Is Alanis Morisette a poseur? -- The ''Jagged Little Pill' Grammy sensation remains the silent center of the authenticity debate

By Chris Willman
Updated March 15, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

The hopeful souls trolling for tickets in 20-degree weather outside the St. Paul Civic Center seem a little more desperate than usual. Just two nights after Alanis Morissette’s media-galvanizing near sweep of the Grammys, the chances that somebody might have forgotten to bring a date to tonight’s sold-out Morissette show are way off the scale of pathetic optimism. ”Extras? Extras?” goes the frosty cry. Another voice, coming from beneath a down-parka hood, mutters: ”Right.”

The concession stand does brisk business with a T-shirt sporting the opening line — ”Do I stress you out?” — from Morissette’s Grammy Album of the Year, Jagged Little Pill. Of course, it’s an even more confrontational set of lyrics — ”Did you forget about me, Mr. Duplicity?/I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner” — from her ferocious retribution fantasy ”You Oughta Know” that first hooked most of these fans. It’s ”Oughta” that is surely responsible for the Venus-and-Mars gender split when a journalist asks just what Morissette’s music is really saying.

”That guys suck,” says a stressed Breht Stabn, 21.

”The truth,” counter the three young women accompanying him, spitting out the words in near unison.

Providing a prettier picture of sexual harmony are husband-and-wife attorneys Mike and Beth Bryant, celebrating their anniversary tonight. Conjugal bliss doesn’t preclude them from vicariously enjoying ”You Oughta Know” and its higher-strung strains. ”I’m a divorce attorney,” says Beth, 31, ”and my clients love that song.”

Backstage, the promoter has left Morissette a Grammy-shaped chocolate cake. It’s a nice gesture, but her associates insist that the preternaturally accomplished 21-year-old singer couldn’t be less affected by the Grammy hoopla if she were, well, Eddie Vedder. So there will be nary a reference to her freshly minted trophy collection (four Grammys in total: Album of the Year; Best Rock Album; Best Rock Song; and Best Female Rock Vocalist) in tonight’s 90-minute set, which comes seven months into a grueling tour that has six months left to go. Back on the road, it’s catharsis as usual.

[The Artist Formerly Known as Prince] and his new bride, Mayte, watch coolly from the rear of the hall; beer-swilling frat boys lean stageward in full tilt worship mode; lesbian couples sway side-by-side; gaunt, longhaired Alanis clones gaze intently; a hippie mom keeps an arm around her 10-year-old daughter as both join the unending screams that greet the singer’s every move. And Morissette is all moves, an electrifying dervish in a burgundy satin blouse and shiny black pants.

The woman who has shrewdly protected herself from overexposure by granting fewer interviews than Princess Di offers little more than the occasional ”Thank you” to the crowd — and scarcely needs to. As 19-year-old Jennifer Thompson says of Morissette’s colloquial oeuvre, ”It’s like she’s talking, but she’s singing.” When the diva does deign to speak for more than a moment, it’s to introduce her band; she then turns to the crowd and says, ”And you are?”

They are… record buyers, for one thing. Jagged Little Pill, Morissette’s U.S. debut, has sold more than 6 million copies in nine months. But the real story is not the commercial one — it’s how young America has embraced and debated Morissette’s music to a degree unseen since Nirvana’s Nevermind five years ago. For all the rage in her flagship hit, however, Kurt Cobain she ain’t: Pill covers a range of postadolescent emotions. In the end, Morissette comes off more placid than pissed. So, with all this adoration, why are so many detractors so eager to elect her Poseur of the Year?