Early Years and Career
The daughter of a teacher mother and principal father, Alanis Morissette was a precocious child. She began studying piano, ballet and jazz dance at age six and turned to writing songs at age nine. At 11, she started singing and entertaining at Ottawa hospitals and community centres with police officer and amateur folk singer Dominic D'Arcy. At age 12, she acted in a season of the Nickelodeon children's TV series You Can't Do That on Television.
Morissette independently released her first dance single, “Fate Stay with Me,” in 1987. She completed it with a modest grant from FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Record). She also received mentoring and production assistance from musician Lindsay Morgan and The Stampeders’ Rich Dodson. The recording enjoyed airplay on Ottawa radio and helped the young musician gain local exposure. She later built a promotion arrangement with Stephan Klovan and a musical partnership with Leslie Howe, also of Ottawa and a member of One To One.
Alanis (1991) and Now is the Time (1992)
Morissette was signed by John Alexander (of the Ottawa band Octavian) to a publishing contract with MCA Publishing (MCA Records Canada). Howe produced her major label debut, the dance-pop-oriented Alanis (1991). The hit singles "Too Hot" and "Feel Your Love" drove the album to platinum status in Canada and established Morissette as a teen pop star. She was referred to by many as “Canada’s Debbie Gibson.” She opened for Vanilla Ice in 1991 and won a 1992 Juno Award for most promising female vocalist. Her second album, Now Is the Time (1992), also featured an energetic dance sound and was more introspective than Alanis. However, it did not enjoy the same commercial success as its predecessor.
Seeking new development as a songwriter, Morissette moved to Toronto, where she participated in Songworks, a songwriting program organized by the publishing house Peer Music. In 1994, she briefly returned to television as host of the CBC TV program Music Works. The show presented alternative rock musicians and its host in an unplugged, untraditional setting, and exposed the young Morissette to new artistic development.
Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Morrisette was released from her Canadian record deal but maintained her MCA Publishing ties. Following the advice of her new manager, Scott Welch, she relocated to Los Angeles. She was introduced to songwriter-producer and Quincy Jones disciple Glen Ballard. MCA executive Guy Oseary signed her to the Madonna-founded Maverick Records.
Her first album for Maverick, Jagged Little Pill (1995), was a compellingly personal collection of alternative rock songs. They were delivered with what would become her trademark idiosyncratic vocal delivery — emphatic, exasperated and bold. Jagged Little Pill spawned a string of international hit singles — “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” “All I Really Want,” “Ironic,” “You Learn” and “Head Over Feet” — and became a phenomenal success. The album, and particularly the vitriolic and confessional “You Oughta Know,” established Morissette as the intelligent and empowered voice of a generation.
New York Times critic Neil Strauss called Morissette, "as much a conscience for the introverted world of today's rock audience as folk music was a voice for the extroverted world of the generation before." Rolling Stone called Jagged Little Pill “a 1990s version of Carole King's Tapestry: a woman using her plain soft-rock voice to sift through the emotional wreckage of her youth, with enough heart and song craft to make countless listeners feel the earth move… The jagged little Canadian with the jagged little voice manages to make sensuality and rage act like kissing cousins.”
Jagged Little Pill spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and became the best-selling debut album by a female artist in the United States. (It was classified as a US and international debut because her previous recordings had not been released outside Canada.) It was certified platinum or higher and reached No. 1 on the album chart in 13 countries, selling more than 30 million copies worldwide. It also became the first album by a Canadian artist to be certified double diamond in Canada for sales of more than two million copies.
Jagged Little Pill swept the 1996 Grammy Awards, breaking new ground and winning Morissette four of the most coveted awards. She became the youngest artist at that time to ever win the Grammy for Album of the Year. She also took home awards for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album. Many had believed the Grammys were too mainstream for Morissette’s raw brand of alternative rock. “You Oughta Know” was the first song in Grammy nomination history to contain an expletive, which was famously censored during her acoustic performance during the show.
Following the release of Jagged Little Pill, Morissette embarked on a year-and-a-half-long tour. She started in small clubs but quickly moved to sold-out arenas. She performed 252 shows in 28 countries. In 1997, CBC TV aired the live concert film Alanis Morissette in Concert (financed by Warner Bros. and Morissette's management team). A video, Jagged Little Pill Live, produced by Morissette and Steve Purcell, won the 1998 Grammy Award for best music video, long form.
