Jezebel editor Tracy Clark-Flory recently published an article with the definitely-not-clickbait headline "Jagged Little Pill is Actually Very Bad??" The article describes how the author acquired a copy of Alanis Morissette's classic album, a childhood favorite, only to realize—in her words—that it "is Baby Shark for mid-90's angsty teenage girls."
She spends most of the piece explaining that her husband (a fan of the Beach Boys and Miles Davis) decided "not to argue with her" about ordering the album on vinyl off Amazon Prime, describing how she's become the "cliche parent imposing youthful cultural artifacts upon her offspring," and juxtaposing memories of a Morissette concert she attended at age twelve against fragmented thoughts about how shallow the album now seems.
If Clark-Flory were more specific regarding her issues with Jagged Little Pill, maybe the article would've had legs. Instead, she lists a series of abstract qualms, critiquing the tone of the electric guitar (admittedly, "clanging" isn't the most inaccurate term to describe it) and the album's lack of thematic substantiality. "What had once felt enlivening and validating now felt grating and corny," she writes, adding, "these are not profound lyrics. These are not timeless."
Alanis Morissette - You Oughta Know - Jagged Little Pill www.youtube.com
Clark-Flory seems to imply that Jagged Little Pill doesn't live up to her standards because it speaks to a kind of youthful angst that she has outgrown. But by denouncing the album on the basis of its purported shallowness, she's continuing a tradition, upheld by music critic and Internet troll alike, of invalidating everything that tween girls love and feel, labeling them unworthy, devoid of value—in other words, "really bad."
This isn't a new phenomenon. At the height of The Beatles' popularity, critic Paul Johnson wrote that "Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures."
Things have improved somewhat, but why are we so insistent on robbing tween girls of joy? This trend isn't reserved for white male critics or experimental-indie know-it-alls. The Jezebel article is proof that adult women, having lived enough years to feel they've overcome the hormones and chaos of youth, are also guilty of invalidating the things they experienced and the music they loved during those unruly years.
Alanis Morissette - "Hand In My Pocket" (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Regardless of how she feels now, at one point, Jagged Little Pill clearly meant a lot to Clark-Flory. "I remember the shock of recognition at her long-ass tangly hair and spastic movements. [Alanis] was a weird, dirty, uncontainable girl just like me," writes the Jezebel author, contradicting her shame-filled adult feelings. "The [songs] channeled all of my simmering rage—at dickhead little boys, at puberty's onslaught, and at the suffocating wave of feminine expectation about to wash right over me."
She then goes on to invalidate these feelings and the music that gave voice to them, implying that they're only valuable as cultural artifacts. But personally, it's hard to imagine completely eviscerating the artists that soundtracked those years, whose music often felt like a raft in a vast ocean, a tunnel out of claustrophobic middle school hallways into concert halls where every extravagant emotion could be celebrated, blasted on loudspeakers across teeming crowds.
For me, that music was Green Day's American Idiot and Pink Floyd's The Wall, both of which I listened to over and over again in eighth grade, feeling my internal chaos validated with every thrash of guitar, inspired to channel my emotions into something greater than myself. I was a pretty weird kid in middle school, but I doubt my feelings about those albums were much different from the Jezebel writer's feelings about Alanis Morissette, who burst onto the scene gnashing her teeth, refusing to work as an emotional vessel, thunderously proclaiming her right to occupy space, to feel violently and without shame.
Despite its unabashed emotional intensity and feminist significance, Jagged Little Pill isn't the most musically and lyrically esoteric album in the world. But neither is Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, or the majority of popular music, depending on who you're talking to. Some music just has an uncanny ability to transcend ideas of quality or worth by making us feel truly seen and understood—messy floors, lonely nights, and hours of scrolling through social media comparing ourselves to others and all—and it helps us move forward, finding momentum in our vulnerability. If that's not timeless, then what is?
Image via Macleans.ca
In her beautifully philosophical essay "Notes on 21st Century Mystic Carly Rae Jepsen," Jia Tolentino describes pop music's ability to exist completely within a singular moment: "the kaleidoscope-confetti-spinning instant, the first bit of nothing that contains it all." According to Tolentino, Carly Rae's music, "strictly and deliberately generic, transcends its structure through this sonic technicolor hurry, this ecstatic sense of the possible, untethered from the way anything works." Jagged Little Pill arguably does the same thing with a different subject, appearing at the center of the bright, burning moments that define tween girlhood and reappear throughout all of life. It's not concerned with being timeless—it's not concerned at all about what anyone thinks of it—and so it is, in a way, universal, located at the place where rage becomes defiance, where raw emotion gets channeled into unfiltered fearlessness.
There's nothing wrong with outgrowing music, and this certainly isn't to say that Jezebel senior editor Tracy Clark-Flory is single-handedly responsible for stealing tween girls' joy, or that she isn't entitled to her opinion. But it is to say that there's no reason to denounce girlhood simply for being what it has always been—messy, tangled, period-blood-stained, and soundtracked by too-loud electric guitar.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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