill’ is a lyric in [the track] ‘You Learn’, and a lot of the premises I write about on this record have to do with certain parts of my past,” she began. “A lot of times when I’m immersed in something really difficult, I don’t realize that there’s a lesson in there somewhere and that it’s only in retrospect that I’ll realize why I went through it. So the lyric following it is ‘just swallow it down, it feels so good swimming in your stomach’ … so there’s some sort of a payoff, and it may not be right away.”

(Buy: Tickets to Upcoming Alanis Morissette Shows)

In this quote, Morissette reveals the secret ingredients behind what made Jagged Little Pill such a seminal record that people went on to grow up with, grow through, or both. It never once shies away from addressing challenges and hardships and chronicles the experience of meeting them in a gritty-meets-autobiographical way that only she truly could.

On the record, Morissette’s deliciously acid-tongued lyrics are in some ways hallmarked by her age at the time of writing; after all, the cornerstone elements of adulthood that she addresses on the record (bills, betrayal, and becoming skeptical of the the world to name a few) tend to hit with a fuller force when experienced for the first time. However, with age and time, these elements evolve from newly introduced characters in the story of one’s life to recurring supporting roles. They haven’t gone away, and they may still bring about the same bouts of chaos and toil, but we grow used to their presence; time has dealt the playbook of how to navigate through them. This is why that, despite Jagged Little Pill’s lyrics being penned by a 21-year-old Morissette, they have an ability to resonate within people ages 31, 41, 51, or, hell, even 101.

This is an element that will make Jagged Little Pill’s upcoming 25th anniversary tour feel particularly special. It creates an opportunity for the generations of listeners whose lives have been touched by the record to come together and experience it performed live the year it reaches such a significant milestone. The tour is scheduled to begin in the United States this June and will also feature Liz Phair and Garbage.

Some audience members may remember seeing Morissette’s 1995 MTV interview at the time of broadcast shortly after Jagged Little Pill was released, whereas others may have only recently fallen in love with the record after seeing the infamous “You Oughta Know” karaoke scene in the film Booksmart earlier this year. What is exceptional is that regardless of a fan’s age, background, or length of relationship with the record, Alanis Morissette has laid an incredibly personal foundation through which, as if somehow by magic, near-universal connection has been formed.

(Buy: Tickets to Upcoming Alanis Morissette Shows)

Liz Phair and Garbage have made this same kind of magic come alive in their own right as well. Phair’s iconic knack for pairing diary-like lyrics with unforgettable guitar hooks made her something of the the cool older sister of ‘90s rock — someone whose stories and wisdom you knew you could turn to for guidance or to feel understood, but were also simultaneously fascinated by. Shirley Manson’s Garbage, accompanied by their ability to brew an amalgamation of musical elements and then set it to beautifully brooding lyrics, have fully constructed an auditory universe of their own design. In doing so, they shared crucial messages: that it’s okay to not like everything, to feel some resentment toward those who have hurt us, and even to be a little dark. In a world that has forever told us to slap a smile on our faces, those messages have gravity.

Yet, one key link exists between them all: Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair, and Garbage are artists that make people feel seen.

While no artist is ever under any obligation to make their work uber-personal, we’re all a little better off because these three artists did. By letting us into their world, they helped us discover and understand our own. Through this, they taught scores of listeners the power of being brave.

After all, society certainly has a funny way of striving to conceal the inherent truth that people are complicated and emotional. Each of these artists played their own distinctive role in flipping that cultural script on its head by proving that this inherent truth is something to be embraced and a place through which common ground can be found. They gave us a comfort and confidence in feeling all we’re conditioned to believe is unwelcome to share. Confronting and accepting those parts of ourselves is an act of bravery, and Morissette, Phair, and Garbage taught us that doing this was a leap we — regardless of age or stage of life — are forever taking together.

Their tour is a time to celebrate those leaps that listeners have taken throughout their relationships with their music, in addition to the music itself. Every member of the audience that attends their tour represents the number of stories that the work of each artist has played a role in. Perhaps “Head over Feet” made someone acknowledge a good thing when they had it, “Fuck and Run” made someone acknowledge when they didn’t, and “Stupid Girl” shook someone out of complacency. Though the stories differ from individual to individual, what remains universal is the sense of community formed through the shared foundation of their music.

Perhaps what this reveals about the draw of ‘90s nostalgia is that a part of it will forever have one foot firmly planted within the present. While several of the sonic tropes are closely tied to the time period, the lyrical themes have continued to prevail. The topics Morissette, Phair, and Garbage have collectively addressed in their work have an eternal lifespan — for there will always be someone out there who feels cheated, someone out there who feels the pressure to be perfect, someone out there who has fallen in love, and someone out there who raises an eyebrow at the ways of the world they live in. Through a cocktail of candidness and universalism, the body of work that these artists began cultivating in the ‘90s will forever continue to represent and support them all.

Life will continue to dole out jagged, little pills to swallow. Some may be sweet and then turn sour, and some may just be bitter to the bone. However, as Morissette said in her MTV interview, doing so is not without payoff. Sure, we may have to hurt, burn, and yearn before we see the payoff materialize, but the importance lies in remembering that it will. The rawness that Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair, and Garbage infused their music with not only provides a catharsis for listeners as they weather the side effects of their jagged, little pills, but reminds that once the point is reached where it starts to “feel so good swimming in your stomach,” growth happens.

This is particularly helpful to keep in mind as we teeter on the precipice of a new decade, a time that offers a curious blend of positivity and precariousness. The Jagged Little Pill tour will offer a moment for the generation of listeners these three artists have impacted to celebrate the growth they’ve experienced from the jagged, little pills they’ve swallowed in decades past and reassure that they’ll be able to wash them down once again for whatever the 2020s bring their way.

Click here to get the best seats to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill Tour.



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