Hands Clean

Album: Under Rug Swept (2002)
Charted: 12 23


  • Like her breakout hit "You Oughta Know," this song finds Alanis Morissette lashing out at a former love. She has never said who either song is about, but has confirmed that she had specific guys in mind.

    "Hands Clean" implies a relationship with an older man who was a kind of mentor to her ("You're a kind of my protégé and one day you'll say you learned all you know from me"). This is a pretty wide field, since Morissette had many physical relationships with older men when she was a teenager. A lot of this had to do with circumstance, since she started writing songs and recording when she was just 10 years old. She was 16 when her first album, Alanis, was released in her native Canada, and during this time she was constantly surrounded by older men who worked with her and guided her career.

    Alanis found herself attracted to many of these men, who she found more intellectually stimulating than her younger peers. Relationships developed thanks to a combination of nebulous boundaries and a maturity that belied her age. "I always felt like I was much older than I was chronologically, so it was a quandary for me, because I needed to date older men," she told the journalist Gavin Martin in 2004. Asked how she felt about these guys, Alanis replied: "I feel sadness, empathy. I think, 'Wow, what were you doing dating a 17 year old?' I get it too. When I think back to who I was as a 17 year old, I completely understand why they would have been drawn to me."
  • Alanis explained that she was still at least on speaking terms with the person she is singing about in this song. "I haven't spoken with him about it, but I will one day," she said in 2004. "It's not a closed door."
  • This was the lead single from Morissette's highly anticipated fifth album, Under Rug Swept (her previous studio effort, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, was issued in 1998). The song became her sixth Canadian #1 hit, and her last Top 40 entry on the US Hot 100.
  • Washing your hands clean is a phrase meaning to leave something behind as if it never happened. In the context of this song, it refers to how the relationship was kept secret.
  • The Francis Lawrence-directed music video follows the story of the single's success, showing Alanis writing, recording, releasing, and performing the song. It features cameo appearances from actors Chris Sarandon, Ian Gomez, and Kids in the Hall alum Scott Thompson.
  • This was used on the TV show Cougar Town in the 2013 episode "You Tell Me."
  • Morissette spoke further about the song in the album's track-by-track commentary: "My intention in writing this song was to get to a place where I could be as truthful and as honest as I possibly could be about certain relationships in my past. It's definitely not with the intention of seeking any sort of revenge for the person who is at the heart of the song that I'm singing about, but it was in my silencing myself to protect somebody else that I was ultimately completely abandoning myself. And any time I speak untruths in my life, and often-times I feel by not speaking the truth, by being silent, there's an element of an untruth in that. Withholding the truth sometimes can feel just as horrible as a lie to me. So as I get older, I think I want more and more to introduce the bliss of speaking transparently and truthfully and as honestly as I possibly can, knowing that the truth in this case is my truth only."

Comments: 17

  • Anon from WtfYou got it all wrong, this about Alanis and a YOUNGER MAN. "protégé" means a person who is guided and supported by an older and more experienced or influential person. The guy was HER protégé, not the other way around! And she said he learned from her, was a young thing etc. Wtaf. Completely backwards!
  • Betawolfinva from Falmouth, Va"Supposed crime" definitely refers to Statuatory rape

    As is the "need" to not tell the family..

    As is referring to only doing it because she was precocious.
  • Rudrat2 from NowhereUgh. another manager took advantage of Alanis.. financially.. Jonathon Scwhartz took 5 million from her between 2009 - 2016. Jesus.. there are some really predatory jerks out there. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-38673219

    Reading this manger stealing from her reminded me of Hands Clean and I stumbled on this thread. Alanis told Howard Stern that she met Dave when she was 19 and the age difference was that not that shocking because she had dated someone with a bigger age range when she was 14-15 and that guy was a record exec/producer etc and other interviews about Hands Clean she says it was about her record manager that was 15 years older than her, and he abused her. Pictures of Alanis from those years - late 80's early 1990's she is with Stephan Klovan...who was new as an entertainment manager - he was a former ice skater...and discovered her singing the national anthem. He handles Ice Capades reunion and frequently posts throwback photos of his first show.. when he was 20.. in 1979.. at the 40th Ice Capades in Atlantic city. Doing the math... if he was 20 in 1979.. that means he was born 1959. Alanis was born in 1974. So 1974 - 1959 = 15 years difference.

