The Legends: Shania Twain
By Kim Taylor Bennett
August 23, 2017
Photography: Mert Alas & Marcus Piggot
This article originally appeared in V109, on newsstands August 31.
“I really benefited from owning that suffering and saying to myself, I’m never going to trust again, I’m never going to love again, I’m never going to get married again. And I really meant it in that moment,” says Shania Twain. “I think once you’re able to take that on as your reality, only then will you evolve through it. I would never apologize for feeling sorry for myself—sometimes you need to.”
That’s how Twain began to piece her world back together after her creative cohort and husband of 14 years, producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, was allegedly having an affair with her best friend Marie-Anne Thiébaud. It blindsided Twain back in 2008 and has dominated her narrative over the past decade, punctuated by this nice little kicker: Twain fell in love with Marie-Anne’s ex, wedding Frédéric Thiébaud in 2011. Though she doesn’t let this experience define her, Twain is unflinching in communicating her struggle, whether in her 2011 memoir, From This Moment On, or the songs on Now, her first album since 2002.
It’s certainly not difficult to read between the lines: On “Poor Me,” she sings, “I wish I never saw it, the secret in his eyes, poor me, he never told me how long, I’d been living in the dark.” But Twain is careful to counter every emotional piano ballad with triumphant confessionals—from the reggae-tinged country of first single “Swinging with My Eyes Closed,” to “Life’s About to Get Good” and the peppy “You Can’t Buy Love.”
Truthfully, it’s a wonder that this record came about at all. In 2004, Twain took a break from the spotlight, ostensibly to dedicate herself to raising her son Eja. By that point, however, Twain was already suffering from chronic fatigue brought on by Lyme disease. In the intervening years, the illness would atrophy her vocal chords, but never once did she stop writing. “I grieved singing for sure and I missed it for many years, but I also just started to accept that maybe it would never happen again and I had to cling to the thing I could do, which was writing music,” explains Twain.
Later, she began to work on the nerve damage that was constricting her vocal chords. This galvanized the singer to hit the road in 2015 for an extensive North American tour, her first in 11 years. Twain billed it as her final jaunt, but her swiftly advancing recovery surprised her and she decided to lay down a fifth record.
Much of Twain’s life has been characterized by surmounting adversity to achieve success. Raised in Ontario, Canada, Twain grew up in a home where food and money were often scarce. Her mother battled depression and her stepfather’s temper was often violent. Twain lost both in a car crash when she was 21, becoming a de facto parent for her younger siblings. Despite this, Twain went on to make an indelible mark on music. She was one of the first to blur the lines between country and pop, paving a path for those like Taylor Swift and Kelsea Ballerini. She ruffled feathers with her exposed midriff, shifting 90 million records in the process. “I didn’t realize a bare belly button would be so taboo within the country music industry,” she remembers.
Twain’s favorite look—corset, top hat, thigh-highs, white shirt—comes from one of her defining hits, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” She explains, “It’s a good statement of a strong woman, but also a little tongue in cheek.” Reminded that the cover of Now finds Twain in leopard print, a nod to her 1997 smash “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” the 52-year-old laughs, “There are some things I don’t want to outgrow.”