Jagged Little Pill was later named No. 45 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 best albums of the 1990s. By some counts, it is ranked as high as the 12th best-selling album of all time worldwide.
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998)
After Jagged Little Pill’s worldwide tour, Morissette took a two-year hiatus. She travelled to India with family and friends, became increasingly spiritual and participated in several triathlons. She teamed again with Glenn Ballard to record the introspective, Eastern-influenced Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998). The 17-track album, which features the eight precepts of Buddhism printed on the cover, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. It achieved the highest first-week sales of a female artist at the time, selling 469,055 copies in the US and 2.2 million worldwide. The lead single, “Thank U,” became Morissette’s fifth single (after “Hand in My Pocket,” “Ironic,” “You Learn” and “Head Over Feet”) to go No. 1 in Canada, where the album was certified quadruple platinum.
Although sales of the album did not approach the success of Jagged Little Pill, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie generally received better reviews. Rolling Stone wrote that, “Alanis is one megastar who knows how to translate her gall into dynamic rock ‘n’ roll,” noting that, “’Thank U’ could've been a pretentious disaster, but instead it's a pretentious stroke of brilliance.” Entertainment Weekly complimented her “elastic-ecstatic vocals” and praised her success in making “a vulnerable, openhearted album in the face of intense commercial expectations.”
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie sold more than seven million copies worldwide. It garnered two Grammy nominations and won Juno Awards in 2000 for Best Album and Best Video (“So Pure”). In 1998, Morissette contributed vocals to two tracks on the Dave Matthews Band's Before These Crowded Streets (1998) and three songs on Ringo Starr's Vertical Man (1998). Her song “Uninvited,” written for the film City of Angels, was nominated for a Golden Globe. It also won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
Morissette performed at Woodstock'99 and touring with Tori Amos in the summer of 1999. She then released an album in the MTV Unplugged series, which included her version of The Police's “King of Pain.”
Morissette was a pioneer in showing other musicians how Internet audio technology could help promote their music. In 1999, she permitted fans to download from her web site the free, unreleased song "Your House." The song was digitally coded to be destroyed 30 days after downloading.
Under Rug Swept (2002)
Following a dispute with her record label that resulted in a renewed contract, Morissette released her fifth studio album, Under Rug Swept (2002), in February 2002. The self-produced record, the first for which she was also the sole songwriter, continued her self-described “obsession with the dark underbelly of personal relationships.” The album debuted at No. 1 on the album charts in Canada and the US and was certified platinum in Canada. It included the No. 1 hit single, "Hands Clean," which earned her a Juno Award for Producer of the Year.
In late 2002, Morissette released Feast On Scraps, a combination DVD/CD package consisting of eight unissued tracks from the Under Rug Swept recording sessions.
So-Called Chaos (2004)
In 2004, Morissette hosted the Juno Awards in Edmonton, during which she gave the debut performance of "Everything," the lead single from her sixth studio album, So-Called Chaos. It was produced by Morissette, John Shanks and Tim Thorney. The recording of the album built on the songwriting techniques presented on her earlier albums. Morissette got her inspiration for songs from stream-of-consciousness internal conversations and from personal journals.
So-Called Chaos is an upbeat record that reflects a state of romantic contentment. This was courtesy of her relationship with actor Ryan Reynolds, who is thanked in the liner notes. So-Called Chaos debuted at No. 2 in Canada, No. 5 in the US and No. 1 on Billboard’s European Top 100 Album chart. However, sales quickly tapered off and reviews were decidedly mixed. Entertainment Weekly’s David Browne wrote, “Once more, her songs become little more than cloying ruminations or sarcastic harangues… Exotic garnishes like sitars don’t make them any more interesting.” But AllMusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine found the record to be “her most satisfying since her blockbuster breakthrough… it's brighter, denser, catchier than either of its immediate predecessors, and boasts her most assured singing yet.”
