Award-winning Canadian singer and songwriter Alanis Morissette weaves alternative rock angst with a mainstream pop sense on deeply poetic confessionals. A former child actress turned dance-pop diva in her native Canada, she transformed herself into one of the biggest stars of the era alongside kindred spirits like Liz Phair and Tori Amos. Her breakthrough, Jagged Little Pill, caught the zeitgeist of the mid-’90s, splitting the difference between Gen-X cynicism and genuine emotional candor. Spinning off a series of enduring, chart-topping singles, including “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “Ironic,” and winning the 1996 Grammy for Album of the Year, the LP became an international blockbuster, securing a dedicated fan base and a lasting career that gently matured on 1998’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and the global chart-topper, 2002′s Under Rug Swept. While Top 40 hits slowed after “Hands Clean” from the latter album, Morissette worked steadily through the aughts and 2010s on efforts like 2008′s Flavors of Entanglement and 2012′s Havoc and Bright Lights, which returned her to the top of the Canadian charts for the first time in a decade. In 2020, she launched 25th anniversary celebrations for Jagged Little Pill and even adapted the album for a Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Not one to rest on nostalgia, she continued to release new music, with Such Pretty Forks in the Road and 2022′s ambient meditation project, The Storm Before the Calm.
Morissette was born in Ottawa, Canada, and began playing piano and writing songs during her childhood years. She also joined the cast of You Can’t Do That on Television, a children’s television program. Using money that she earned on the show, Morissette recorded an independent single, “Fate Stay with Me,” which was released when she was only ten years old. She then concentrated on a musical career after leaving the show’s cast, signing a music publishing contract when she was 14. The publishing contract led to a record deal with MCA Canada, and Morissette moved to Toronto before releasing her debut album, Alanis, in 1991.
Alanis was a collection of pop-oriented dance numbers and ballads that found success in Canada, selling over 100,000 copies and earning the singer a Juno Award for Most Promising Female Artist. However, no other country paid much attention to the record. In 1992, Morissette released Now Is the Time, an album that closely resembled her debut. Like its predecessor, it was a success in Canada, even if its sales did not match those of Alanis. Following the release of Now Is the Time, Morissette relocated to Los Angeles, where she met veteran producer Glen Ballard in early 1994. Ballard had previously written Michael Jackson’s hit single “Man in the Mirror,” produced Wilson Phillips’ hit debut album, and worked with actor/musician David Hasselhoff. The two decided to work together, and despite their shared experience with mainstream pop, they opted instead to pursue an edgier, alternative rock-oriented direction. The result was Jagged Little Pill, which was released in 1995 on Madonna’s label, Maverick Records.
On the strength of the angst-ridden single “You Oughta Know,” Jagged Little Pill gained attention upon its release in the summer of 1995. The song soon received heavy airplay from alternative radio outlets and MTV, sending the album into the Top Ten and helping it achieve multi-platinum status. Jagged Little Pill’s subsequent singles — “Hand in My Pocket,” “All I Really Want,” “You Learn,” and “Ironic” — kept the record in the Top Ten for an astounding 69 weeks, and Morissette was nominated for six Grammys in early 1996. She won several of those awards, including Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Jagged Little Pill would go on to become one of the most celebrated albums of all-time.
While she never managed to replicate the success of her breakthrough, Morissette continued to release well-received albums into the 21st century. Her much-anticipated follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, was released in the autumn of 1998, setting a record for the highest first-week sales by a female artist. Inspired by her travels to India, it yielded the hits “Thank U” and “That I Would Be Good.” She promoted Junkie with an extensive tour that found her sharing the stage with openers Liz Phair, Garbage, and Sloan; in August 1999, she kicked off a co-headlining tour with Tori Amos dubbed 5 1/2 Weeks. An MTV Unplugged set appeared that same year and featured a cover of the Police’s “King of Pain,” as well as a version of “Uninvited” from the City of Angels soundtrack. A lengthy four years later, she returned with a fresh sound on 2002′s Under Rug Swept. Recruiting notable guests such as Dean DeLeo, Flea, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Eric Avery, Morissette wrote and produced the album herself, digging deep into past traumas and setting her sights on healing, as heard on singles such as “Hands Clean” and “Precious Illusions.” Despite critiques that it didn’t do as well as Pill, the set still topped charts across Europe and North America, performed surprisingly well in Asia, and sold millions around the world. Sessions for the album were so fruitful that she ended up releasing a handful in the form of Feast on Scraps.
In 2004, she returned with So-Called Chaos, home to the Canadian Top 3 single “Everything.” A year later, she took Jagged Little Pill on the road as an acoustic tour. Those tour dates led to the release of Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, an album originally sold exclusively through Starbucks outlets, a telling move that signaled Morissette and her fans had grown up. Collection — an 18-track retrospective of her work — followed in November 2005. But Morissette wasn’t done, returning in 2008 with the brooding Flavors of Entanglement, which dealt with the emotional fallout from the dissolution of her engagement with actor Ryan Reynolds. In 2010, Morissette gave birth to her first child, Ever Imre, with rapper Mario “MC Souleye” Treadway, resulting in 2012′s spry and hopeful Havoc and Bright Lights, which focused on spirituality, marriage, and motherhood. The Canadian chart-topper also debuted at five on the Billboard Top 200.
Over the next few years, Morissette played some acoustic shows, acted, and launched a self-help podcast. Also in 2015, she celebrated the 20th anniversary of Jagged Little Pill with the release of a four-CD Collector’s Edition reissue of the album. The Jagged Little Pill revival continued with the 2019 Broadway musical adaptation of the album that featured a book by Diablo Cody. Despite its brief initial run on Broadway — it closed after two years due to complications of the COVID-19 pandemic — Jagged Little Pill earned 15 nominations at the 74th Tony Awards along with winning the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. As the world slowly began to reopen after the initial surge of the pandemic, the show began a successful touring run that would take it across the U.S. and Australia.
While the Jagged Little Pill musical captured attention on the stage, Morissette continued with her solo efforts, issuing “Reasons I Drink” as the first single off her ninth studio album, 2020′s Such Pretty Forks in the Road. Working with producers Alex Hope and Catherine Marks, Morissette explored middle-aged motherhood in the guise of a serene soundtrack, a combination that helped earn the album a Juno for Best Adult Contemporary Album. Meanwhile, a planned tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Jagged Little Pill was sidelined, just like the Broadway show, due to the pandemic. The trek eventually kicked off a year later with old tourmates Garbage in tow.
Maintaining a busy early-2020s schedule, Morissette picked up the meditative thread left hanging by Such Pretty Forks in the Road with The Storm Before the Calm, her first foray into explicit meditation music. Produced by Dave Harrington of Darkside, the album arrived in June 2022. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Neil Z. Yeung