Matt Carmichael
Alanis Morissette
It wasn't always this way for Alanis. Sure, she's been famous almost since she was born. She was a running character on You Can't Do that on Televison, the hit Canadian kids' series that made it big on U.S. cable as well. Sure, she had a pop music career at an age when girls are supposed to be worried about their homecoming dates, not their chart position. But she has never been famous like this.

She had left Canada for Los Angeles, trying to drop her pop star image, often compared to Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, and hit it big for real. Although the change of scenery was important for the young Miss Thing nee Morissette, something more vital happened. From the looks of it, someone broke her heart.

Everyone deals with hurt differently, for Morissette, her experience became one of the biggest selling albums of 1995 and has her nominated for five Grammy awards including best new artist and best album. Alanis opened up her personal life and poured it into an album called Jagged Little Pill which took the world by storm and shot up the charts. The listener gets a stark glimpse of Morissette's childhood, growing up always two steps shy of where her parents wanted her to be. "Be a good girl / Try a little harder / That simply wasn't good enough / To make us proud," she sings on "Perfect." She deals with catholicism, with the difficulty of getting signed to a record deal and with the day to day ironies of life. But the song that set it off was addressed to a former lover who left her in the lurch for an older version of herself.

And You Oughta Know by now that bitterness sells. Her audience, many of whom haven't even seen Morissettes scant twenty one years, identify with the straight forward lyrics. "I picked up the album and she sang about all the things in my head," says one typical fan. "I swear, we think alike, and she must have dated my ex."

It's a formula that has worked for many young, female artists. The comparisons to Tori Amos, Liz Phair, and Melisa Ethridge abound. However many of Morissette's critics wonder if she will be able to sustain this level of success, or if she will be another flash in the pop culture pan.

Yet if nothing else, Morissette has shown again and again that she can reinvent herself and keep her image fresh. Some argue that this takes away from the strength of the album. Critics of all forms have wondered aloud if these songs reflect what is really going on behind Morissette's image, or if they are just a calculated attempt to capitalize on the "young angry female" craze. Whatever it is, and Morissette insists that it's as real as the glitter in her hair, it's working. The image, the artist, and the songs have an appeal to an audience that knew her entire album, by heart -and had taken it to heart- just two weeks after the single broke in the U.S.

These days it seems that more child actors wind up in the public eye for going to jail rather than for going to the top of the charts. After her stint on YCDTOT, she put out two albums under the name Alanis (no Morissette). These early offerings, "Alanis" (1991) and "Now Is The Time" (1992) sound as much like Jagged Little Pill as Billy Joel's "California Flash," sounds like "Piano Man."

Sure, very little time passed between these recordings, but the growth of the artist is palpable. Morissette's works shows a great maturity in both handling the issues, and in writing about it. Her style is approachable and clear. The music, which was co-composed by her producer, Glen Ballard, provides an excelent back drop to the emotions she conveys. Some help from the Red Hot Chilli Pepper's Flea, and Dave Navarro (formerly from Jane's Addiction) on some tracks didn't hurt either.

She has also matured in concert becoming much more familiar and comfortable with her tour band. She jokes with them on-stage, and dances around with her blue fingernails to sold-out show after sold-out show. She still never stands still while she sings. Her live arrangements have become more complex and she has been adding new material to each leg of the tour in the form of a Radiohead cover and some new songs of her own.

If the new songs are an indication of what is to come for Morissette, the it looks like a change of image isn't on the agenda just yet. "King of Intimidation," which has been gaining favor with the live crowds continues on where "You Oughta Know" left off. Taking a feminist approach, it begins to deal more with the ways in which men and women interact in general rather than in one realationship.

Whether this is representative of a new album remains to be seen. Her second album, more than charts, grammys and concert receits, will probably make or break her. Even at 21 she has shown that she can handle pressure. But she's never had pressure like this.

c1997 Thompson Target Media