Wed, May 28, 2008 - Page 14 News List

Alanis Morissette looks back in anger

Alanis Morissette burst onto the scene with an album full of rage — then lapsed into years of self-indulgent songwriting. Now, her anger is back

By Lucy O'Brien  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

She feels that the pressure and obsession with body image is one of the key issues facing women today. “Europe seems a little softer,” she says, “but in America it’s harsh. In LA, where I live, it’s all about perfectionism. Beauty is now defined by your bones sticking out of your decolletage. For that to be the standard is really perilous for women.”

Does she see herself as a feminist? “What’s your definition?” she asks. Equal pay. Equal rights. That women should be able to fulfill their potential regardless of gender. “If that’s what the definition is, then yes, absolutely ... . Women are so powerful they’re scary, and the incentive to squash this has been going on for so long that some of us actually believe we’re subordinate.”

Morissette was 19 when she left Ontario and gave up trying to be “Miss Perfect.” She ended up in Los Angeles, working with rock producer Glen Ballard, who encouraged her to free-associate, and to bring out her unfettered, unruly side in her lyrics. Madonna signed her up to her Maverick label, and Jagged Little Pill followed.

Although passion coursed through the record, Morissette has been accused, repeatedly, of being a puppet for male producers. Her response was to “over-function,” to micromanage each video and record, and to produce herself.

“Now I see the futility in that,” she says. “I’m still empowered, but it’s lovely to let the producer or director work without trying to control the whole situation.” Tori Amos recently suggested that it is almost impossible to have real independence as a female artist on a major label — “You’re accepted up until the point you want to be your own producer and have your own label, and then things close down,” she said — and Morissette agrees that executives often balk at her independence. “It’s such a common, daily thing I don’t even notice it any more,” she says. “It’s scary for them, especially if there’s money involved. I’m a liability to them — I’m a woman, I’m empowered, I’m an artist. I’ve had executives who can’t come to my shows they’re so scared of me. I’ve been a thorn in many people’s sides just by existing.”

Did going to India make her lose her rage? “No. I felt gratitude. Humility. My rage showed up in other ways. I’m always fascinated by how people’s rage shows up. Canada has a passive-aggressive culture, with a lot of sarcasm and righteousness. That went with my weird messianic complex. The ego is a fascinating monster. I was taught from a young age that I had to serve, so that turned into me thinking I had to save the planet.”

This was reflected in the role she played in Kevin Smith’s 1999 comedy, Dogma, a satire on the Catholic church: Morissette was cast as God. Now she doesn’t feel the need to save the world, or be approved of. “I highly recommend getting older! There’s less tendency to people-please.” Just one look at My Humps, the spoof video she put up on YouTube last year as a retort to the rap act Black Eyed Peas shows how relaxed and confident she has become. In the video, she ridicules the notion of women as doe-eyed sexual decorations, turning the tables with her comic domination of some male backing dancers.

Does she think the industry has become easier for female stars in recent years, or has the intrusive tabloid focus on the public breakdowns of Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse, for instance, made it harder?

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