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Alanis Nadine Morissette (born June 1, 1974) is a Canadian singer/songwriter.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 The Early Years
3 Alanis and Now Is The Time
4 Moving to Los Angeles
5 Jagged Little Pill Era
6 Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie Era
7 Under Rug Swept Era
8 So-Called Chaos Era
9 Notable Works
10 External Resources


Alanis Morissette's 1995 American debut Jagged Little Pill became one of the most successful albums of all time. The raw intensity of the album's first single "You Oughta Know" led Morissette to be labeled the "first lady of rage", though the album itself contained only two songs that hinted at any sort of anger or resentment. Since the extraordinary success of Pill, Morissette's popularity has waned as singers such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have gained attention, though she is still one of the industry's premiere female singer/songwriters. Her latest album Under Rug Swept, on which she received sole writing and producing credits, debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts and went platinum within one month.

The Early Years

Alanis Morissette was born on June 1, 1974, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, to Alan and Georgia Morissette. She has an older brother, Chad, and a twin brother, Wade.

Morissette enjoyed a relatively happy and comfortable childhood as a television star, and later, a Canadian pop "princess". She showed a love for singing and songwriting at an early age. When she was just 9 years old, Morissette went to the home of Olivia Newton-John, one of her early idols, and said over the intercom at the front gates: "Hi, I'm Alanis. I want to meet you one day and I want to be famous, just like you."

In that same year, Morissette wrote her first song, "Fate Stay With Me", at the age of 9:

I wanted money and hope and
A dream to carry me forever
This is all the hope I got left
Help me to get it together, now
I can sing or act or dance but I still won't get far
Unless you help me, please, to be a big star

With the help of her childhood mentor Leslie Howe, Morissette released "Fate Stay With Me" when she was only 11 years old. The pop track received moderate radio airplay, reaching stations as far away as Kansas.

When she was 12, Morissette auditioned for a role on the Canadian children's television show You Can't Do That on Television, which was shot in Ottawa, her hometown. Morissette became a recurring cast member, but left after one season. According to former cast member Chris Nolan: "There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Alanis had what it took to be a star. She used to perform songs for the cast and crew in between tapings. I remembering hearing 'You Oughta Know' for the first time back in 1995, and then falling out of my seat when I realized who the song was by. I couldn't believe the words that were coming out of her mouth. I loved it."

With the support of her parents and a relentless desire to succeed, Morissette traveled with Howe to New York City to meet with record executives, an experience she would later write about in songs such as "UR" (from the album Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie):

Take a trip to New York with your guardian
And your fake identification
When they said, "Is there something, anything
You'd like to know, young lady?"
You said, "Yes, I'd like to know what kind of people
I'll be dealing with".

In New York City, Howe helped Morissette land a spot on Star Search, a popular talent competition in America. Morissette then flew to Los Angeles to appear on the show, but lost after one round.

Alanis and Now Is The Time

In 1990, Alanis Morissette inked her first record deal with a Canadian division of MCA Records. She released her debut full-length album, Alanis, in 1991. At the time, Morissette was credited simply as "Alanis" to avoid possible confusion with fellow Canadian singer Alannah Myles. The album went double platinum, but many saw her as Canada's answer to Tiffany, Paula Abdul, and Debbie Gibson, a classification she would come to hate. The album's first single, "Too Hot", reached the Top 10 on the Canadian charts, and featured these lyrics:

Always too hot, never too cold
You make your best shot, too hot to hold
Never too young, never too old
You gotta go for the gold

Morissette was only 16 years old when Alanis was released. In December 2002, she performed "Too Hot" for the first time in more than ten years during a concert in Toronto, Canada. The song, known as "Too Hot 2002", was widely circulated on the Internet and appears on many Alanis bootleg CDs.

In 1992, Morissette was nominated for three Juno Awards: Single of the Year, Best Dance Record, and Most Promising Female Vocalist (which she won). In the same year, she released a follow-up to Alanis entitled Now Is The Time. The album attempted to move Morissette away from her debut album's dance-pop sound, with little success. Now Is The Time was a massive flop, and Morissette lost her recording contract with MCA. She became a punchline in Canada's industry circles, and no record company in the country was willing to take another chance on her.

