Alanis Morissette pulled off one of the most successful second acts in rock history in the summer of 1995, when the former teen dance-pop star reinvented herself as the undisputed queen of alt-rock angst with Jagged Little Pill and its vitriolic lead single, "You Oughta Know." The album went on to sell 16 million copies in the U.S., surpassing the record for a female solo artist previously set by her label boss, Madonna.
Morissette (along with a twin brother) was born in 1974 to a couple of educators in Ottawa, Ontario. She showed an early interest in performing; she began piano lessons at age six, penned her first song at nine, and landed an acting gig on the Nickelodeon children's television series You Can't Do That on Television at age 10. In 1987 she used part of her TV earnings to finance a self-released single, "Fate Stay With Me," which in turn led to a publishing deal and her signing to MCA in Canada.
Although both Alaniss (1991) and Now This Is the Time (1992) sold well enough to make Morissette a moderately successful pop star in Canada (where she was given a Juno Award for Most Promising Female Artist in 1992), neither album made any impact south of the border. A fortuitous move to L.A. in 1994, however, led the 20-year-old-singer to Glen Ballard, a producer/songwriter who had honed his craft working under Quincy Jones and writing and producing hits for Michael Jackson ("Man in the Mirror") and Wilson Phillips. Together, Morissette and Ballard quickly hammered out the aggressive rock songs that would become Jagged Little Pill. Their demos landed Morissette a new record deal with Madonna's Warner Bros. subsidiary, Maverick Records.
Released in June 1995, Jagged Little Pill (#1) spawned a handful of Modern Rock and crossover pop hits, beginning with the bitter breakup rant, "You Oughta Know" (#13, 1995), and continuing with "Hand in My Pocket" (#15, 1995), "All I Really Want" (#65, 1995), "Ironic" (#4, 1996), and "You Learn" (#6, 1996). Pill would also earn Morissette four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. By the time she released 1998's decidedly lower-key Eastern-music-inspired Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (#1), Jagged Little Pill had sold close to 28 million copies worldwide.
Inevitably, given the runaway success of its predecessor, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (coproduced by Morissette and Ballard) was judged a commercial disappointment despite domestic sales of 3 million. Nevertheless, the album's "Thank U" climbed to #17, while "Uninvited," plucked from the 1998 soundtrack to the Nicholas Cage movie City of Angels, earned Morissette two more Grammys (including Best Rock Song).
In 1999 Morissette embarked on a co-headlining tour with fellow alt-rock singer/songwriter Tori Amos, and attracted some controversy by playing the role of God in the Kevin Smith comedy Dogma. Meanwhile, sales of her live MTV Unplugged set topped off at half a million, and the album peaked at #63. Morissette was scheduled to deliver a new studio album – her first self-produced effort – by the end of 2001.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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