Hands Clean is an alternative rock song by Alanis Morissette originally released as the first single for the album the album Under Rug Swept on 2002-01-08, and then, on 2002-02-26 as track 3 on the album. There are three versions of the song, the single version (alos used on the album), a shortened radio edit which eliminates the last chorus, and an acoustic version. Several versions of the single were released with b-sides including Fear of Bliss, Sister Blister, Awakening Americans, Unprodigal Daughter, and Symptoms. Alanis Morissette composed the lyrics and music and sings vocals on all versions of the song. On the single recording, Alanis plays electric guitar, electric guitar is also played by Joel Shearer and Nick Lashley, Tim Thorney plays acoustic guitar, Mark Stephens play piano, Jamie Muhoberac plays keyboards, Chris Bruce plays bass, and Gary Novak plays drums. This song also provides the lyric for the full album's title, "under rug swept."
Alanis explained that the song is about a sexual relationship she had starting when she was aged 14 with a man in the music industry who was 15 years her senior. She kept the affair secret for many years, but finally felt empowered to describe it publicly. It wasn't meant to be revenge, as she doesn't give the man's name away, just her being truthful and liberating about her past. Most of the lyrics are written from the man's perspective, possibly things or concepts she remembers him saying. The song begins with the older man complimenting Alanis as a form of flirtation, but then he quickly shifts to taking credit for her success. He also likes the fact that she's doting on him and suggests that he'll eventually be open about their relationship, as long as she remains sexually appealing to him. In the chorus, the man explains that his love for her is proper, even though society views it as a "supposed crime," but reminds her not to tell anyone, not even her best friends, so he won't get arrested. However, in the second half of the chorus we learn that Alanis has kept his secret despite the fact that he's all but forgotten about her, and, in the bridge, she seems to be wondering to herself about finally talking about it publicly and coming to terms with it.
I grew up very shy, which led to me having some unhealthy ideas about how relationships should work. I romanticized the idea of relationships that feature a large age gap with a wizened women acting as a sort of teacher to a much younger boy (and vice versa). That is what originally attracted me to this song, and I viewed it almost as Alanis having a crush on a much younger man. However, having since met so many women who were were taken advantage of by much older men, I no longer view such relationships as romantic, but rather abusive. Despite that, I still love the lyric, "I know you sexualize me like a young thing would and I think I like it." I also love when musicians take something horrible, like abuse, and add a catchy pop tune to it (see Glendora). When I first saw the music video, I interpreted the ending as Alanis looking back almost fondly on her relationship with her abuser, but now, I see it more as her accepting what happened as a part of her history, but then, as she wipes her hands on her napkin, she's also washing her hands clean of her abuser.
If it weren't for your maturity, None of this would have happened. If you weren't so wise beyond your years, I would've been able to control myself. If it weren't for my attention, You wouldn't have been successful, and If it weren't for me, You would never have amounted to very much. Ooh, this could be messy, but, You don't seem to mind. And, Ooh, don't go telling everybody, and, And overlook this supposed crime. We'll fast forward to a few years later, and, And no one knows except the both of us. And I have honored your request for silence, and, You've washed your hands clean of this. You're essentially an employee, And I like you having to depend on me. You're a kind of protégé, And one day you'll say you learned all you know from me. And, And I know you depend on me, Like a young thing would to a guardian. And, I know you sexualize me, Like a young thing would and I think I like it. Ooh this could get messy, but, Ooh, you don't seem to mind. And, ooh don't go telling everybody, and, Overlook this supposed crime. We'll fast forward to a few years later, and, And no one knows except the both of us. I've more than honored your request for silence, And you've washed your hands clean of this. What part of our history's reinvented under rug swept? What part of your memory is selective and tends to forget? What with this distance it seems so obvious. Just make sure you don't tell on me, Especially to members of your family. We best keep this to ourselves, And not tell any members of our inner posse. I wish I could tell the world, 'Cuz you're such a pretty thing when you're done up properly. I might want to marry you one day, If you watch that weight and keep your firm body. Ooh, this could be messy, and, Ooh, I don't seem to mind, and, Ooh, don't go telling everybody, and, Overlook this supposed crime. We'll fast forward to a few years later, and, No one knows except the both of us. And I have honored your request for silence, And you've washed your hands clean of this. Ooh, this could get messy, but, Ooh, I don't seem to mind. Ooh, don't go telling everybody, and, Overlook this supposed crime. We'll fast forward to a few years later, and, No one knows except the both of us. And I have honored your request for silence, And you've washed your hands clean of this. Ooh, ah ah, ohh, ohhh, oh.
The single cover uses a photo of Alanis with her hands covering her mouth, then converted into blocks of high contrast like the album cover of Under Rug Swept. By removing the detail around her eyes, it creates a more youthful and vulnerable look compared to that of the original photo seen on the Japanese single. My favorite is the blue cover.