Shania Twain needs no introduction. With 1997 third album ‘Come On Over’ – still the best-selling album by a female solo artist ever – she became a global superstar and the undisputed queen of country-pop. By blurring the lines between country and pop, Twain set a template for genre-straddling Nashville musicians who followed her. In 2021, Taylor Swift thanked Twain on TikTok for making her own crossover success possible by obliterating the misconception that “country girls can’t go pop”.
Twain’s conversational, super-hooky songwriting continues to inspire everyone from Harry Styles, who welcomed her onstage when he headlined Coachella, to Rina Sawayama, who quoted her iconic “let’s go girls!” on last year’s twangy banger ‘This Hell’. Twain will forever be associated with her 1995-2002 imperial phase, when she had three consecutive albums certified diamond in the US for sales of 10 million. But at the same time, she is no nostalgia act. Featuring songs co-written with Georgia and Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph, her new album ‘Queen Of Me’ is an uplifting blast that recently entered the UK charts at Number One.
Twain says its irresistible lead single ‘Giddy Up!’ is a “great example of how I was cheering myself up during the pandemic through songwriting”. When she meets NME in a beyond plush London hotel room, the Canadian exudes pop star glamour – she is even wearing her signature leopard print. But Twain is also warm, down-to-earth and willing to talk about her career’s mettle-testing troughs as well as its stratospheric peaks.
“I’m probably most proud of not giving up on my voice,” Twain reflects, referring to the intense vocal rehabilitation she completed after Lyme disease severely weakened her vocal cords in the mid-noughties. “It was seven years of not knowing what was wrong [with my voice] and then not quitting.” Today, she likens the journey to being able to “power-sing” again to “climbing to the top of a mountain”.
During a trip to the UK in album release week, Twain joined NME for a wide-ranging In Conversation interview in which she discusses her new album, working with Georgia and ambition to play Glastonbury. Here’s what we learned.
She told her collaborators not to try to make a Shania Twain record
Twain wrote her last album, 2017’s relatively downbeat ‘Now’, without a single co-writer; but after the pandemic, she was “really open to getting [in the studio] with other creatives”, so she teamed up with contemporary producers including Mark Ralph (Years & Years) and David Stewart (BTS, Jonas Brothers). The aim was to make what she now describes as “my happy album”.
Before each session, Twain would give her co-writers a slightly surprising “directive”: “Don’t think typical Shania because I’ll do the Shania part. If I bring the Shania and you bring your thing, together I’m sure we’ll make something really fun.”
“And that’s exactly what happened,” Twain adds with a smile. She was especially impressed with British synth-pop musician Georgia, who co-wrote and played on ‘Got It Good’, a breezy bop produced by Ralph. “She’s very talented,” Twain says of the British musician. “She went on the real kits [and] did the live drums. And then she got on the LinnDrum [drum machine], which was just so fun. We’ve got footage of that, actually. It was clear that we were all so happy to be in a room with other creatives.”
She can remember when she was first called “iconic”
It was when 2002’s ‘Up!’ made her the first – and to date only – female solo artist to have three consecutive albums certified diamond in the US. “That was when [the icon thing] began,” she recalls, “because that was an iconic thing”. It put Twain in a “very elite category” of artists, but only now can she fully appreciate the scale of her success. “I think as I was achieving things, I was too busy to celebrate them in the moment,” she says. “You know, I guess I’m such a committed professional that it’s almost like I just put the blinders on and work.”
Twain is equally humble about “let’s go girls!”, her iconic opening line from ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’. “People have been saying, ‘let’s go girls!’ forever. It’s not like I invented that phrase,” she says. “[But] the fact that I put it in a song that became so big, I guess it just resurfaced in pop culture as a catchphrase.” Still, Twain knows full well that it’s very much become her catchphrase. “It’s like the leopard print – certain things just become part of your part of your recognition and [how] people identify with you, I guess,” she says.
She’s always been in her own lane
When Twain arrived in Nashville in the early ’90s, she upset some country purists who considered her “too pop”. Others deemed her “too provocative” because she dared to show her navel in music videos – an attitude that now seems overwhelmingly sexist. “Those that thought I was going to ruin the genre probably still think I ruined the genre,” Twain says with a laugh. “I’m not sure I changed any minds. I was just always in my own lane.”
Twain says she “didn’t realise you weren’t allowed your own lane” at the time because she had always looked up to Dolly Parton, a woman who definitely did things her way. She was also influenced by the genre’s iconic rebels Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. “I mean, those guys had [literally] gotten arrested. So I was a bit naive about where country had gotten to,” she recalls. “And that’s what I walked into without realising it. So maybe I did ruin something for some people; but I’m unapologetic about it.”
She attributes her resilience to starting her career as a bar singer – aged eight
Twain cut her teeth singing in the “rough local bars” of Timmins, Ontario, the small industrial city where she grew up. “When I was a kid, I really had a 100-song repertoire,” she recalls. “I wanted to be able to take requests because the bars are very much like that. You know, [the punters are] drunk and they go: ‘Play ‘Country Roads’ or whatever.'”
Because she was a minor, Twain wasn’t allowed into these bars until after last orders at midnight. She would then sing for around an hour until the lights went on at closing time. “I’m telling you, man, you don’t want to see some of those bars with the lights on,” she says. “That’s when you’d see the guy that’s been passed out for two hours, and often that’s when the fist fights would start.”
Looking back now, Twain appreciates that this “scary” environment was “not appropriate for an eight-year-old”, but believes it taught her a valuable lesson. “I learned to not look down and not look back – just keep going and look for the nearest door,” she says. “I think I’ve kept that with me all these years. If you find yourself in a vulnerable situation, just keep going. You gotta walk around the broken glass and the fist fights and find that door.”
She definitely wants to play Glastonbury’s legends slot
Twain would follow in the footsteps of two of her heroes – Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson – by taking to the Pyramid Stage on Sunday afternoon. “It’s on my wish list – absolutely. So I’ll make sure I do that,” she says with some determination.
But for now, Twain is focusing on her ‘Queen Of Me Tour’, which kicks off in North America in April before arriving in the UK in September, with plans to shuffle the setlist and rotate songs each night, including a mix of new tracks and the classics.
And those classics are bound to sound especially jubilant because Twain believes her rehabilitated voice is stronger than when she last toured in 2018. “It’s all about celebrating that I can belt and power-sing again,” she says. “And that the mutual respect [with my audience] is still there. You know, when I go on tour, people show up. That’s a pleasure. That’s a joy.”