Moving to Los Angeles

By 1993, Alanis Morissette was a 19 year old has-been. With nothing to lose, she moved to Los Angeles against the will of her parents, taking with her very little money and belongings. Morissette met with over a hundred different songwriters before one of them introduced her to Glen Ballard. According to Ballard, the connection was "instant", and within 30 minutes of meeting each other, they had begun experimenting with different sounds in Ballard's home studio, recording songs literally as they were being written. Despite Morissette's naïveté, Ballard knew he was dealing with someone wise beyond her years.

Morissette, however, was quickly growing up and gaining new life experience. She was living in a one-room cockroach-infested apartment, sustained by boxes of store-brand macaroni and cheese (her favorite food, she would later claim), when, on the way home from the supermarket, she was robbed at gunpoint. A man rummaged through her bag while another held a gun to her head and made her lie face down on the pavement. Morissette, however, was only concerned about the book of lyrics she was carrying with her in her bag. To her relief, the lyrics were untouched. They would eventually make up the bulk of Jagged Little Pill.

She would later write about her move to Los Angeles in the song "Unprodigal Daughter" (from the album Feast on Scraps):

I hit the ground running, although I know not of what toward
I hit the town reeling, forgetting all that came before
I felt primed and ready, once surrounded by the palms
I felt culture-shocked, but dissuaded I was not

The turning point in their sessions was the song "Perfect", which took less than 30 minutes to write and record. The version that appeared on Jagged Little Pill was the first and only take of "Perfect" that the two ever recorded. Morissette believed that "Perfect" opened a door in her mind, and soon words and thoughts began pouring out of her at a frenzied pace.

Ballard and Morissette recorded songs literally as they were being written. The result was an album that was composed entirely of raw cuts and demo tracks. None of the songs that appeared on the album were intended to be final tracks, but when a copy of Pill reached a Maverick Records executive, Madonna's record label was intent on signing her. Other record labels didn't respond in the same manner, however, and, as Morissette was meeting with record executives, she quickly wrote and recorded one last song about the patriarchy she encountered in the music industry. It was entitled "Right Through You" (from the album ''Jagged Little Pill:

You took me for a joke
You took me for a child
You took a long, hard look at my ass
And then played golf for awhile
Your shake is like a fish
You pat me on the head
You took me out to wine, dine, sixty-nine me
But didn't hear a damn word I said

The word "shake" referred to the record executive's handshake, which was not warm and firm, but cold and slippery. All was well, however, by the spring of 1995, when Morissette inked a deal with Maverick Records.

Jagged Little Pill Era

(1995-1998) - Long, wavy hair, skinny, with little make-up, tomboyish dress and appearance

Swallow it down, what a jagged little pill
It feels so good, swimming in your stomach
Wait until the dust settles

- from the song "You Learn"

In 1995, at age 20, Alanis Morissette released her first international album,
Jagged Little Pill (lyrics). Expectations for the album were low, and Morissette's manager and long-time friend Scott Welsh would later admit that he didn't expect Pill to sell more than around 250,000 copies. The album debuted at number 118 on the Billboard 200 charts.

Fate, however, dealt Morissette a life-changing hand when a Los Angeles deejay from an influential radio station stumbled onto "You Oughta Know", Pill's first single, and began playing it non-stop:

'Cause the love that you gave that we made
Wasn't able to make it enough for you
To be open wide, no
And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me you'd hold me
Until you died, 'til you died
But you're still alive

"You Oughta Know" quickly garnered attention for its use of the word "fuck", one of the first times the word was used by a playlisted female artist. The video went into heavy rotation on MTV and radio. Listeners were shocked, unnerved and delighted by the song, which emerged during a time when testosterone and male rage dominated the airwaves. As one fan put it: "Finally, someone who's speaking for me".

While "You Oughta Know" was a hit, it was the seemingly endless series of singles following it that sent Jagged Little Pill on its meteoric rise to the top. Second single "Hand In My Pocket" showed a calmer, mellower Morissette reflecting on her life, while third single "All I Really Want" made a casual reference to Charles Dickens book, Great Expectations:

Do I wear you out?
You must wonder why I'm relentless and all strung-out
I'm consumed by the chill of solitary
I'm like Estella
I like to reel it in and then spit it out
I'm frustrated by your apathy

Pill's fourth single, "Ironic", went on to become Morissette's biggest hit to date. She received heavy criticsm for the lyric, which asked the listener after every verse, "Isn't it ironic?", even though the verses described situations that were clearly not ironic:

A traffic jam when you're already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn't it ironic... don't you think?

