Alanis Morissette’s life seems to be in perpetual transition.
She was a tween, doing peppy dance songs. And a teen, writing songs of pain and rage. And a grown-up, at the top of the music world. And a latecomer to Broadway success.
And now? “I watch animated shows … a lot,” said Morissette, 46. “I have a 10-year-old son and that’s mostly what we do.”
She also co-stars in one of those shows. In “The Great North” (8:30 p.m. Sundays on Fox), she plays herself (appearing inside the aurora borealis, shown here, in the Alaskan sky), chatting with a teen girl.
Yes, that was written with hope she’d do it. “You can’t really have a back-up,” said producer Wendy Molyneux. “You can’t be, like: ‘Oh, now let’s send it to Jeremy Irons to play Alanis Morissette.’”
Fortunately, she wanted to. During COVID, Morisssette has been spending time at home with her husband, their older son, a toddler girl and a baby boy.
“With us being in lockdown and at home, I’ve been breastfeeding my son and just really close to everybody,” she said. That’s brought her to things “I’d tabled until later. I love doing voiceover; I have a secret, secret obsession with animated series.”
“Great North” has Nick Offerman as Beef Tobin, an Alaska fisherman with three sons (one with a fiancee), and a daughter. That’s Judy, 16, anguished over her mother’s departure; she communes with the Northern lights and a vision of Morissette … who is an expert on teen angst.
The notion of performing was all her idea, Morissette said. Her dad (a school principal and teacher) “was really on board”; her mom (a teacher) was hesitant, but she pushed ahead.
“I started a record company when I was 11,” she said, “and became obsessed with the idea of being able to just continuously write and tour, travel the planet.”
At 12, she did five episodes of “You Can’t Do That on Television,” a kids’ sketch-comedy show that was taped in her native Canada, but became popular in the U.S. via Nickelodeon. At 16, she was on a bigger label, writing and recording pop tunes that were modestly successful in Canada.
And then came one of those transitions. Working in California with collaborator Glen Ballard, she wrote potent songs; they became the “Jagged Little Pill” album and music history.
“I wrote those songs at 19 years old, (and) my value system has remained pretty consistent,” Morissette said. “So there’s no inner conflict with the lyrics.”
These do not feel like the lyrics of a past dance-pop star or a future cartoon star. “You took me out to wine me, dine me, 69 me,” she sang. “But didn’t hear a word I said.”
And: “Every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back, I hope you feel it.”
And: “The last chance streetcar went off the track, and you’re on it.”
They were songs of pain, mixed with others of fun and hope. “Jagged Little Pill” won five Grammys, including album of the year and best rock song (“You Outta Know”). It also sold a reported 33 million albums, putting it at No. 13 of all time … and No. 5 by an individual, trailing only two albums by Michael Jackson and one each by Meat Loaf and fellow Canadian Shania Twain.
Since then, Morissette has won a couple more Grammys and sold another 42 million albums. She’s been an actress. And in another transition, her work reached Broadway.
“Jagged Little Pill” includes songs from that album and others, plus two more she wrote for the show. It received positive reviews, even from critics who dislike “jukebox musicals”; it also drew 15 Tony nominations …. with a catch.
That was for a truncated season. Some shows never opened … others (including “Jagged Little Pill”) were suspended … a year later, the award ceremony still haven’t been scheduled.
So there’s been another transition, after 35 years of performing. “It’s been cycles of writing records, touring, losing one’s mind, re-collecting one’s self, and then writing again,” Morissette said.
Suddenly, that halted. She could watch a lot of cartoons … and be in one.