'I'm here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away It's not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me You, you, you oughta know'
On July 7, 1995, Alanis Morissette's inimitable howl of rage hit America's airwaves, where "You Oughta Know" instantly became that summer's fist-pumping anthem—especially for the legions of young women who embraced it as a declaration of independence from sugar and spice and always having to be nice, even when they were filled to choking with ugly, not-nice feelings (often stirred up by the miserable behaviour of the men in their lives). The sound of Morissette's voice slashing through the guitar and bass of The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Dave Navarro and Flea broke like thunder across a landscape recently lulled by the likes of Ace of Base and Hootie & the Blowfish. The song's lyrics—referencing a public act of fellatio and dropping the f-bomb, among other things—landed with an impact equal to its aural assault. And the album it heralded, titled with such brilliant aptness Jagged Little Pill, began its epic run to the top of the charts, further propelled by its subsequent hits: "Ironic," "Hand in My Pocket," "You Learn," "Head Over Feet," and "All I Really Want." The album has now sold more than 33 million copies worldwide, making it one of the dozen or so best-selling albums of all time.
Jagged Little Pill's year-plus ride on the Billboard Top 20 and the constant touring that went with it blew Morissette emotionally and existentially off course. "It was surreal," she recalls, speaking while ensconced at Big Sur in California, in the midst of writing a self-help book. "And I feel like I'm only getting a little objectivity on it now. I feel proud—not necessarily of the zeitgeisty success that it was, although that's a big chest bump—but that I can happily stand by everything that was written, content-wise, 20 years ago."
Morissette did a lot of traveling in India and elsewhere before circling back to continue her career; notable hits from her five subsequent studio albums include "Thank U," from 1998's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, and "Hands Clean," from 2002's Under Rug Swept. Morissette was engaged to Ryan Reynolds for several years in the middle of the last decade, but they broke it off; then, in 2010, she married rapper Mario "Souleye" Treadway, and they now have a four-year-old son.
The two-decade anniversary of Morissette's moonshot to stardom finds her impressively busy. On September 18, a deluxe anniversary edition of Jagged Little Pill will go on sale, with several unreleased tracks from the session and one new song added. She has also committed to creating a jukebox Broadway musical based on the album with composer Tom Kitt, who worked with Green Day on the award-winning production of American Idiot. And Morissette has 13 songs in the can for a new album, which she plans to release next year.
For now, though, Morissette is focused on her wellness work: At the end of August, she will serve as a co-leader of a five-day seminar at Big Sur's storied Esalen Institute, titled "Hurtling Toward Wholeness." Before that, she'll deliver the book she's now working on, addressing everything from eating disorders to addictions to post-traumatic stress disorder, which is slated for publication later this year. She describes it as "tons of storytelling in a semi-memoiresque vein." As her enthusiasm picks up steam, Morissette's preternatural verbal facility surfaces in long, looping sentences that seem to express her thoughts even as she's shaping them. "I love the idea of taking the multitude of experiences that I've had and alchemically using them to share some hard-won wisdom and insights I've had along the way," she says. "I use my own life stories as case studies to illustrate things that I want to share, whether it's about recovery from addiction or commentary on fame or childhood or stages of development—entertainingly sharing ideas and distilling a lot of academic, psychological, spiritual teachings" that she has avidly pursued for many years now.
It's easy to see Morissette's trajectory from "You Oughta Know" to her abiding preoccupation with wholeness and wellness; but it's also deeply amusing— ironic?—that the Angry Young Woman gets to have, as it were, the last laugh.
This article was written by Ben Dickinson and originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of ELLE US.