Why I love “Jagged Little Pill” in three songs

Recently, my brother called me up and said he’d been thinking about how when we were kids Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill seemed to have a big impact on me and wanted to know why. I would listen to the album over and over again, even sometimes using it to describe my mood (“It’s a Jagged Little Pill Sunday”). So, I thought I’d dust off the ol’ blog and share how this album has impacted me, in three songs.

Jagged Little Pill album artwork, sourced from Discogs.com.
For educational purpose. No copyright infringement is intended.

In short, I told him that this album is great. The songs are well-written, well-produced, and the topics are relevant. But digging deeper, there’s a lot of ‘why’ baked into that relevancy. Morissette painted a picture of what it’s like to be a woman in so many ways with Jagged Little Pill: the ups and downs, the expectations… the anger. I really loved that this revealed woman who was fed up and expressing strong emotions. Her voice was fierce and wild, sometimes yelling and shrill. That’s not something I had heard very often from women in mainstream music.

Granted I was a second-grader when the album was actually released (1995), I got my copy of the album in my teen years from a cousin’s discarded collection of CDs. I already knew the major hits “You Outta Know”, “Ironic”, “Hand in my Pocket”, “You Learn”, but being able to take my time with each song on the album gave me space to really consider each song. The album felt very personal and helped me reconcile with the emotions I was having about the expectations I felt as a young woman.

Here are three songs from Jagged Little Pill that helped to shape and define the person that I am today.

1. “Right Through You”

Wait a minute, man
You mispronounced my name
You didn't wait for all the information
Before you turned me away

The starting lyrics of this song set the scene so perfectly. That feeling of being overlooked and underestimated was such a common experience for me growing up. As the youngest in my family group, I was often still seen as “too little” or “not old enough”, the outside world often underestimated me based on age, race, and gender. My ideas, thoughts, and abilities weren’t always taken seriously, and “Right Through You” saw right into my soul on that experience.

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 a while
Your shake just 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

As I reached adulthood, the experience of being sexualized came along. That feeling that attention my way was merely for the expectation of someone who only wanted to get into my pants. They’d tell me what I wanted to hear, act like we were making a connection only to expect something sexual in return. I still feel that often as a musician in a very male-dominated scene. Walking off a stage I’ve often been complimented by men on my looks over my playing as if that’s supposed to be a turn on. I’ve had conversations only to realize the other person was clearly not listening to me as they’ve jumped in to mansplain what I’ve literally just said as if they are teaching me something new. That second verse hits that experience hard.

Oh, hello, Mr. Man
You didn't think I'd come back
You didn't think I'd show up with my army
And this ammunition on my back
Now that I'm Miss Thing
Now that I'm a zillionaire
You scan the credits for your name
And wonder why it's not there

But what I really love about this song is the resolution, in which the narrator takes her power back. She returns to the opening scene with her work and credit in tow. She’s done it without the man who ignored her, but instead, on her own and/or with her tribe of supporters. That verse was so empowering for me to hear. It gave me the sense that I could create my own spaces, make my own dreams come true, and establish my own closure. The full-circle story of this song is why it’s still relevant and one of my favorites on the album.

2. “Not the Doctor

This song says SO MUCH. It opened my eyes to the expectations put on women to be a caretaker for the men in their lives. From the second we are handed a baby doll, we are taught to take care of something or someone. This isn’t inherently wrong, but the imbalance of expectation for men to learn to care for themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally puts an expectation weight on women to do that for them.

This emotional labor and mental load placed on girls and women to be the fixers, to care for others over ourselves… it’s crushing us in so many ways. Whether we are daughters, sisters, employees, or partners, we are often expected (not asked) to do this work. Often it leaves us vulnerable and alone in our own sufferings. We feel guilty about taking time for our own needs, we take on too much, and we don’t communicate our needs out of guilt.

What I love about this song is Morissette’s style of communicating what and who she is not, and why. Here are a few of my favorite lines from this song that always wake me up to what my responsibilities are NOT:

  • “I don’t want to be a bandage if the wound is not mine.”
  • “I don’t want to be adored for what I merely represent to you.”
  • “I don’t want to be your babysitter, you’re a very big boy now.”
  • “I don’t want to be your mother, I didn’t carry you in my womb for nine months.”
  • “I don’t want to be the glue that holds your pieces together.”
  • “And I don’t want to be your other half, I believe that one and one make two.”
  • “I don’t want to be your idol, see this pedestal is high and I’m afraid of heights.”
  • “I don’t want to live on someday when my motto is last week.”

“Not the Doctor” felt like a Bill of Rights for what I should and should not accept in terms of someone else’s needs. I still turn to these lyrics when I feel like I’m being asked to do labor that is not mine.

3. “You Learn”

I’d say this song was one of my earliest self-care anthems. It taught me that it’s okay (recommended, even) to take time to reflect, learn, and have a little fun. Life is full of experiences that are good and bad, and I should take them on. If things don’t work out, I’m probably going to be okay and will learn what I want and need, and what I should do better the next time. And yes, walk around naked in your living room if you want.

That lesson is so profound and enduring. As I look back at this song in my thirties, there have been so many experiences now, in which I’ve come home, put this album on, and went straight to this song. Sometimes it was with tears in my eyes, sometimes with a bowl of ice cream in my hand, and sometimes just for the hell of it.

Getting technical, I also love the call and response style of the pre-chorus in which Morissette answers her own commands with little pep talks.

Wear it out (the way a three-year-old would do) 
Melt it down (you're gonna have to eventually, anyway) 
The fire trucks are coming up around the bend

So, there you go. Why I love Jagged Little Pill in three songs. I recommend you put on this album today. Swallow it down, it feels so good.

**Cited lyrics are the property of the songwriter(s) and sourced from Lyrics.com.


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