The Worst Song Of The '90s? A Line-By-Line Dissection Of Alanis Morissette's "Ironic"
Don't you think?
When it comes to musical decades, the '60s remains the gold standard. Though the '70s were initially mocked for prog rock and disco, it's now clear that prog rock and disco are awesome. And around this time ten years ago, folks began to venerate the '80s in earnest.
But as our distance from the '90s grows, it becomes increasingly clear that it was a desolate musical time. Kurt Cobain and hip-hop's golden age aside, it's pretty traumatizing. And the worst '90s song of them all has to be Alanis Morissette's "Ironic," right? It certainly seems to be the most nonsensical, at least if you believe the conventionally-held notion that nothing in the song is, in fact, ironic. But is that actually true? We decided to take a line-by-line look at the lyrics; if, in fact, the song makes more sense than we remembered, maybe the '90s deserves more respect.
For the purposes of this analysis, we naturally used the definition of "irony" from Reality Bites character Troy Dyer, played by Ethan Hawke: "It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning."
An old man turned 98
He won the lottery and died the next day
Is this ironic? Had the man been playing the lottery his whole life, there may have been some irony in him dying the next day. But owing to this lack of information calling the statement ironic is a stretch.
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
Is this ironic? The juxtaposition of the classy beverage and the dirty fly make for a potentially interesting image, but this is not ironic.
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
Is this ironic? It's fucking tragic.
It's like rain on your wedding day
Is this ironic? This is the line Morissette haters often cite when criticizing "Ironic." Indeed, rain on one's wedding day is not ironic. It's just, like, unfortunate, if you're a girl or whatever.
It's a free ride when you've already paid
Is this ironic? No idea what this means. Like, you've already deposited your token but the bus driver decides to comp everybody?
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Is this ironic? We suppose if someone said, "Don't eat green licorice and jump around on a Pogo stick" and then you chipped your tooth while eating green licorice and jumping around on a Pogo stick...well actually that still wouldn't be ironic.
Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought, "Well isn't this nice..."
Is this ironic? Uh? First off, he wasn't waiting his whole damn life to take the flight, he was trying to avoid it. Which begs the question: Why did he decide to go all? Did he determine that his fears were unfounded? Was there urgent business in Australia? And, is all this death and tragedy necessary; did two men really need to die for this dumb pop song? Finally, is that really what Mr. Play It Safe was thinking about when the plane went down -- not about his family or his first kiss or whatever? Come to think of it, "Well isn't this nice" might prove to be the only ironic thing in the song.
Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up in your face
Is this ironic? No, but Alanis probably isn't trying to be ironic here, she's just sort of riffing.
A traffic jam when you're already late
Is this ironic? No!
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
Is this ironic? No, it's just not being able to read.
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
Is this ironic? Hmm. Well, suppose you were standing in front of a machine that, when you pressed a button, gave you either a spoon or a knife. Meanwhile, a serial killer was creeping toward you, and you pressed the button over and over and only spoons came out...Jesus, what are we even talking about?
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
Is this ironic? Just for argument's sake, what if the wife were ugly? Would that make running off with him less implausible, thereby making the whole situation less ironic? Of course it wouldn't.
Conclusion: Alanis Morrissette is the '90s in a nutshell, a time when the good economy had us thinking we no longer needed to be clever to get by. "Ironic" does in fact lack even the smallest shred of irony, and were it not for the "Stay (I Missed You)," it would indeed be the worst song of the '90s.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.