What They Say:
HBO’s JAGGED, continues the Music Box series, taking viewers to 1995, when a 21-year-old Alanis Morissette burst onto the music scene with the first single off her ground-breaking album, “Jagged Little Pill.” With a rawness and emotional honesty that resonated with millions, and despite a commercial landscape that preferred its rock stars to be male, she took radio and MTV by storm and the album went on to sell 33 million copies.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Most of us grow up having a particular decade of music that we feel defines us. While there may be a particular genre or style only, or just the pop scene in general, it’s something that definitely connects and you find yourself easily going back to it over the years. You engage with current music and enjoy it a lot, but for most people there’s just that period where you know every lyric, every song, and if you’re of a certain age, you have a record, tape, or CD collection that really represents it more than any other. My twenties were spent in the 1990s and for me that is my decade. While I spent most of the later half of it engaged in alternative radio and things like Lilith Fair and the like, one of the biggest performers out there was Alanis Morissette.
While I wasn’t aware of it when she first burst onto the worldwide stage with 1995s Jagged Little Pill, I felt a connection to her early on because I was a fan of You Can’t Do That on Television and I had remembered her time in that and at this pre-internet time it wasn’t always easy to find out about performers, their past, and so forth. It wasn’t until this documentary that I had even heard about her debut album from 1991 that was released by MCA in Canada and basically played to what a lot of other 80s performers were like, such as the oft-compared Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Performers who I really liked at the time. I’ve always felt out of sync with what my peers were enjoying during my high school years, having grown up on things like Motown and a lot of sixties music, but as I started to grow into discovering music on my own I went through the pop phase first as a kind of basic foundation.
The documentary does a really good job throughout in showing the evolution of her career and includes a lot of great interviews with a primary sitdown with Morissette herself and a lot with bandmates from the Jagged Little Pill tour and friends and family. The early material is fascinating because you see clearly, once again, how the music industry machine operates. Nothing about it was a surprise, from how little oversight there was, to the way she was taken advantage of in seemingly every way, and how it spit her out when in her mid-teens she was going through normal changes and wasn’t this rail-thin early teenager anymore. It’s heartbreaking both for what she experienced because it shouldn’t have but also because it continues to happen and it feels like there’s no way for it to be dealt with.
When the doc focuses on her attempt at finding her true voice, the kind of artist she wanted to be without the influence of others trying to package her as a commodity, it’s really well done in its execution here. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes footage available since, on the tour for example, she had a video camera herself and often used it to capture the experience as the tour went all over the world. It’s impossible to imagine what it was like, being twenty-two or so, and having this kind of experience, but it captures the kinds of compromises she had along the way as well. The bond with those in the band that backed here was great, as we see their talent but also how contrary to her message they were acting in basically sleeping with as many women as they could all over. But also the realization on her part that replacing them wouldn’t really change anything except potentially make the music sound worse, because they really did have a gift in how they came together. It’s a problematic area but one that is that kind of reality to the world as well.
And that’s part of what’s always come through in her music. We get the sequence where her CD is taken to KROQ to try and get them to play it and from the title song it just wowed them, enough that they put it right on the air and it became the phenomenon that it was. We’ve had these instances over the years and while there’s a familiarity to it because it does kind of happen in cycles, watching it unfold here and how it was so viral and became as huge as it did really is covered perfectly here. We see this through the tour, the young men and women that were really moved by it, and how almost every song on that album was an anthem for someone that they could just bang out when they heard it on the radio. And, as it covers later, we also see how she opened so many doors to others. Whenever I hear someone covering her work at an awards ceremony or something else, You can see the resonance and power in those songs and those performers, from Taylor Swift to Beyonce.
And it reinforces the power of music to move you as an individual but also to change so much more than that. And through the documentary, we see how her music, her writing, and her interactions with others that she was able to help change the music industry for the next twenty-five years.
While Morissette disavows this documentary and has perfectly legitimate reasons to do so, I really enjoyed this film and getting to re-experience the work that helped define me and my interest in music for years to come. Every track from the CD brings back memories of my ill-spent youth and those that populated it, right down to someone that was basically Morissette herself in my own life. The project captures a couple of distinct periods in time really well, with the teen years, then the Jagged Little Pill release, and the way things grew and changed from there over the years, and it was good to hear so much from Morissette herself and others that were in the room, as they say. I wish the project was able to be what she envisioned it to be, but I’m also grateful to have had such an unvarnished look at so much of this past, which I think comes across largely in a very positive way while being realistic about the problems that have been a part of the industry since its inception.
Streamed By: HBO Max