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won the lottery and died the next day

How Ironic was Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic”? A Deconstruction.

Daniel Steinfeld
Sep 2, 2016 · 6 min read

I bought ‘Jagged Little Pill’, Alanis Morissette’s hit album when I was a teenager. It was one of my choices in the old Columbia House CD empire, when CDs were a thing. Fitting in as the poetic Canadian rock piece (not named ‘the Hip’) in a sea of other alt-rock choices, I was a fan of her work…but one of her hits always struck me as somewhat off whenever I’d listen to it.

Ironic was her 1995 mega hi t , nominated for a Grammy, and to many it was the song for which people knew who she was (especially outside of Canada). It was a catchy, humorous story of a song, centered around a series of ironic events. But were they really ironic?

I’ve had this discussion with others in the past, and while it is just a nitpicky and unnecessary endeavor, in an attempt to protect our English language, I am going to deconstruct the song and separate the actual irony, from the stuff that just sounded good in a funny story.

The necessary beginning to this exercise is establish what ‘ironic’ actually is.

i·ron·ic

  • happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this.

So we’re clear, irony is the experience of something that is contrary to what you might expect to happen, and as a result can be deemed humourous or amusing.

And with that….we’re off. “Ironic” by Alanis Morrissette, the test.

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

Ok, so here we go…we’ve got an elderly gent who we can assume had been playing his numbers for a good part of his life, hoping to hit it big. Finally he wins and he dies the next day. Now this isn’t really ironic. His death at age 98 is not contrary to expectation, and frankly the only unexpected surprise is his win of the lottery. The fact that he was still alive to win the lottery actually makes this somewhat of a charming happy ending to his life, he got to see the win before he died and he knows his kids are now provided for. He was playing the lottery at 98, he wasn’t hoping to buy a couple of Ferraris…this is not ironic, it’s just a weirdly heartwarming story.

Irony Test: NOT IRONIC

Note: It could have been more ironic if perhaps the draw was the day AFTER he died, but even then it is just misfortune more than anything else.

“It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay”

That’s just a gross situation. If the Chardonnay was called ‘Insecticide Cellars’, perhaps there would be some irony.

Irony Test: NOT IRONIC

“It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late”

Now this is either a sick joke from the pardoner, or horrendously bad luck. It has a dab of irony in it, if one finds the situation somewhat comical, but really this is terrible fortune for the recently departed.

Irony Test: MODERATELY IRONIC

CHORUS: Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think

Again, just a crappy situation.

Irony Test: NOT EVEN CLOSE

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

This is more of a mind-bender. How can you have a free ride, if you’ve already paid? I suppose it’s like paying for a beer at the bar and then having someone yell out that all the drinks are on them. If that’s the situation, there is a bit of irony here. If you’re paying for something, you obviously don’t expect it to be free, and when it is, you probably can’t help but laugh (or at least others can).

Irony Test: IRONIC

“It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take”

Well if you knew it was good advice, you would have taken it. There isn’t enough information here, was it unsolicited advice? Also, sometimes advice is only ‘good’ after the fact, so at the time you may have made a reasonable decision. I’m not so sure I see the irony here.

Irony Test: I’M NOT SOLD

“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?’”

This song is really depressing isn’t it. I remember bouncing my head to it, and singing along…never really seeing how gut wrenching some of these stories are. In any case, this guy has avoided flying for whole existence, which seems like a long time with a wife and kids at home, and finally musters the courage to go. His fears were almost certainly associated with a crash, and wouldn’t you know it that his plane had to be the one in ELEVEN MILLION¹ that crashes? Perhaps the silver lining is that 95.7% of people in plane crashes actually survive, but I’m escaping the point.

This is a backwards version of the old lottery guy we met earlier. Super bad result that was virtually impossible, and the one thing he didn’t want (contrary to super great result that was virtually impossible, and the one thing he did want). If he was one of the 95.7% that was able to walk home to his wife and kids as a plane crash survivor, I’ll give this a greater dose of irony because we can uncomfortably chuckle at his tremendously unlikely bad luck. If he was in the 4.3% then this song is really making me angry I sang along so happily.

Irony Test: I’LL PLAY THE ODDS, IRONIC

“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”

YES! This is a simplified irony. Well played Ms. Morrissette.

Irony Test: FINALLY, YES

“A traffic jam when you’re already late”

And we’re back to bad luck.

Irony Test: NOPE

“A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break”

You can’t walk ten steps to the left? Smoking is horrendous anyway, maybe the sign is just a favour…this isn’t even bad luck, this is actually a blessing in disguise — put the smokes away and go drink a smoothie.

Irony Test: NOT IRONY

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

We’ve been here before…maybe this song helped spawn things like the spork. So you need a knife and you have a lot of spoons…boo hoo. I guess it is sort of funny, I guess it could be unexpected (I certainly don’t know where you’d expect to see 10,000 spoons), but this just doesn’t crack the ironic code. It speaks more to a supply chain management and inventory problem at whatever establishment the cutlery issue is happening.

Irony Test: NOT IRONY — INVENTORY PROBLEM.

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

Sorry Alanis, if he’s married, he isn’t the man of your dreams. But seriously folks, I suppose if he really was the man for which she’d been searching her whole life, and there is a key detail about him that makes him unattainable once she reaches him, then yes this is irony. We’ve gotta close with a generous one.

Irony Test: OK I’LL GIVE IT TO HER

So there you have it…Alanis did ok, but even with some generous and forgiving

Evaluation, this song probably would have been better off being called “Unfortunate”.

There is definitely an argument to be made that the greatest instance of irony in the song is that the song named ‘Ironic’ lacked irony so much, that the true irony was actually in the nature of the misapplied lyrics.

The joke is that for those artists who try to use intellect to further their craft, it is ultimately those who are less ‘spot on’ with their interpretations of the subject matter who sell more records and gain more fame.

I bought ‘Jagged Little Pill’, Alanis Morissette’s hit album when I was a teenager. It was one of my choices in the old Columbia House CD empire, when CDs were a thing. Fitting in as the poetic…

Won the lottery and died the next day

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
Isn’t it ironic. don’t you think?

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought. it figures

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?

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

A traffic jam when you’re already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn’t it ironic. don’t you think?
A little too ironic. and yeah I really do think.

An old man turned ninety-eight He won the lottery and died the next day It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late Isn’t it ironic… don’t you think? … — morhean — @дневники: асоциальная сеть