"The Veil Is Lifting": Alanis Morissette on Women, Culture, and Today's Reckoning
Alanis Morissette is most well-known for her autobiographical songwriting and passionate performances, as well as her evocative and engaging articles, interviews, and public speaking events. Her music has won seven Grammys. She is also a charitable activist who has supported causes that focus on empowerment, art, recovery, psychological and spiritual healing, feminism, relationships, and environmental causes—earning her a Global Tolerance Award from the United Nations.
1440: The release of Jagged Little Pill cemented you as an international music sensation. The iconic songs on that record resonated for millions. How do you think your work spoke to the cultural climate of the time? What do you believe people were needing to hear?
Alanis Morissette: I think it was a validation of our humanity, on some level. For me to wrap my head around what created the zeitgeist—I can’t even come close. I have absolutely no idea, but I can make some educated guesses.
Most of it was where the feminist movement was with the idea of vulnerability and emotionality no longer having a toxic shame. In particular, anger and sadness were two feelings and emotions that the feminine force was clearly dissuaded from experiencing in a patriarchal context.
We’re still in a patriarchal context, but lord knows we’ve come a distance.
And the takedown of sexual impropriety in today’s pop culture couldn’t be more exciting—in terms of people giving pause to how we treat each other and the degree of respect we treat each other with.
As to the songs on Jagged Little Pill—I was writing about my own microcosmic experience. When I write songs, I’m just writing for myself. They are the equivalent of a musical diary entry. And then once I share the song, it belongs to whoever is listening to it. It becomes theirs.
It opened me up, in a direct way, to how many people were suffering—and my career quickly anchored itself around wanting to consciously be a part of alleviating the suffering I began to sense more deeply.
1440: What cultural moment do you see your work speaking to now? What do you believe people need to hear today?
Alanis Morissette: Evolution has been happening, albeit at a snail’s pace, and I think it’s obvious to anyone who’s noticing that culture has changed over the last 20 years.
Consciousness is raising. The hood is being looked under, and the veil of conditioning is slowly lifting.
In the same breath, there is, unfortunately, even more entrenchment in the extremes in the Divided States of America. Moderation, often called “the middle path,” has become my personal new star of Bethlehem.
I think more people are inspired to define themselves in accordance with what’s happening in pop culture, what’s happening in politics. There’s more overt activism.
The patriarchy’s veneer is getting less glossy, which I find thrilling. It’s going to take many, many years for this horror of conditioning to really turn around.
The horror to me is the disallowance of our essential selves being expressed.
What’s happening now in culture, in the feminist movement and in the consciousness movement, is that people are slowly moving toward awareness of their essential selves, which feels so liberating to me. Because doing so leaves room for feelings and proprioceptive embodiment, mindfulness, all of these fantastic words that basically describe the idea of us coming home to ourselves; coming home to our bodies; not having to split off; not having to fight, flight, or freeze; healing traumas; recognizing what the traumas even are that keep us from living in a connected, inspired, and fulfilling way; and making a safe space physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually for this inquiry to happen.
I have been part of this conversation for as long as I can remember, and my art and service has always been oriented toward this. I used to hide it. There was much more of a split in the ’90s. It was very much compartmentalized, like—you’re a rock-and-roll musician, or you’re an academic, or you’re a dancer, or you’re a spiritual teacher. It’s almost as though you had to pick which egoic identity you wanted.
There seems to be more of a capacity to “hold the complexity” now—to allow for an integrated, multitudinous life and lifestyle.
A painter can be a chef and be a scientist, and a scientist can, heaven forbid, talk about spirituality, and a yogi can be all about carpentry or neuroscience. It’s wildly exciting.