On being “Ironic”

Alanis Morissette’s perhaps most famous song gave stand-up comedians with a humanities degree a good five minutes of material in the 90s. The problem with “Ironic”, they said, was that it was about things that were unfortunate, or sad, or bad timing. But not irony. And we’ll come back to that.

“Ironic” was on the album Jagged Little Pill, which came out during a weird time of my life. I was single, living alone for the first time, and trying to come to terms with being a single father, a worker, a renter, and still find some kind of identity in that. I’d made a small group of friends and we’d go out drinking, for what else was there to do, over multiple weekends. And Jagged Little Pill was more often than not our soundtrack to those nights.

“You Outta Know” was even a song that could get me onto a dance floor, if it was played late enough in the evening and the wisdom of the crowd overcame my own natural inclination to…well, to not be anywhere near a dance floor.

The whole wonder of Jagged Little Pill came back to me, still fully formed, when AM released an acoustic version of the album. I loved it on first listen – some songs sounding even better in their simpler form than in their hyper-produced original. But the song that struck me as most different was “Ironic” – isn’t that ironic?


The thing that occurs to me is this. AM must know that comedians, English teachers, and internet smart arses the world over have made fun of that song forever. I know that English teachers here in America still reference the song, critically, when they’re teaching irony. Some of the clever young people I train know it very well. 

And then she comes up with a chance to re-define her song. To answer the critics. To prove she knew what she was talking about, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t changes any of the words at all. Well, she changes one. She goes from “Meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife” to “Meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful husband”. 

I like to think that this is a less-than-subtle fuck-you to the pedants. Sure, I’ll change it. Sure, I’ll update it. There: gender politics now updated. What else were you expecting me to do?

Is that ironic?

Also no.

But there’s more. Because sometimes the pedants are wrong. You know, sometimes. Like people on the internet. Sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes people just don’t know that there is more than one type of irony. And that’s not their fault. I blame the education system, the politicians. Sure, throw the parents in there too. 

But the ignorance of the internet is not the internet’s fault. Sure.

But you know who does know there is more than one type of irony? Alanis-flippin’-Morissette. 


Does situational irony cover every one of the instances in the song? I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s a song. And sure, “Unfortunate” might well have been a better title, all things considered. But “Ironic” is still a classic. And Alanis Morissette is still a genius.

In my “humble” opinion.

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