Deconstructing the Lyrics to Alanis Morissette’s New Single “Guardian”

Given that Alanis Morrissette’s unique grasp of the English language (“Under rug swept”, indeed) has always been the subject of much music industry mirth, we were surprised and somewhat impressed that she chose to release the lyrics to her new song “Guardian” this week without releasing the song itself. The decision does rather seem to invite people to scruitinize and analyse the lyric as a simple piece of writing, so we thought we’d take the bait and do exactly that. What does it all mean? Read on and find out. Possibly.

So, “Guardian”. A song in four verses, a couple of choruses and a weird single-line lead-in interlude between them. A love song of sorts, albeit one whose verses are wreathed in some rather negative imagery.

It begins as follows:

“You, you who has smiled when you’re in pain
You who has soldiered through the profane
They were distracted and shut down”

Things we have never understood about Alanis Morissette include: her utter disdain for tense and verb conjugations. This has to be deliberate — we’re assuming that her grasp of the past tense in English extends to understanding that “you has” is just plain wrong, poetic license be dammed. Still, apart from their weird grammar, the first two lines here vaguely make sense — we’re talking about a person who maintains good cheer in the face of adversity, it appears. But then, the third line: who are “they’? What were they distracted by? And what does “shut down” mean in this context? Perhaps the answers await in the second verse.

“So why, why would you talk to me at all
such words were dishonorable and in vain
their promise as solid as a fog”

Nope. Instead, we get a rhetorical question to the song’s subject (the same grinning pain-bearer of the first verse, presumably), a dismissal of said subject’s trustworthiness, and a kinda hackneyed metaphor involving fog. Um. OK. To the chorus!

“and where was your watchman then”

Where, indeed?

“I’ll be your keeper for life as your guardian
I’ll be your warrior of care your first warden
I’ll be your angel on call, I’ll be on demand
The greatest honor of all, as your guardian”

Here’s the answer! Despite the fact that our grinning pain-bearer’s promises are as trustworthy as fog, Alanis is gonna take care of him/her anyway. She’s not going anywhere. She’s here forvever! Actually, all facetiousness aside, there’s some rather lovely sentiment here — it is indeed an honor to take care of a person that you love, and these lines express this fact in a rather touching manner. Bravo.

“you, you in the chaos feigning sane
You who has pushed beyond what’s humane
Them as the ghostly tumbleweed”

But then… this. Back to the weird tense (“You who has”… ugh), and back to the apparently undefined “them”, who are now apparently incarnated as a “ghostly tumbleweed”. We have no idea what this means, and frankly, we think this will be the case for anyone not named Alanis Morissette.

Um. After this, the chorus repeats again, and then the refrain about being “your keeper for life” and all that. And then Alanis rallies herself for one final assault on the English language:

“now no more smiling mid crestfall
No more managing unmanageables
No more holding still in the hailstorm”

First problem: crestfall is not a noun. It just isn’t. We understand (or at least we think we do) what Morissette is trying to say here: that the song’s subject isn’t going to be alone any more, and having to do his/her grinning-in-adversity act any longer. So, seriously, why not just fucking say that? It’s all very well to be poetic and abstract and romantic and etc, but if your imagery is both grammatically and conceptually bewildering, surely it’s better to just say what you mean?

“Now enter your watchwoman”

And, the denouement. It echoes the sentiment of the chorus — the image of Alanis as protector and (presumably) lover and general shoulder to cry on. Again, the sentiment is laudable. But, good grief, those lyrics. Maybe they sound better to music, eh?