Alanis Morissette Was 20 Years Ahead of Her Time
In 1998, ’NSYNC released its début album, MTV’s TRL premiered, and the best rap video at the MTV Video Music Awards was Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It.” Pop songs ruled the radio, and the mood was … light.
The same year, Canadian singer Alanis Morissette released Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, the hugely anticipated follow-up to her 1995 blockbuster, Jagged Little Pill. But whereas Pill felt as though a pissed-off 21-year-old was burning it all down, Junkie found Morissette in a totally different place.
Junkie was, in part, a reaction to the massive swell of fame she was facing—the immensity of which nearly drowned her. “[Around that time] I was hiding in my hotel rooms or bathroom stalls across the planet to keep it together, to be honest,” the 44-year-old says. “What happened was that I achieved ‘the American dream’—everything that I was supposed to chase in order to have happiness. But my traumas were still there … and almost amplified, really. There’s an isolation to fame. It created a deep suffering for me. So I thought, ‘OK, the only direction to go now is within.’”
After the requisite touring for Pill, Morissette, then just 23, traveled to India and Cuba. She participated in triathlons and pored over psychology books. “I just actively sought out various ways to deal with trauma, to get back in my body, to heal,” she says.
As a result, Junkie’s lead single, “Thank U,” spoke of Eastern philosophy, accepting imperfection, living in the moment, and forgiveness. The memorable (and at the time controversial) video showed the singer naked on a crowded city sidewalk, in a grocery store, on a bus. She was stripped bare but not sexualized. (That part really confused people.) The video ends with Morissette standing alone in the middle of an empty street.
The album followed thematic suit. Consciousness, body positivity, and parity within relationships are now totally in line with the modern self-care movement that’s shifted to the center of culture recently, but back when Junkie came out, Morissette was shouting into the void.
“For a long time I was made fun of in the press and otherwise for my ... I think they called it psychobabble,” she says with a laugh. “Twenty-some-odd years ago, me having this conversation … the journalist would’ve rolled their eyes and just been like, ‘This woman is a woo-woo psycho.’ ”
OK, so not everyone got it. But here’s what made Morissette such a badass: She didn’t care. “I remember people saying, ‘You’re either a rock ’n’ roll star or you’re an academic—pick one and stay there.’ I just thought, ‘Well, that’s impossible.’ ”
So instead of a narrow path, the outspoken feminist has chosen a vast freeway. In addition to releasing four more studio albums, she’s worked on a mix of creative projects—from acting onstage, in movies, and on TV to writing an advice column for The Guardian and creating a viral video (do a quick Google search of “My Humps Alanis”).
Her interest in psychology and mindful living is front and center as well. On her website, Alanis.com, you’ll find not only tour dates but also streams of her monthly podcast, “Conversations”—where she goes deep with experts from a diverse field, including the neurobiological and therapy communities—and a blog that covers topics like postpartum depression and her favorite natural products. (“I’m obsessed with finding the perfect arnica and eucalyptus,” she admits. “In a parallel universe I’m an aesthetician.”) She also teaches workshops for California’s holistic learning campus 1440 Multiversity.
Morissette’s also gotten more confident about sharing it all with her fans. “There was a period of time when it was implied that if I really had my social channels reflect my whole person, that wouldn’t be OK. I’m very sensitive and still have PTSD from 20 years ago. Part of my survival strategy has been to hide a bit. So I’ve been slowly coming out from under my rock.”
In May a musical based on Pill (with a script written by Diablo Cody) débuted at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., with an eye on a 2019 Broadway run. Morissette was heavily involved in the project and wrote some additional songs for the score. “And while I was doing that,” she says, “I wrote a whole new record, probably 23 songs.” She plans to release it in early 2019, making it her first new studio album in six years. “I’m calling it my piano record,” she says. She’s got a memoir in progress too, hovering at around 1,200 pages.
She’s managed to balance the writing, performing, teaching, and podcasting while also, as she calls it, “wife-ing and mom-ing,” which is her absolute priority. Morissette has two children—son Ever, 7, and daughter Onyx, 2—with her husband, rapper Mario “Souleye” Treadway.
Jagged Little Pill may have been the thing that grabbed people’s attention, but it’s her evolution that now defines her artistry. “Art became a way to move the energy,” she says. “It was like a catharsis. I’ll write music until I’m dead and gone ... and probably after too.”
For more stories like this, pick up the August issue of InStyle, on newsstands and for digital download now.