How I grew up and learned to connect with Alanis Morissette's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
At first, Anne T. Donahue didn't find what she was looking for in the 1998 album — but she has now
Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the '90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).
The last thing I wanted to listen to in 1998 was Alanis Morissette's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.
At 13 — and still years from the instantaneousness of Napster — I was finally revelling in the anger and brilliance of Jagged Little Pill and considered myself "old enough" to order it from Columbia House. (It arrived alongside Jewel's Pieces of You and the Grease soundtrack, respectively.) Which makes sense because Morissette's debut was nothing short of iconic. Without knowing what the songs were about, my friends and I scream-sang her singles at recess, pretending we know what "Ironic" meant and assumed it related to the "cross-eyed bear" she referenced in "You Oughta Know."
For a lip syncing project in fifth grade, countless female students selected songs by Alanis, with the most memorable being a girl named Katie who performed "Hands Over Feet" with choreography impressive enough for me to see past our longtime feud and begin to respect her. (Sadly, I'd settled on Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About" with my next-door neighbour, who made me dress up like Dennis Quaid. My newfound respect for Katie was not returned.) When "You Learn" appeared on Pop Up Video, I used its trivia as conversation starter with cool kids at recess (it didn't work), and I counted the days until I could begin smoking so that, like Alanis, I could keep one hand in my pocket while the other one flicked a cigarette.
So perhaps understandably, I wanted nothing to do with "Thank U."
Released in October of 1998, the single reflected Morissette's personal evolution over the course of the mid-90s. Written after a trip to India (alongside "Baba," which kicks off the record), the video features a nude — albeit blurred — Alanis who spends most of her time in a street being approached by strangers who offer gratitude.
Frankly, compared to the playfulness of "Ironic" (which sees several Alanises hanging out in a car) or "You Learn" (which gave us Alanis doing dozens of cartwheels), "Thank U" seemed...boring. It was weird. She wasn't wearing pants. And as a 13-year-old miles from seeing nudity as anything other than a hard pass (and even now: there's a time and a place), the video wasn't fodder for anything I aspired to be — especially compared the pop that defined the rest of the year: around the same time, Britney Spears dropped "...Baby One More Time" and the Spice Girls were riding an all-time high. Thus, "Thank U" seemed self-serious and impossible to scream or dance to. And by the time "Uninvited" was released in conjunction with the City of Angels soundtrack, I was over Alanis completely.
Of course, there's a chasm between 13 and 24 — the age Alanis Morissette was upon the release of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. At 13, I had no idea what the title of her album even meant, and was only just tapping into the thoughts and feelings that eventually ignited my female rage. More than that, I had no clue how much happens in your 20s; how, between the start of the decade and the end, you morph into a completely different person who can't believe you wore what you did once and cringes at how revolutionary you thought you were (because you started carrying a rose quartz or something). Your 20s are messy and embarrassing and important and nightmarish, and for the entirety of that decade, you feel exactly as vulnerable as a naked pop singer being approached by strangers on the streets. And personally, I would've handled it with far less grace and likely with a chorus of "Don't look at me!" (I would also react the same today.) But Alanis opted to use the album to signal her embrace of changing perspectives.
Which isn't to say the album is perfect. (It is not.) Ultimately, "Baba" (the Indian word for "father") is another testament to cultural appropriation, with Morissette being another example of a white musician who's used Indian culture as the jumping off point for an artistic awakening. (And 1998 was a hotbed of it: that same year, Madonna debuted her Ray of Light persona, which was flush with appropriative expressions, while Gwen Stefani decided she could adopt bindis as her own.) And while "Thank U" overtly cites India as a source of positivity, it still fails to see the singer acknowledge her own privilege and participation in borrowing from something that doesn't belong to her, instead alluding to a me-centric journey that sees the singer suggest we abandon antibiotics and turn to divinity. (Yikes!)
And sure, "Are You Still Mad" is a powerful testament to one's relationships and assigned gender roles, while "Sympathetic Character" opts to humanize an ex-partner. (Also, "Uninvited" is a terrific dose of late-90s angst.) But it's the record's amalgamation of hits and misses that makes Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie an important next step in the singer's professional anthology. Maybe more specifically, it's a testament to how, despite having grown and changed, you still do not, under any circumstances, have it all figured out — no matter how open you may now seem, or what belief system you've decided to subscribe to.
Of course I wouldn't have wanted anything to do with that at 13. And at 33, it's suddenly easy to listen and recognize that between Jagged Little Pill and SFIJ, Alanis had undergone a transformation only world fame can be responsible for. As a normal person simply trying to exist, your 20s are a landmine of the worst case scenarios. But a young woman who'd become globally synonymous with rage and wit and angst and rumours of Dave Coulier? Of course her follow-up would be a departure. Of course she'd break from the persona she'd become associated with. Of course it'd be messy. Of course it'd be another step in her professional trajectory. Of course it would be nothing like Jagged Little Pill. In your 20s, you don't even want to dress the same as your year-earlier self. Why would you want to make the same music or even be the same artist?
But like the rest of us, Alanis still gives herself away. Her lyrics are still sharp. Her songs are still predominantly self-reflective. She still takes risks. (See: "Thank U.") And that's just like the rest of us, too. Because try as we might, we can't fully lose ourselves in our grown-up personas. At some point, we'll always be outed as someone who dressed up as Dennis Quaid to lip-sync the hell out of a Bonnie Raitt jam.