Fifth and sixth singles "You Learn" and "Head Over Feet", respectively, kept Jagged Little Pill in the Billboard Top 20 for over a year. One critic attributed at least some part of Morissette's success to her broad appeal, remarking: "Only [Morissette] can sing 'And every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back, I hope you feel it' in one song, and then go on to sing 'I've never felt so healthy before, I am aware now' in the next. She's so dead-on in her observation of human emotion, it's hard to believe that she's barely old enough to buy a drink at a bar."

Jagged Little Pill was a phenomenal success. It went on to sell 16 million copies in the United States alone, over 30 million copies worldwide, and its singles have become some of the most recognizable songs of the '90s. A backlash, however, was quickly brewing.

Morissette was dismissed by some as a record industry puppet, although her defenders maintained that these critics were unaware of the circumstances under which Jagged Little Pill was made. She was attacked for collaborating with producer and supposed image-maker Glen Ballard, though Morissette was responsible for all of Pill's lyrics and much of the album's music, and many bands at the time featured members collaborating on songs, though often only the front member ever received the credit.

Others called her sudden image change "calculated" and "greedy" (fans countered that such criticisms failed to acknowledge the possibility that Morissette may have grown artistically since she was 17-years-old). Despite this backlash, the album managed to garner six Grammy Award nominations. At the 1996 ceremony, Morissette performed a moving rendition of "You Oughta Know", one that all but drained the anger from the song, leaving only an air of sorrow and remorse. That night, Morissette won awards for Album of the Year, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album.

Later that year, Morissette embarked on a one-and-a-half year world tour in support of Jagged Little Pill, beginning in small clubs and ending in large venues. The DVD Jagged Little Pill, Live chronicled the bulk of this tour.

Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie Era

(1998-2002) - Indian-influenced clothing, serene and relaxed psyche, dress more glamorous and feminine

Supposed former infatuation junkie
I sink three-pointers and you wax poetically

- from the song "So Pure"

1998, Alanis Morissette recorded "Uninvited", a song from the soundtrack to the motion picture City of Angels. The track was never officially released as a single, but nevertheless received widespread radio airplay. Later that year, she released Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (lyrics), an experimental album with a wordy title and lyrics to match. Morissette once again collaborated with Ballard, but this time she helped produce the album as well.

Fans and critics alike were shocked. Morissette didn't release Jagged Little Pill, Pt. 2, which would have been the commercially savvy thing to do. Obviously, Morissette was no longer pursuing commercial success. Most of the songs on Junkie challenged "traditional" song formulae, including "The Couch":

So here we both are battling similar demons (not coincidentally)
You see in getting beyond knowing it solely intellectually
You're not relinquishing your majestry
You are wise, you are warm, you are courageous, you are big
And I love you more now than I ever have in my whole life

and "I Was Hoping", which recounts several experiences that would shape who she was, including an encounter in a restaurant with a chauvinistic waiter:

We left the restaurant where the headwaiter in his 60s said,
"Goodbye sir, thank you for your business, sir
You're successful and established, sir
And we like the frequency with which you dine here, sir
And your money", and when I walked by they said,
"Thank you, too, dear". I was all pigtails and cords
And there was a day when I would've said something like,
"Hey, dude, I could buy and sell this place, so kiss it"
I too once thought I was owed something

The album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, and broke the record for most albums sold in a single week by a female artist. In 1999, the song "Uninvited" won two Grammy awards for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. The first single, "Thank U", was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. That same year, Morissette released the live acoustic album MTV Unplugged.

