20 years of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”

As a teenager, I learnt that listening to music can be therapeutic during tough times. High school was a rollercoaster ride of heartbreak and emotional trauma that shaped the self-loathing teenage girl who was too afraid to take a chance and put herself out there. I won’t go into specifics for now; stay tuned for another Flashback Friday. To cope with all the boy trouble and social anxiety, I would close the door to the world and express myself through the lyrics that pounded through my speakers.

While I thought I managed to shake these feelings after leaving high school, my anxiety levels have recently shot up. With the combination of coming to the end of university, the demands of my other commitments, a lack of sleep and the growing pressure to get my driver’s license, I was slowly crumbling. At first, I tried to ignore it and push on. But when it began to affect my work, I knew something was seriously wrong.

In a review for Allmusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote something that summaries why I chose to channel my emotions through Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill during this time. “As slick as the music is, the lyrics are unvarnished and Morissette unflinchingly explores emotions so common, most people would be ashamed to articulate them.”

Despite the fact that I’ve always been a very emotional person, I try to avoid showing it. I turned to the album to tell my story, as well as those of many others who are dealing with similar struggles. Morissette’s strength and bravery shines through the words she sings, intertwined by a musical composition to act as the hit that sends the punching bag in a spin.

Many songs on the album were inspired by a huge breakup, including the well-known single You Oughta Know. This song is basically the equivalent of being able to yell out while standing on top of a mountain after someone has broken your heart. The carefree outbursts of blunt phrases portray all the things you wish you had the guts to say to the person who has ripped up your heart and thrown it away as if it was nothing. But, in the end, you never say them. For some reason it seems safer to pretend you’re made of stone and what they’ve done hasn’t affected you, when in truth, you’re nursing a broken heart.

The slightly jaded, delicate sound of Mary Jane tells a different story. Depression is often a result of burying your worries and problems. You shut yourself away from the world, trembling in your own self pity. It stems from the twisted idea you’ve created that your problems aren’t worth wasting someone’s time. Yes, you are worth it. This song shows us that it’s important to take that “moment to be selfish”, because you are the one that needs to take the first steps to regain your freedom.  

Fortunately, I never got to that stage. I’ve been described by my pyschologist as a “perfectionist”. Those who strive for perfection will tend to shy away from weakness, such as emotions. Perfect tells the story of the pressures of society to excel and be the best at what you do. The line “that simply wasn’t good enough to make us proud” stood out to me as the reason why I haven’t been myself. I put the pressure on myself to be the best I can be, which is always never good enough. I had pushed myself to the point that I had burnt out.

I remember the first time I stepped into the psychologist’s office. When I opened my mouth to speak, I broke down into a fit of tears. There was a lot I had been holding back behind my wall I had built over the years. But it was something I needed to do to get back to the person I was. You Learn tells us to take our emotions and run with them. See where life takes you. In the end, you will learn something.

I admire Morissette for being able to express her emotions in such a public way, showing us that emotions are not a sign of weakness. They can make you stronger, especially in the dark times when all seems lost.

Thank you Alanis for teaching me that.