Jagged Little Pill Meant Everything To My Teenage Self

Photo by: Mel Longhurst/Netflix
In the summer of 1995, I had just finished the sixth grade. I would soon turn 13 years old and was already aching for something of my own.

The previous year, Pearl Jam released Vitalogy, Kurt Cobain died, Nirvana released Unplugged in New York, and bands like Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice in Chains were paving the way into the post-grunge era.

I was an enthusiastic listener of grunge, but mostly because it’s what my older brother was into, and those were the CDs that I swiped out of his room. But grunge never felt like my own musical identity. It was more like I was co-opting a scene that I was technically too young to be a part of.

Then, on June 13, 1995, Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill. And for me — and many young women like me — everything changed.

Alanis Morissette was unlike anyone I had ever heard. While Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder were free to wail and rage, female singers I was familiar with at that time sounded too serene to me in their pop beats; their voices didn't reflect how I felt. I had emotions, I had rage, I was confused, and I was not alone. Suddenly my peers and I had this outlet, an album, and a woman saying, "Hey, I'm angry and hurt, too," and, "No one's really got it figured out just yet."

Every song spoke to me so deeply, it was as if each one was actually about me. The album somewhat absurdly begins with Morissette blasting a harmonica chord before the opening riffs of "All I Really Want," which perfectly captured the anxiety I felt in my adolescent indecisiveness. "You Oughta Know," the breakup anthem that put the f-bomb in our vocabulary, came next, setting my friends and me on a quest to figure out what it meant to go down on someone. After two power arias bristling with anger, "Perfect" struck a melancholy note, which stirred any kid whose parents had high expectations, and "Hand in My Pocket" sounded off what seemed like an my ode to my own contradictions.

"Right Through You" is a song that, to this day, I sing at karaoke — keeping a running tab of people in my life who’ve earned a place in the credits and who haven’t. "Forgiven" articulated my frustration with being raised Catholic. Morissette’s apathetic wail of, “We all had to believe in something, so we did,” made me realize that maybe I didn’t have to believe in anything after all. Anything other than Alanis, that is.

The meaning of the album kept evolving for me as I got older, teaching me lessons that not only applied to my preteen self but that I still hold dear 20 years later. "You Learn" is still required listening every time I experience a setback. I listened to "Head Over Feet" on repeat when I was trying to decide between two (two!) boys who liked me in the 7th grade. "Mary Jane" was every friend I tried to help. "Ironic" was the sing-along that bonded me to girlfriends from whom I would eventually drift. I dedicated "Not the Doctor" and "Wake Up" to those who earned my frustration. Finally, the secret song, the haunting, a capella "Your House" was every boy I obsessed over, followed around at school, or watched from afar.

Morissette’s music has changed throughout the years, and some have said that her later albums lack the edge of Jagged Little Pill. In 2005, when the 10th-anniversary acoustic version was released, I was 22 and graduating from college. Morissette was probably easing into the sense of self-assuredness that many women in their 30s experience. Now that I’ve hit that age, I find myself listening to that version more and more. The album's tone is much different; its calm accentuates the lessons in Morissette’s lyrics and comes from a place of understanding that only 10 more years of living can provide. She seemed comfortable there. And now so am I.
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