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.