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Ironic is a song by Alanis Morissette, a Canadian-American alternative rock singer, and songwriter (1996). The song was released in 1996 and was the third song Morissette wrote together with the songwriter and record producer Glen Ballard. Despite receiving significant popularity at the time, the song is majorly notable for instantly capturing the attention of the media, and receiving a lot of debate and criticism over the perceived “unironic” content of its lyrics.
This criticism was based on the fact that few of the situations described in the songs fit the traditional definition of irony as a “situation in which something which was intended to have a particular result has the opposite or a very different result” (“Irony Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary” par.1). The debate received a lot of coverage, prompting responses from critics, comedians, satirists, and integrated itself into the pop culture.
The purpose of this literature review is to study the lyrics and the meaning behind it, as well as evaluate the validity of the intended message.
The song consists of three verses, which relate several supposedly ironic situations. The first verse begins by talking about a ninety-eight-year-old man, who won the lottery but died the very next day and proceeds to describe several other misfortunes.
The other verses and the chorus text has similar content, portraying a man who crashed on his first flight after being afraid of flying his whole life, a traffic jam when one is already late, and a meeting a man of one’s dreams, only to discover him already married. While unquestionably unfortunate, these situations don’t seem to fit the traditional definitions of irony and appear to work better as instances of mere bad luck and, for some, particularly vocal, critics, examples of what irony is not.
There is no subversion of the meaning of the situation. On the other hand, the situations described in the song fit far better with the concept of “situational irony”, which is based on a discrepancy between expectations about a situation and the eventual outcome (Watt par.1). While it is unclear how much of it was intended by Morissette, due to her comments about not trying to make everything by-the-book ironic, but all of the situations are based on the characters expecting a particular resolution, which are quickly brought down by a contrary result (Horberry 136).
This song has a lot of focus on situations that create hope and high expectations, and the disheartenment that comes when outside forces, upon which we have no influence, subvert these expectations. Whether these lyrics can be considered “ironic” in their original sense, or not, they still provide an insight into the mind of the authors, and contemplation they have for some of the unfortunate situations that befall them.
Ironically, if one does accept the opinion of the critics that the song has failed to capture the sense of irony, then the name of the song fittingly becomes ironic, due to the discrepancy between the intended and actual meaning.
Ultimately, this is a very entertaining song that managed to involve the audiences not only with relevant and touching lyrics but also, unintentionally, with a complex linguistic debate, the personal outcome of which could change a person’s perception of this song.
“Ironic” plays to its strengths, and it shows that it was written with the enthusiasm and creativity of a fresh team of two songwriters working together.
Horberry, Roger. Sounds Good on Paper: How to Bring Business Language to Life. London: A. & C. Black, 2010. Print.
“Irony Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionaries. n.d. Web.
Morissette, Alanis. Ironic. Maverick/Reprise Records, 1996. MP3.
Watt, A. T. “Situational Irony.” Types Of Irony. n.d. Web.