The 1990s were for some, an eye-opening time for music. For audiences who were old enough to have a stake in new music, the sheer amount of choice was exciting. Arguably, for young women, one of those exciting new artists was Alanis Morissette.
Morissette’s album, “Jagged Little Pill,” expressed a range of emotions about interpersonal relationships and life in general (“Ironic”). While “Head Over Feet” is a happy relationship song, Morissette is probably best known for her angry young woman track, “You Oughta Know.”
Twenty-three years ago, “Jagged Little Pill” made Morissette a household name. According to thisdayinrockmusic.com, the album sold more than 30 million copies and reached No. 1. The achievement made Morissette the first Canadian woman to have such a hit.
“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
Depending on a listener’s perspective, “You Oughta Know” either encourages fear or fist-pumping. The song succeeds on the perfect interaction between vocals and instrumentation. The soundscape starts as innocuously as the lyrics. In fact, the sound is sparse. A handful of bass notes rumble pleasantly to open the song. There is also a brief drum tattoo. This is quickly followed by the vocals. The lyrics lead unsuspecting audiences to believe that everything is going to be alright. The narrator is happy for her former beau. However, it is a bit odd that “things look peaceful.” Where is this narrator that she knows this? When the narrator sings, “I’m not quite as well/I thought you should know,” audiences believe her.
The tone is decidedly aggrieved. She is beyond mad. Morissette speaks for well-behaved young women who would love to tell an ex “how it is” but who stop themselves for fear of appearing “unwell.” The fear is well-founded. The narrator doesn’t sound okay, but listeners cheer her on, because the scathing tone with which she addresses her former love is cathartic. Even for people who didn’t live through a similar experience, Morissette’s performance creates a voyeuristic situation. People want to hear more about this relationship gone wrong. Here, Morissette goes beyond just telling a former lover he’s lied – – and she is the one to teach him how he has wronged her.
Beyond the lyrics, the sound of the song plays up what the lyrics describe. As Morissette is winding her voice up for the angriest parts of the track, the bass plays a complex, nuanced line in a tone that can be described as “pissed.” The bass, too, seems to build up to the fast and angry delivery section.
The song is categorized most often as pop, but “You Oughta Know” in some ways represents what was freeing about alternative rock. Morissette created a new standard for putting anger, disappointment and heartbreak in one song.