Alanis Morissette – Smiling

Alanis Morissette – Smiling

Why this song became part of my life's soundtrack for the week beginning March 15, 2020

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What a strange week. Coronavirus (COVID-19) started out as a looming threat and by the end of the week, a pandemic: the Prime Minister’s wife had contracted it, both major and minor pubic events were cancelled across Ottawa (and around the world) and universities moved from in-class lectures to online-only.

Humanity’s selfish side showed itself through a wave of toilet paper and disinfectant hoarding, too. I made the mistake of doing grocery shopping, appropriately on Friday the 13th, and people were running into me with grocery carts, and reach-grabbing food in the aisles as if it were the end of days.

To quote Pink: “Where, oh where, have the smart people gone?”

I definitely needed Alanis Morissette’s intellectual energy on my playlists.

The Ottawa-born singer-songwriter has been a favourite of mine since her 1991 video for “Too Hot” was first shown on CBC TV’s Video Hits. (I’m old. And yes, the song charted in my personal top 10 in 1991, too.)

Notable lyrics

Such pretty forks in the road
On this continuum I’ve been bouncing
Life flashing promise before my eyes

Morissette has been on my mind in recent years. As I began to research into giftedness special education, I coincidentally ended up in her old high school, and when there, I considered her prodigious talent and rise to super-stardom. She definitely fits the profile of a gifted learner, with all of our kind’s intense intellectual and emotional intelligence.

Her songs often reflect a mind running deep with feeling, constantly wrestling with meaning, and sometimes tortured by her own contronymical thinking. Later in Morissette’s career, her lyrics grew dense with the language of psychoanalysis and the need to express her conceptualizations of spirituality.

“Smiling” definitely fits this later-era conception of Morissette as it’s full of psychoanalytic wordplay. For instance, interpretations of the word “surrendering” are played with multiple times in the pre-chorus: “…if that’s what you call it… if that’s what I call it… if I can bear it.” Because of this, even though the song was written for the Broadway rock musical based on her seminal 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, the song more nostalgically recalls her follow-up, 1998’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (and especially the melodies of “Joining You” from that album).


Harris, K. (2020, March 12). Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tests positive for coronavirus. Retrieved from

Morissette, A. (2020). Smiling [Song]. On Such pretty forks on the road [Album]. Epiphany/Thirty Tigers.

Morissette, A. (1998). Joining You [Song]. On Supposed former infatuation junkie [Album]. Maverick.

Pink. (2006). Stupid Girls [Song]. On I’m Not Dead [Album]. LaFace.

Tiffany, K. (2020, March 12). The dos and don’ts of ‘social distancing’. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Wray, M. (2020, March 13). People hoard essentials as coronavirus fears rise, but panic buying isn’t necessary: experts. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Smiling (song). Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Video Hits (Canadian TV series). Retrieved from