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Alessia Cara on Alanis Morissette: ‘Honesty Has the Most Longevity’

For this year’s Icons & Influences issue, we asked 10 artists to pay tribute to the women who have shaped their sound, provided an example, and inspired them to break down barriers. Pop artist Alessia Cara first listened to Alanis Morissette in middle school — and the uncompromising singer and songwriter’s raw honesty has been an inspiration ever since.

I first heard Alanis in sixth grade. We were doing this school project, and our teacher was teaching us about different themes in writing. He was talking about irony, so obviously, the most classic song about irony is “Ironic,” by her, and I remember he played the music video on the Smart Board projector. I remember going home and researching her and finding Jagged Little Pill for the first time.

Jagged Little Pill is extremely honest. It feels like you’re listening to a diary or something that you almost shouldn’t be hearing. I always like when women are unapologetically honest and raw in their lyrics, so that album was really influential to me as a writer. I tend to be a very shy person, and especially when I was coming into being a songwriter, I held back a lot, just because I was afraid of being too honest or too negative. I always felt like I had to throw a positive spin on my records, especially the first one. Going through a lot of pain and heartbreak in my late teen years and in my early twenties made me realize how important it is to be unfiltered and just get to the bottom of what you’re saying. While Alanis wrote a lot about other people, I think she projected her own faults in a way that felt very real. I took a lot from that, and I think I still do now. I always have that in the back of my mind when I’m writing my own songs.

As a pop singer and as a pop girl myself, I think we get sucked into the idea of note perfection and quality perfection, but I always admired the fact that she wasn’t always on pitch. She favored emotion over perfection. She still has such an amazing voice and great pitch, but sometimes she wasn’t afraid to go off or to let her voice crack. All of those little holes, I always felt those were really, really impactful — 10 times more impactful than something that sounded sonically perfect.

I think the industry places a lot of importance on women constantly having to prove themselves: It’s a thing that we feel a lot of pressure to do as women. She’s a great case study for how you can be yourself and not have to follow the pop-star thing. Honesty has the most longevity over anything. Her music still holds up nowadays, and it’s because of that honesty.

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