Morissette spent the summer of 2004 co-headlining a 22-date North American tour with the Barenaked Ladies. In 2005, she released two albums: Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, an unplugged recording that celebrated the 10th anniversary of her greatest success and was initially available only at Starbucks outlets; and Alanis Morissette: The Collection, a best-of anthology that featured one new recording — a version of "Crazy," originally a hit for the British singer Seal. Morissette’s version charted in the Top 40 in Canada.
In 2006, she received a Golden Globe nomination for “Wunderkind,” a song she wrote and recorded in two days for the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). In 2007, she recorded a parody version of the Black Eyed Peas' smash single “My Humps.” Morissette's video of the song was viewed more than 15 million times on YouTube.
Flavors of Entanglement (2008)
Morissette’s seventh studio album, Flavors of Entanglement (2008), was produced by electronica specialist Guy Sigsworth (Björk, Madonna, Britney Spears). It marked a shift in sound for Morissette. Billboard wrote that the record “balances world- and folk-influenced tracks against the experimental pop leanings of producer Guy Sigsworth” and “explores Morissette's personal struggles over the last few years.”
Largely inspired by her breakup with fiancé Ryan Reynolds, the album received mostly positive reviews. Rolling Stone said it was “a heartfelt record… about post-romantic stress disorder.” The Montréal Gazette called it “fascinating listening” and a “powerful album.” However, according to USA Today, it consisted of “less songs than self-analytical monologues” with “painfully earnest, mercilessly florid lyrics.”
The album reached No. 3 on the album chart in Canada and No. 8 in the US. It sold more than a 500,000 copies worldwide and won a Juno Award for Pop Album of the Year. It was also the final record of Morissette’s contract with Maverick Records.
Havoc and Bright Lights (2012)
In 2012, Morissette released Havoc and Bright Lights, her first album with the record label Collective Sounds. Produced by Sigsworth and Joe Ciccarelli (U2, Beck, Tori Amos), it received decidedly mixed reviews. It debuted at No. 5 on the US album chart and reached No. 1 in Canada. Morissette followed it with Live at Montreux 2012 (2013), a live recording of a concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in July 2012.
In 1999, Morissette made her film-acting debut opposite Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. The soundtrack, composed by Howard Shore, included her previously unreleased song "Still." Wishing to further develop her acting career, she appeared in off-Broadway productions of The Vagina Monologues (2000) and The Exonerated (2003), as well as episodes of the TV series Sex and the City (2000), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2002) and American Dreams (2004). In 2004, Morissette returned to film work in De-Lovely, a musical based on the life of Cole Porter. She also landed recurring roles in the acclaimed TV series Nip/Tuck (2006) and Weeds (2009–10).
Morissette has talked openly about struggling with both anorexia and bulimia in her teens after a male record executive told her she needed to lose weight if she wanted to succeed. She has said that her experience with eating disorders made her “covert, lonely and isolated.” She has also said that, in her teens, she was trying to protect herself from “men who were using their power in ways I was too young to know how to handle.” This provided inspiration for several of her songs, most notably “You Oughta Know.” It is reportedly about her relationship with Full House star Dave Coulier. “Hands Clean” is about a years-long affair with an older record executive that began when she was 14.
Morissette became a US citizen in 2005, retaining her Canadian citizenship. She became an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church in 2004, and was engaged to actor Ryan Reynolds in June of that year. They called off their engagement in February 2007, an experience that provided much of the inspiration for the songs on Flavors of Entanglement.
Morissette married rapper Mario “Souleye” Treadway on 22 May 2010. She gave birth to a son, Ever Imre Morissette-Treadway, on 25 December 2010. She spoke openly afterwards about her experience with post-partum depression. She gave birth to a daughter, Onyx Solace Morissette-Treadway, on 23 June 2016. Her third child and second son, Winter Mercy Morissette-Treadway, was born on 8 August 2019.
Advocacy and Activism
Morissette has embraced a number of humanitarian and political causes. She performed at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in New York City in 1997 and took part in a cultural exchange visit to Cuba in 1998. In 2001, at the request of fellow artists, Morissette and American singer-songwriter Don Henley argued before the American Senate Judiciary Committee that musicians needed to be more involved in the debate between online music services and record companies. Morissette emphasized that music companies and artists could benefit from working together in the development of technology, and that technology allows more communication with audiences. "For the majority of artists this so-called [Napster] piracy had worked in their favour," she observed. "Napster had helped lesser-known musicians form an audience, which they were able to translate into payment through concert sales and merchandise."
