If you go into any karaoke club, the courageous person who tackles Alanis Morissette’s breakthrough hit You Oughta Know, the emotional climax of the evening is almost certain to come from that brave soul. The pop-rock song progresses from a sharpened whisper to a full, angry belt, a tour de force of raw wrath and sexual frankness that still stings 25 years later.
You Oughta Know is the most well-known song from Morissette’s first album, Jagged Little Pill, from the same year — a commercial juggernaut and cultural landmark for female anguish that smashed doors for confessional pop performers like Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Olivia Rodrigo.
Jagged Little Pill was a revelatory record for many who grew up in the 1990s, startling in its honesty and astounding in its ubiquity — it is the 12th best-selling album of all time, with 33 million copies sold. Half of the album’s songs were chart-topping hits, with lyrics that were both furious and sensitive, uncertain and wise, and which are still being performed in shops, on radio, and in a 2019 Broadway musical of the same name.
And, as a new documentary argues, Jagged Little Pill was a work of art born out of a few tumultuous years of disempowerment and exploitation in the music industry, a fortuitous production partnership, and the miraculous faith a 19-year-old songwriter placed in her own vision despite numerous rejections.
Jagged, filmed by Alison Klayman and the newest chapter of Bill Simmons’ HBO Music Box series, traces the album’s path from its inception – notably, irritation with the music business and its men – through its development and worldwide chorus of ardent admirers.
The film’s focus on Morissette’s ability – from early interviews and demos to concert video to a lockdown filming of a virtual performance of her new song Ablaze with her four-year-old daughter Onyx on her hip – adds to the mystery surrounding the film’s HBO debut. Despite the fact that Morissette, now 47, appears in the film, giving up her archive and delivering warm, genuine, and thoughtful thoughts on her life before and after stardom, she has subsequently attacked the effort.
“I was lulled into a false sense of security, and their salacious agenda became apparent immediately upon my seeing the first cut of the film,” she said in a statement before the film’s Toronto Film Festival debut in September, which she did not attend. “At this point, I realized our perspectives were horribly divergent. I had not consented to convey this narrative. I’m sitting here right now feeling the full brunt of having put my faith in someone who didn’t deserve it.”
According to Klayman, who spoke via Zoom, the two were on the same page from the start of the project in 2019. Early phone conversations between the two ranged from the patriarchy at large, to focusing the film on the album, to “how the specifics of this story can really bring these bigger concepts to life,” she said, referring to #MeToo and Time’s Up, before Klayman visited Morissette and her family at their California home in July 2020 (which Morissette later called a “very vulnerable time” during her third postpartum depression). “We want people to think about these bigger ideas as a result of hearing this story.”
The #MeToo movement pushed a new lexicon of sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as knowledge of its endemicity in the music business, into the public, and Jagged looks at the album’s history through that perspective. The album’s 25th anniversary, which was written primarily when Morissette was 19 and released shortly after her 21st birthday, was “going to be different than the 10-year anniversary, or the 15-year anniversary, or even the 20-year anniversary, because so much has changed so quickly in how we think about the recent past,” according to Klayman.
Morissette’s early dreams to be a dance pop singer in her hometown of Ottawa, Canada, where she recorded her first song at the age of ten, featured on children’s television as a teenager, and signed with Canadian music producer Leslie Howe at the age of fifteen, are chronicled in Jagged. Morissette sat cross-legged in a room lined with books, recalling how, when she was 15, Howe and producers at MCA Records Canada told her she needed to lose weight and restrict her diet, which “kickstarted a massive eating disorder journey” from which she’s been “in active recovery” for “her whole life.”
It was also the time when male colleagues’ attention shifted from fawning to sexual. “I just thought it was my fault,” Morissette says in the film, “because almost every single person that I would work with, there would be some turning point where the camera would go Dutch angle,” alluding to a type of filmmaking shot that conveys drama. “And I’d just sit back and wait.” OK, this isn’t going to happen in the first week, but it will happen.”
The change would “either end the relationship” or “leave us with some big secret that we’d keep for the rest of our lives.”
Morissette speaks on her early sexual encounters around two-thirds of the way through the film, saying she now sees them differently. “There’s a lot of shame associated with any type of victimization,” she explains.
“It took years of therapy for me to admit that I had been victimized in any way.” I’d always say, “You know, I consented,” and then someone would tell me, “Hey, you were 15.” ‘At 15, you’re not consenting.’ ‘Oh sure, they’re all pedophiles,’ I think now. It’s all legalized rape.’
Morissette does not identify any of her alleged abusers, but she claims that her pleas for aid and acknowledgement were rejected by a music business that was not prepared to deal with abuse. “I told a few people,” she adds, “and it kind of fell on deaf ears a little bit.” “Normally, it would be a stand-up, walk-out-of-the-room situation.”
“Why do women wait?” you may wonder. she continues. “Women aren’t patient. “Our society is deafeningly deafeningly deafening
Women had an uphill struggle in the music business, as Jagged points out in interviews with music contemporaries such as Shirley Manson, former band members who shyly acknowledge they utilized closeness to her to seduce women, and extracts from critical reviews suspicious of Morissette’s abilities.
It’s unclear what exactly Morissette has a problem with in the film, which she claims “includes implications and facts that are simply not true” in her statement.
Klayman shook her head when asked whether she understood what connotations and lies Morissette was alluding to. “It was definitely disappointing, definitely didn’t match what, you know, what’s in the film,” she added of the singer’s comments before the screening. “I believe it is extremely difficult to have a film made about you by someone else.”
Klayman stated, “My hope is that she would feel the love, support, and celebration that I know and now know is what this film inspires.” “I just really liked how the film reflects all of our meaningful discussions.” The film is powerful, and I hope it inspires spectators to help her feel that love and support.”
Klayman, whose past films have taken on the Chinese government (over artist and dissident Ai Weiwei) and Trump adviser Steve Bannon, said she hasn’t talked to Morissette since the film’s TIFF debut, but she stands behind the image as a “reframing” of “a true individual work of art.”
“It got a little bit seen as like, ‘oh, this was concocted by the record label’ type of thing because it was so wildly popular and in the mainstream,” she added. “What I like about it is that it’s really a story about someone who wasn’t welcomed and championed by the record labels.”
“It was really for her to go in and make this for herself, with a partner [producer Glen Ballard] who saw her as an artist and approached it as an artist doing a personal work.” Then, since it wasn’t manufactured, it struck so strongly.”
“For me, [Morissette’s reaction] doesn’t change anything about the story that’s being shared in the film,” she continued, “so for me, [Morissette’s reaction] doesn’t change anything about the story that’s being shared in the film.”
Thanks to Adrian Horton at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.