Nov/Dec 2017 Cover Story: Hear Her Roar
In her most personal interview yet, Canadian superstar Shania Twain feels more like a woman than ever before...
By Nelson Branco
November 1, 2017
"I’m a huge Shania Twain fan.”
– Harry Styles
He’s not the only one.
When Shania Twain burst onto the music scene in 1995, the Windsor and Timmins, Ontario, native became one of the original architects who pioneered the brilliant marriage of country and pop, bringing the hybrid genre to the masses over the 1990s and ’00s.
Thanks to songs like “Any Man of Mine,” “Come On Over” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman,” Twain also captured the imagination of the LGBTQ community—and the drag queen world. In turn, the gay world, which was generally obsessed with pop or cabaret singers, made Twain an unexpected gay icon.
In fact, “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” became a gay anthem in many ways. Most recently, the song returned to the zeitgeist after this past January’s international Women’s March, after it was universally played as an unofficial feminist anthem at the Washington, D.C. event.
In a 2004 interview with The Advocate, Twain explained why she thought the song resonated, crossing borders with various communities: “It’s not only girl power, it’s gay power. I think that song really stands for both.”
Twain, with her eternal sex appeal and sultry yet soothing voice, appealed not only to the LGBT community but to heterosexual men and women, too. In an exclusive interview with IN, Twain notes, “Music should cross all borders.”
In essence, when she first appeared, she was a mainstream and fringe double threat—something that was rarely seen back in those days (and, one could argue, even today). And just like that, long before the Carrie Underwoods, Twain was crowned Queen of Country Pop. Since then, Twain has sold over 100 million records, cementing her status as the best-selling country music female artist of all time—and one of the most successful women in music, period.
Her mantle got very crowded very quickly: five Grammys, 27 BMI Songwriter Awards, real estate on Canada’s and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. She’s also the only female to have three consecutive albums certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America.
In 2004, fans went into mourning when Twain announced she was retiring from performing and returning to Switzerland to live full-time in private.
In her 2011 autobiography, she cited vocal issues as a reason why she was taking a break from music. But Twain devotees later came to learn that Twain was tackling an eight-year battle with Lyme disease and dysphonia (a vocal-cord disorder) as well as recovering from the messy divorce from her then husband, Robert John “Mutt” Lange, after 15 years of marriage.
“I needed time to take care of myself,” she recalls.
But late in September, Twain returned to reclaim what was rightfully hers and dropped her fifth album, Now, to rave reviews—a project that was solely written and co-produced by Twain.
“This album feels like closure for me. It came to a point where I wanted a new beginning, a new phase, and here I am,” she says.
And later this month, Twain will be kicking off Shaw’s Grey Cup Halftime Show on November 26 at TD Place in Ottawa.
“It’s an absolute honour to return to the Grey Cup stage in the nation’s capital during Canada’s 150th birthday,” Twain said when the announcement was made. “I’m thrilled to be coming home and being a part of the country’s biggest annual party.”
“Shania is a massive Canadian icon and a global superstar, so we are so excited that she will help us cap off such a significant year for our country at the 105th Grey Cup in Ottawa,” added Randy Ambrosie, CFL commissioner. “This promises to be a fantastic event and a special performance for our fans and viewers across Canada and all around the world. I can’t wait to get the party started at my first Grey Cup as Commissioner.”
If that wasn’t enough to punctuate one big fat gay comeback, Twain was also a
judge and mentor this fall on CTV’s new musical competition series, The
Launch, along with Fergie, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and music mogul Scott
Borchetta. (At one point, Twain was mentioned as a possible judge on the
rebooted American Idol.)
IN caught up with the 51-year-old force of nature and talent to discuss her emotional and physical journey that ultimately led to this much-anticipated comeback we’re all grateful for.
Why do you think you resonate with the LGBT and drag community?
I think “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” did a lot of that because of relatability through music. Music is the universal language. It’s one thing we can sing together. It opened up a lot of doors and broke down a lot of barriers. A lot of heterosexual men sing the song very happily as well. To me, it was so welcoming. I like to think I represent someone in music who is inclusive, and the spirit of music is unifying. I’m a free spirit in a lot of ways. I love people—especially in a concert setting, where everyone comes together in a diverse audience. I’m so happy to be back performing and touring.
Are your son Eja and husband Frédéric Thiébaud—whom I have a crush on, by the way!—ready to get back into this media machine? What does your son think of your music—does he rock out to it? Or is he embarrassed by ‘Mom’?
[Laughs] My son is proud of me. He cheers me on; he’s a big cheerleader. Both my son and husband are my support system. My son is 15 now, so he’s become independent. Yes, he enjoyed having his mom around at home for all these years, but he’s happy to see me working again.
Your career has been immortalized recently, most notably at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit [Shania Twain: Rock This Country runs through July 15, 2018]. Is it surreal seeing just Act one-ish of your career already in the history books?
It is really cool to reminisce. But it’s more of my life being laid out than my career, because I started out so early at such a young age. However, it is surreal. At the end of the day, it is very rewarding looking back and stepping through it all with some perspective now.
Has your Lyme disease changed you as an artist?
I had to learn a lot of things about my voice because I had to rehabilitate it. I learned a lot about my own determination and perseverance. It was a real personal journey and a difficult one. It was super rewarding to get through it and prove to myself that I could record again and get up on stage again and endure a tour. I feel like I’ve accomplished something that I would never have known was in me if I hadn’t faced that adversity—not that I would want that adversity. But since it was there, I think I made the most out of it…as a growth experience.
You recently said that you also appreciate your fans a lot more. Can
you elaborate on that?
I’m more appreciative of where I am. Lyme disease is very serious. Just getting to the bottom of how it was associated with my voice was a huge journey. It’s a very elusive disease; it’s difficult. Getting back out and singing in front of the audience, it’s almost a miracle that it’s happening to me. I’m just very grateful and thankful to my fans for sticking by me, being patient for 15 years and embracing my return. I have a different sense of gratitude that you generally don’t have without adversity.
Did the disease encourage you to make a bucket list—or add to it?
Now I realize that there is more I want to do in life and that I’ve got time to do it. I have to hurry up and tick off these boxes. There is so much more I want to do. I want to make more albums, write more songs, write another book like a cookbook because I love to cook and I have a lot of healthy, nutritional knowledge to share now. Lots of active, productive time I want to invest in. I’ll be busy for the rest of my life.
Technology has changed the music industry dramatically in the past 15 years. Did you adjust well or do you miss the old days?
I just moved with the advancements. My son is 15, which is the last time I put out a record, and I evolved with him. Technology and social media are nothing new to me, especially when you have a child. This is how the new generation buys, finds, hears music and how they access commentary. It’s not like I stopped living and didn’t pay attention to technology in the music business. I totally get it.
How do you stay in such amazing shape?
I have to watch what I eat. So low-carb diet, lots of tennis and walking.
Do you visit in Canada a lot?
I live primarily in Switzerland and I spend a lot of time in Nassau, Bahamas. I get back to Ontario often, though. I love Canada.
Did you celebrate our 150th birthday?
I was here in Ontario. I saw the Ottawa fireworks; it was pretty great.
Your appearance on Hockey Night in Canada during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins got some major press. Some thought you might have had a bit to drink! Not that there’s anything wrong with that [burp]!
I did see bits of it. I was just having fun! I wasn’t mad drinking! Are you kidding? Hockey’s rowdy! It’s time to have fun. It was really loud in [Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena] too. I’m a hockey fan.… So many of our Canadian players play all over North America so no matter where I’m watching, I’m happy and supporting our guys.