The Scornful Story Behind Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” So goes the age-old saying, reinterpreted over time from the 1697 William Congreve play The Mourning Bride. By the early 1990s, Alanis Morissette hath much fury for a former flame, and wrote her contempt into song, on “You Oughta Know.”

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The Meaning: Fury Unleashed

The lead single off Morissette’s 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill, is a diatribe of scorn, heartbreak, and vulnerability during a “very devastating time” for the singer.

“When I hear that song, I hear the anger as a protection around the searing vulnerability,” said Morissette during the 20th anniversary of the album. “I was mortified and devastated. It was a lot easier for me to be angry and feel the power from that anger versus the broken, horrified woman on the floor.”

Co-written by Morissette and Jagged Little Pill producer Glen Ballard, “You Oughta Know” is raw emotions from the opening verse, feigning contentment with his new relationship.

I want you to know, that I am happy for you
I wish nothing but the best for you both
An older version of me
Is she perverted like me?
Would she go down on you in a theater?
Does she speak eloquently
And would she have your baby?
I’m sure she’d make a really excellent mother

Deeply scornful, the lyrics continue on a tirade of unrequited love into the chorus:

‘Cause the love that you gave that we made
Wasn’t able to make it enough for you
To be open wide, no
And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me
You’d hold me until you died
‘Til you died, but you’re still alive

And I’m here, to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair, to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

Uncle Joey?

Though the identity of who the song was about was a secret for many years—much like the 1972 hit “You’re So Vain,” which Carly Simon linked to several men, including Warren Beatty—actor Dave Coulier has previously revealed that he believed he was the subject of her hit, which Morissette has never denied.

Morissette and Coulier, who starred as Uncle Joey on the TV sitcom Full House, had a relationship in 1992 when he was in his early 30s and she was 18. Coulier recalled the first time he heard the song and immediately knew it was about him.

“I’m driving in Detroit, and I’ve got my radio on, [and] I hear the hook for ‘You Oughta Know’ come on the radio, and I’m like, ‘Wow, this is a really cool hook,'” remembered Coulier. “And then I hear the voice and I’m like, ‘Wow, this girl can sing.’ And I had no idea that this was the record. And I’m listening to the lyrics going … ‘I can’t be this guy.’”

“I think I may have really hurt this woman.”

Coulier continued, “I went to the record store, bought the CD, and I went and I parked on a street and I listened to the whole record. There was a lot of familiar stuff in there that her and I had talked about, like, ‘Your shake is like a fish.’ I’d go, ‘Hey, dead fish me.’ And we’d do this dead fish handshake. I thought, ‘I think I may have really hurt this woman.’”

He also recalled reconnecting with Morissette years later and asking her what he should say if anyone asked him about the song.

“Years later, we reconnected and she couldn’t have been sweeter,” said Coulier. “And I said, ‘What do you want me to say when people ask me about this relationship?’ And she said, ‘You can say whatever you want.’”

When asked about the more revealing lyric on the track — would she go down on you in a theater — Coulier laughed and said “You do that popcorn cup trick one time and it backfires on you.”

Two Red Hot Chili Peppers

The recorded version of “You Oughta Know” also features Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro, and bassist Flea. At the time, the late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins was also part of Morissette’s touring band, though he did not appear on the studio recording.


“You Oughta Know” helped Morissette breakthrough with Jagged Little Pill, following her 1991 debut, Alanis, and her 1992 follow-up, Now Is the Time, which didn’t gain much traction.

The song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and No. 1 on the Alternative Airplay chart. “You Oughta Know” also received three Grammy nominations, and won Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1996.

Photo by Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images

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