Everything That’s Not Ironic in Alanis Morissette’s Hit Song

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Alanis Morrissette’s Ironic is one of the hit songs during the 90s, and it’s in fact, the most popular one from the alternative pop princess. It’s been many years since I have learned what exactly “irony” was (after watching Reality Bites) and the song’s Irony has bugged me for years. I am finally able to write about it now after I was reminded of it while listening to a Spotify 90s Alternative Pop Playlist.

For this article, I will take the basic situational definition of Irony, because as other Literature experts have put it so in many of their works, Irony comprises more than the usual irony as “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect” (Oxford Dictionary).

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day

This could’ve been more ironic if he died from a disease that was caused by winning the lottery. However, this line is already an acceptable irony for me, given that he could’ve at least enjoyed the money, but then, he’d be happy that at least he was able to provide for his loved ones in the brink of his death.

It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay

Any delicious or nice thing could easily be a great attraction for flies.

It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

I don’t think so. Any judge won’t be crazy enough if she/he would allow a death row without further investigation and thought.

It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s always a natural occurrence to rain at weddings as it is to rain. And besides, in other cultures, it is said to bring good luck, so how could that be ironic?

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

You could always ask for a refund. They would also gladly offer.

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
And who would’ve thought? It figures

How are people to discern if it’s good advice? How much advice is actually taken? It more or less equates to none.

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”
And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

This would only be ironic if there’s another thing that he’s afraid of (perhaps to ride the boat or ship, which is a lot more dangerous than flying) that he didn’t choose over flying. The line “well, isn’t this nice” is being sarcastic about his situation (sarcasm being an example of Irony), which adds more to the ambiguity of the lyrics above.

A traffic jam when you’re already late

You should’ve woken up or prepared earlier so as not to be affected by the traffic jam, especially if it’s expected. It’s not irony, it’s irresponsibility.

A “no smoking” sign on your cigarette break

Many smokers I know still smoke despite a “no smoking” sign.

It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife

It’s upsetting when you only need one thing but have a lot of another. For example, you have a lot of money, but you don’t have love in your life. It’s sad, but it’s not generally ironic.

It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife

In many occurrences have I met whom I thought was the man of my dreams, but it was almost always that he is taken. It’s a sad reality that doesn’t equate to the common irony definition.

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But wait, there’s a contrast

Contrary to these explanations are some experts’ (like Paul de Man) theories that Irony also refers to any tragic situation such as when reality doesn’t meet expectations or yearnings. Irony states how life puts is in vague limitations and bearings. When taken into this context, the theories show that all the situational examples of Alanis Morrissette are indeed ironic.

Paul de Man or Friedrich Schlegel could’ve saved Morrissette from being criticized or from the fact that Morrissette’s song, as a whole, is ironic because it is not ironic (as perceived in its usual definition), but according to Songfacts, Morrissette dismissed it completely, saying that she hasn’t really completely understood Irony upon the release of the track.

Despite all that, Alanis Morrissette remains an alternative pop icon. And this song is still one of my most favorite 90s songs to date. Together, let’s sing to it…

Art by Jim Morada

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