In 2001, she and Jackson Browne, James Taylor and others formed the coalition New Power Project and lobbied against President George W. Bush's energy policies. Also in 2001, the Friends of the United Nations awarded her its Global Tolerance Award for promoting tolerance through the arts by performing in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and at the Great Jubilee Concert for a Debt-Free World in Rome.
Morissette has also supported such organizations as Groundwork and the Bridge School. In 2003, she was honoured with Rock the Vote’s prestigious Patrick Lippert Award, which recognizes popular artists who serve as activists. She has appeared at benefit concerts, including the John Lennon tribute in New York for gun control and Music Without Borders, which benefited the United Nations Donor Alert Appeal. During the 2003 Juno Awards, Morissette drew attention to Band Aid, a CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) initiative to address the erosion of school music programs. Morissette delivered donated musical instruments to an Ottawa school.
In 2004, she hosted a televised rally in Ottawa for the Dalai Lama of Tibet. She also narrated the climate change documentary The Great Warming (2006) with actor Keanu Reeves, and ran her first marathon in 2009 to raise money for the National Eating Disorders Association in the US.
Jagged Little Pill Broadway Musical
In preparation for the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough album, Morissette announced in 2013 that she was adapting Jagged Little Pill into a Broadway musical. The musical Jagged Little Pill premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in May 2018. According to Playbill, it tells “the story of a multi-generation, multiracial suburban family grappling with a series of distressing events.” It features the entire album, several other songs from Morissette’s catalogue and two original numbers written for the show. It was directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus, with a book by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno). Orchestrations and arrangements were by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Kitt.
Reviews of the show were positive. Variety’s Bob Verini wrote that it was “Always engaging, often moving and even rousing.” The Boston Globe’s Christopher Muther called it “wildly entertaining” and “wickedly funny in just the right places.” The production opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway on 5 December 2019 and became a huge success. It received more Tony Award nominations (15) than any other production during the pandemic-delayed 2020 season and won the awards for best book in a musical (Diablo Cody) and best featured actress in a musical (Lauren Patten). The cast recording also won the 2021 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. Jagged Little Pill was set to have a second Broadway run at the Broadhurst Theatre beginning 21 October 2021.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
See also: Alanis Morissette (1999 Profile); Alanis Morissette (2005 Profile).
- Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year (1992)
- Songwriter of the Year (1996)
- Single of the Year (“You Oughta Know”) (1996)
- Female Vocalist of the Year (1996)
- Best Rock Album (Jagged Little Pill) (1996)
- Album of the Year (Jagged Little Pill) (1996)
- Songwriter of the Year (with Glenn Ballard) (1997)
- Single of the Year (“Ironic”) (1997)
- International Achievement Award (1997)
- Best Video (“So Pure”) (2000)
- Best Album (“Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie”) (2000)
- Producer of the Year (“Hands Clean, So Unsexy”) (2003)
- Pop Album of the Year (Flavors of Entanglement) (2009)
- Inductee, Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2015)
- Best Rock Album (Jagged Little Pill) (1995)
- Best Rock Song (“You Oughta Know”) (1995)
- Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (“You Oughta Know”) (1995)
- Album of the Year (Jagged Little Pill) (1995)
- Best Long-Form Music Video (Jagged Little Pill – Live) (1995)
- Best Rock Song (“Uninvited”) (1998)
- Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (“Uninvited”) (1998)
MTV Music Video Awards
- Best Editing in a Video (“Ironic”) (1996)
- Best Female Video (“Ironic”) (1996)
- Best New Artist in a Video (“Ironic”) (1996)
- Best Female, MTV Europe Music Awards (1996)
- Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist, American Music Awards (1996)
- Favorite Pop/Rock Album (Jagged Little Pill), American Music Awards (1996)
- Global Tolerance Award, Friends of the United Nations (2001)
- Patrick Lippert Award, Rock the Vote (2003)
- Inductee, Canada’s Walk of Fame (2005)
- Inductee, Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame (2008)
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Radio Music Awards (2008)
- George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, UCLA Student Alumni Association (2014)