Alanis Nadine Morissette, singer, songwriter, producer, actor, activist (born 1 June 1974 in Ottawa, ON). Alanis Morissette is one of Canada’s most recognized and internationally acclaimed singer-songwriters. She established herself as a Juno-winning teen pop star in Canada before adopting an edgy alternative rock sound and exploding onto the world stage with her record-breaking international debut, Jagged Little Pill (1995). With over 16 million units sold in the United States and 33 million worldwide, it is the highest-selling debut album by a female artist in the US and the best-selling debut album ever worldwide. It is also the best-selling album of the 1990s, one of the best-selling of all time worldwide and the first album by a Canadian artist to sell more than two million copies in Canada. Described by Rolling Stone magazine as the “undisputed queen of alt-rock angst,” Morissette has won 13 Juno Awards and seven Grammy Awards. She has sold 60 million albums worldwide, including Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998), Under Rug Swept (2002) and Flavors of Entanglement (2008). Also an actor and activist, she is a member of the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Early Years and Career
The daughter of a teacher mother and principal father, the precocious Morissette 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 syndicated Nickelodeon children's TV series You Can't Do That on Television.
After receiving a modest grant from FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Record), as well as mentoring and production assistance from musician Lindsay Morgan and The Stampeders’ Rich Dodson, she independently released her first dance single, "Fate Stay with Me" (1987). 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)
After 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, 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 employed an energetic dance sound and was more introspective than Alanis, but 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 and Ottawa to host 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)
Released from her Canadian record deal but maintaining her MCA Publishing ties, Morissette followed the advice of her new manager, Scott Welch, and relocated to Los Angeles, where she was introduced to songwriter-producer and Quincy Jones disciple Glen Ballard, and MCA executive Guy Oseary, who 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 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 (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 Grammys, breaking new ground and winning Morissette four of the most coveted awards. In addition to becoming 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 that saw her move from small clubs to sold-out arenas and perform 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)
Following a two-year hiatus during which Morissette 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 with the highest first-week sales of a female artist at the time — 469,055 copies in the US and 2.2 million copies 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 noted 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, garnered two Grammy nominations and won 2000 Juno Awards for Best Album and Best Video (“So Pure”). Also 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, and won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
After performing at Woodstock '99 and touring with Tori Amos in the summer of 1999, Morissette released an album taken from the MTV Unplugged series, which included her version of The Police's "King of Pain." A pioneer in showing other musicians how Internet audio technology could help promote their music, in 1999 Morissette 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 ultimately 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 number-one 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. The recording of So-Called Chaos, produced by Morissette, John Shanks and Tim Thorney, built on the songwriting techniques presented on her earlier albums. Morissette described her inspiration as continuing to derive primarily from stream-of-consciousness internal conversations and from personal journals.
An upbeat record that reflects a state of romantic contentment — 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, which 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 earned a new measure of hip credibility when 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) and Havoc and Bright Lights (2012)
Her seventh studio album, Flavors of Entanglement (2008), was produced by electronica specialist Guy Sigsworth (Björk, Madonna, Britney Spears) and 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 her actor fiancé Ryan Reynolds, the album received mostly positive reviews — Rolling Stone said it was “a heartfelt record… about post-romantic stress disorder,” while the Montréal Gazette called it “fascinating listening” and a “powerful album” — and some negative ones, with USA Today saying 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 half-million 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.
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, but 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 preparation for the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough album, Morissette announced in 2013 that she was adapting Jagged Little Pill into a Broadway musical in collaboration with Tom Kitt and Vivek Tiwary, who produced the Broadway version of Green Day’s American Idiot. Other anniversary plans reportedly included a re-issue of Jagged Little Pill, a tribute album and Morissette’s soon-to-be-published memoirs.
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, and then 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 the experience 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," a topic that provided inspiration for several of her songs, most notably “You Oughta Know,” reportedly about her relationship with Full House star Dave Coulier, and “Hands Clean,” 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 also 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. She was married to rapper MC Souleye (real name Mario Treadway) on 22 May 2010. She gave birth to a son, Ever Imre Morissette-Treadway, on 25 December 2010, and spoke openly afterwards about her experience with post-partum depression.
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 developing 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.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
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)