    Oh and there are these pics of them together...looking a little more than business...so pretty sure it's this guy. And if he did this to Alanis when she was 14-15 years old.. kinda creepy that he's still affiliated with the Ice Capades.

  • Uberfan from Miramar, FlNo wonder she had a breakdown and disappeared before her Jagged Little Pill album. I still love her though...

    Check out this site that helps you put it all together...

  • Mike from Ottawa, OnThis song is about a early Alanis producer, but not Glen Ballard.
  • Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnIt doesn't matter who this song is about, all that matters is that this is an amazing song. She always speaks her truth and never looks back.
  • Julia from Warrenton, VaThis song isn't written about the guy that plays Uncle Joey from Full House. The song that was written about him was Uninvited.
  • Mark from Toronto, CanadaThe line "I might want to marry you one day if you watch that weight and you keep your firm body"... Alanis has often said that she would be called in to do vocals and it would actually end up getting a lecture about her having to stay thin, resulting in her developing an eating disorder. So it does seem like it was someone she was initially professional with. She did not meet Dave Coulier until she was a bit older, and didn't meet Glen Ballard until she was 19 or 20.
  • Anne from Dodge City, KsThis song always reminds me of the Mary Kay Latourneau and Vili Fualaa story which, all things considered, ended rather happily now that he is of age. (Even though this probably wasn't the inspiration). When she sings if it weren't for your maturity none of this would have happened, it implies that she is the adult. Then when she sings if it weren't for me you would never have been successful. Vili was a great artist for his age.
  • Shonda from Los Angeles, CaThe lyric's of this song is about a young girl getting taking advantage of. It's kind of sad in a way.
  • Suzanne from San Diego, CaI've heard the man she references in "Hands Clean" is singer Dave Matthews.
  • Anele from Joburg, South AfricaThis is about a relationship she had with her much older manager when she started singing at age 14, nice track.
  • Sarah from Cape Town, United Statesamanda - i don't think this is the case. in the credits on Jagged Little Pill she refers to ballard as her "spiritual brother" - something she would not have called him if she had just slagged him off. the same applies to Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie - she thanks ballard profusely, and appears to regard him as a friend. also, on JLP she says "you scan the credits for your name and wonder why it's NOT there". while i think coulier is prob the most likely candidate that we know about it, i think brian is right. only thing is, it doesn't make sense for her to refer to the person in Hands Clean teaching her everything she knows about the music industry if she is talking about coulier. maybe she's talking about someone none of us have heard of, or maybe "hands clean" and "you oughta know" refer to different people. the only thing she has admitted for sure is that "you oughta know" is about coulier. apart from that, she has admitted nothing about any of the other songs.
  • Adeeb from Dhaka, OtherI've allways thought this was a about an older woman talking about to a young guy she had a relationship with. Seemed fitting at that time.
  • Emily from Madison, WiI think that this is a song about someone getting molested. "We'll fast forward to a few years later And no one knows except the both of us And I have honoured your request for silence". That is one of the many lyrics that prove it to be about a young child or something being sexual abused. Just listen to the lyrics...its so clear
  • Brian from Edmonton, CanadaAn article on Alanis appears in MacLean's (Canada) magazine in early 2002, in which she discusses this song. She makes comments that seem to imply that the older man the song is about was someone who she initially knew on a professional level.
  • Amanda from Canada, CanadaI think the song 'Hands Clean' is about her producer, Glen Ballard. It makes sence, he IS an older man, and she now produces her OWN stuff.
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