Many critics wrote off the album as a flop: repeating the incredible success of Jagged Little Pill was an almost-impossible task, one that Morissette never expected nor set out to do. Fans today generally consider Junkie to be Morissette's best work to date. Critics, however, labeled the record as "wordy" and "verbose". Morissette herself has admitted that while her music is largely self-centered, her hope is that her thoughts, ideas and emotions will connect with listeners who may be going through similar situations. Her lyrics are also fueled by the belief that all relationships, whether microscopic (person to person) or macroscopic (country to country), possess universal cores that make an understanding of even the smallest element of a relationship relevant to the examination of a larger idea or concept. Most Pill fans avoided the ultra-personal, ultra-introspective Junkie.

In 1999, Alanis Morissette expanded her resumé by delving into acting. She appeared in the Kevin Smith film Dogma in the role of God. Smith, who claims to be a big fan of Morissette, asked her to be in the film several times. She turned down the female lead, and by the time her schedule allowed her to participate in the film, only the role of God was left. She also appeared on the hit HBO comedies Sex and the City and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and starred in the play The Vagina Monologues.

Under Rug Swept Era

(2002-2004) - Long, fancier hair, more make-up, much more contemporary dress, sexy, fashionable, almost popstar-like appearance

What part of history's reinvented and under rug swept?
What part of your memory's selective and tends to forget?
What with this distance it seems so obvious?

- from the song "Hands Clean"

In 2002, after a four-year absence, Alanis Morissette released her third American studio album
Under Rug Swept, with the notable absence of Junkie and Pill collaborator Ballard. For the first time, Morissette took on the role of sole writer and producer.

The album spawned the hit single "Hands Clean". The song's multi-layered lyrics brilliantly told the story of a young Morissette's affair with an older man from two points of view:

You're essentially an employee, and I like you having to depend on me
You're kind of my protégé, and one day you'll say you learned all you know from me
I know you depend on me like a young thing would to a guardian
I know you sexualize me like a young thing would and I think I like it

The album debuted at number one on Billboard, and sold close to a million copies in the United States alone, even though only one song from the album received any substantial radio airplay. Despite eleven very well-received songs, Maverick Records only released two of them as singles, a move criticized by many fans.

The album was overlooked by the Grammy Awards, most likely due to its release date, but Morissette won yet another Juno for Producer of the Year.

In December 2002, Morissette released a dual DVD/CD combination package, Feast on Scraps, which included live footage from a Rotterdam concert and eight previously unreleased songs from the Swept recording sessions. It also showed what Morissette was like backstage and behind-the-scenes. One scene showed her pulling up beside a car loudly blasting the song "Hands Clean", and staring at the driver until the driver realized who was in the car next to her. Needless to say, the driver freaked out. Cameras planted around the studio also captured a headphones-clad Morissette struggling with the lyrics to "Surrendering" before breaking down in tears.

In September 2003, Alanis Morissette made headlines for supposedly exclaiming, "Thank you, Brazil!" after a show in Lima, Peru. Concert attendees, however, clearly heard her say, "Thank you, bless you". They flooded Internet message boards in an effort to disprove the claim that Morissette had made such a blunder. Morissette later posted a journal entry on her website indicating that she did indeed say, "Thank you, bless you", but by then the damage to her reputation had already been done. The incident appeared on the E countdown, "101 Celebrity Oops".

In November 2003, Morissette appeared in the off-Broadway play The Exonerated as Sunny Jacobs, a death row inmate freed after proof surfaced that she didn't commit the crime. In 2004, Morissette will appear alongside Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Robbie Williams, Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd in the film De-lovely, a tribute to composer Cole Porter.

So-Called Chaos Era

(2004-present) - hair cut to above shoulders, classy but sexy appearance, very contemporary dress

I wanna be naked, running through the streets
I wanna invite this so-called chaos that you think I dare not be

- from the song "So-Called Chaos"''

Alanis Morissette returned to the studio in
April, 2003, to begin work on her fourth American studio album, entitled So-Called Chaos. The album will be released on April 13, 2004.

Maverick Records has published this official press release.

Notable Works

Studio Albums

Other Albums

  • MTV Unplugged, 1998 (live, acoustic performances)
  • Feast on Scraps, 2002 (eight unreleased tracks and acoustic performance of "Hands Clean")

Notable Songs

Stage and Film

Live Videos

External Resources

Alanis Morissette has an official website and a popular fan message board. A comprehensive list of her lyrics is also available here. A database featuring hundreds of images of Morissette, organized by category, is available here.