Photo by: Gwen King / Unspalsh

Jagged Little Pill, a new Broadway musical, is an inconsistent but ultimately triumphant reimagining of Alanis Morrissette's iconic 2019 album of the same name.

Show-writer Diablo Cody spun Morrissette's contradictory and conflicted odes to youthful angst into the story of the Healys, a picture-perfect Connecticut-dwelling family who—of course—have a few secrets. There's Mary Jane, an overachieving mom who finds herself in the midst of an opioid addiction; Steve, the father, a typically overworked lawyer; Nick, the beloved prodigal son who gets into Harvard but (shockingly) feels unfulfilled, and Frankie, the adopted youngest child, a budding activist struggling with being adopted and one of the few people of color in a mostly white and very wealthy town. Wealth hangs over the musical in a form that is never really addressed, but then again, Jagged Little Pill fundamentally bites off more than it could reasonably chew.

“Head Over Feet" Official Music Video | Jagged Little

As a character-driven musical, Jagged Little Pill shines and falters in this department. The three best-crafted characters in the show are Frankie, Mary Jane, and Frankie's best friend (with benefits), Jo, who struggles with her gender presentation (and her Christian mother's resistance to it) throughout the show. In a show so totally packed with disparate plotlines, the characters aren't always given the chance to fully grow into their personalities, and Jo's storyline could easily have been expanded. (Still, Lauren Patten's breathless rendition of "You Oughta Know" does make up for everything, despite being cut short by a dramatic revelation).

The show's overwhelming, kaleidoscopic nature may be be intentional. The musical was meant to be a maximalist work, one that reflects Morrissette's jam-packed songs by exploring tons of different social issues and the ways they intersect and bleed into each other. The show manages to tackle gun violence, sexuality, race and colorblindness, bullying, and—very prominently—#MeToo. Often the characters erupt into protests, holding signs that resemble those you might see at the next Women's March. For a show that tackles so many sensitive issues, Jagged Little Pill avoids the cringe-factor admirably, mostly focusing on the way the issues manifest themselves in characters' lives instead of excessively preaching.

Seeing the Present From the Future: "Jagged Little Pill" As a 2010s Time Capsule

Heading into 2020, it's intriguing to imagine how people might look back on this decade. Jagged Little Pill offers a window into what 2010s period pieces might look like: portraits of a time fraught with identity politics and addiction, whene the climate crisis and inequality loom large and yet at the same time, differing identities like queerness are becoming more and more accepted, and women's voices are finally being heard (in certain contexts) regarding assault and rape.

Despite the uniqueness of this time period, we're all still human, and the burning angst of Morrissette's songs meshes well with the chaos of the show's contemporary setting. The musical does an admirable job of threading Morrissette's slippery, elusive, cathartic songs into its narrative. Lyrically, Jagged Little Pill-era Morrissette works in contrasts and knots, and though the show's characters can feel underwritten at times, they're given permission to dive deep into their emotions and traumas through the music. Dance also features heavily; a battalion of athletic dancers often serve as physical manifestations of the same uncontrollable emotions that the music tries to express when the characters cannot.

Jagged Little Pill is at its best when it proves what we all know: that the people around us must be going through internal storms while smiling on the outside. Though unlike teen-angst-musical forefathers like Spring Awakening and Bare, it refrains from diving too deep into darkness, focusing instead on growing pains.

In the end, despite its roots in the present, this is the ageless story of an estranged mother and daughter. For Mary Jane, her arc is about letting go of her need to keep up appearances and addressing the pain and need for love that live under the ice sheath of perfectionism that cloaks her WASPy heart. For Frankie, it's about learning that she deserves to be seen for who she is—and that her race and her beliefs and her body shouldn't be swept aside. In the end, it's a tale of a mother and daughter both discovering themselves, setting themselves free in the present by confronting demons of the past. Their voices, like the best declarations of rage and hope, ring out a long time after the curtain closes.

Our Journey, Our Story | “You Learn" | Jagged Little

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."

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)

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

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.

POP⚡DUST |

Sky Fererria Is Back

What's Going On With Cardi B?

Stop Trying to Podcast the Revolution