Shania Twain is a bonafide country music superstar, with more awards and sales than most people could even imagine. She's an icon, who has played Vegas and inspired many a drag tribute. She's also one of the most progressive, pro-woman, and fascinating figures in the history of country.
Refinery29 spoke to Twain about the 20-year anniversary of her landmark album, Come On Over, which happens to come just a little over a month after her latest album, Now — which is the first album she's released in that time. Looking back, we were struck by the number of enduring hit songs that came from Come On Over, as well as how relevant it is to what women are going through today. Our friends at Pandora tell us that her stations have 497.5 million plays, with Come on Over's crossover hit single, "You're Still The One" as her top song with 68.9 million plays.
In the years between those two albums, Twain took time off to recuperate her voice after being diagnosed with X, which is related to Lyme disease. Her return to country, on Now, finds her writing all the songs on the album (a feat unheard of for most female musicians) and getting personal.
Twain spoke to us about how her songs reflect the culture of harassment and empowerment that women are looking to address today, why she hasn't ever felt beholden to anyone's ideas about how to make country music, and gave us the scoop on her Broad City cameo.
Refinery29: Let's talk about your amazing 20-year anniversary. Did you know that 'You're Still the One' is the most streamed song on Pandora of your catalog? I remember it being your big pop/country crossover song when it was released. Why do you think that one has been so enduring?
Shania Twain: "I think that song resonated on a lot of a lot of levels with people. I think people enjoyed it musically, and it was something that they could sing along to very easily — it's not a complicated song. The sentiment was something a lot of people could relate to, especially for anybody that was falling in love. It became a huge wedding song and anniversary song. On so many levels, it was powerful."
Looking back at the songs on Come on Over now, some of them are classics from your catalog, but some have a strong relevance today. Going back and reading the lyrics to "If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!" or "Black Eyes, Blue Tears," they speak to the national conversation women are having about harassment and the political climate. Has the world just not changed that much in the last 20 years?
"The world, certainly from my point of view, has not changed as much as I would have liked it to in the last 20 years. The fact that we are still having to talk about these issues as if they haven't always existed. They have always existed. Why are we still having these problems? What are we waiting for to address them? To me, 20 years ago, writing songs is my way of addressing issues like harassment and assault. These problems have always been there, and of course they're going to keep resurfacing if we're not addressing them all together. One little voice here and there, it all helps. I'll always be bold about whatever my little part in talking about these issues is, but I think we're a lot stronger unified. A song like, 'If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!' takes on an age-old problem. It's certainly nothing new to me. I have to say, it does surprise me a little bit that the song could be released right now and make total sesnse."
Another of your iconic songs from Come on Over is "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" — it's also another of your most streamed, at number 3 from your catalog on Pandora. What is it that made you want to record it?
"Well the hook of the song seems like a very obvious hook that any songwriter would recognize is a good one. I like a play on words and 'man, I feel like a woman' is obviously that — the double entendre and all. You're always hunting for great ideas, and then when you stumble on one it's a great feeling. I had that feeling when I came up with this hook. Other people obviously relate to it and they seem to feel the same way I do about it. People relate to it whether they're men, women, or trans. On a lot of different levels, everyone has their own fun with the song, and it means something to them in their own gender. Such a broad spectrum of people like it, it's almost on an anthemic level."
Have you seen any Shania tributes from that song that have really impressed you?
"There have been many, I've witnessed a lot of really spectacular performances of that song. But the one that caught me the most was totally unsuspecting. I was in my tour bus, just driving down the street, and we'd come to the stoplight. Next to the bus is a man in a pickup truck who has his window down and he's singing along to 'Man, I Feel Like a Woman' on the radio. He looks like this a real rough, rock, macho guy and he's just singing with all his heart. He didn't know that I was there, of course, because you can't see inside the bus. I thought, this is the moment; this is my best 'Man, I Feel Like a Woman' moment ever. I was genuinely a fly on the wall and it was awesome."
Do you think "That Don't Impress Me Much" as a song has held up better than Brad Pitt, who famously doesn't impress you in the lyrics?
[Laughs] "You know, he still looks pretty damn good. He's had a very long-lasting acting career. I think he's held up pretty good!"
I understand you wrote every song on your new album, Now. That pretty much never happens happens in country music.Were these songs you'd been working on for the last 20 years or did you just uncork a bottle and it all came out?
"I'm one of those writers who is always writing. I'm always coming up with ideas, I'm always inspired by things and jotting them down. So over the last 20 years I've been writing things, but it was only two years before I started recording the album that I focused on narrowing my ideas down and corralling them into an album. Once I decided to do that, the floodgates opened and it all seemed to come quite quickly after that. I had a lot of life to live in the last 15 years, and it was almost like a collecting phase. I've just got more albums in me now, and it's nice. It's nice to be back in the studio, expressing all of this on a microphone."
When you decided to record this album, did you have to consider what gets played on country radio and the on-going difficulties women have being played on country radio?
"No. I always had problems with that anyway, all through my career. My biggest song never made it to #1 on country radio. I would be lying to say I didn't think I would have that problem, because I've always had that problem. I relied on the fans' support to get radio behind me, always. With my new album, I'm at the point in my life, not just my career but my life, where I feel unapologetic for expressing myself honestly. I needed to be as pure and honest as I can be to get satisfaction out of [making music]. I have to be personally satisfied with the work to do it and it takes a lot of courage to do that. You put your heart into it and, this album particularly more than any of the music I've ever written, is really from my heart. But in the end, you still have to write things that are relatable and not so self-serving that nobody gets it. I do like it most when the listener relates to what I'm saying, that is my intention."
I would love to hear about your experience on the set of Broad City this season. What did they pitch you to get you to be on the show?
"I was told they had a running joke about this lie that I had been training with Abbi. They told me on set, they thought it would be amazing if they could get me on the show to make the lie a truth. I just loved that idea. First of all, it was a compliment that I was even unwittingly part of this fun riff. I thought to myself, I should show up for it! I loved their sense of humor. They're all so talented and it's like a real work from the ground up team of thinkers, writers, and actors. I was totally into it. It was one of the most fun things I've ever done."
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