Twenty-five years ago today, Shania Twain made an unparalleled mark on the music industry (and left a leopard print stain) with the release of her third studio album Come on Over. Featuring classic country-pop crossover hits such as You’re Still The One, That Don’t Impress Me Much and Man! I Feel Like a Woman!, the Grammy Award-winning collection defied all expectations for a woman in the genre (and music in general) when sales surpassed – wait for it – 40 million; becoming the best-selling country album and the best-selling album of all time by a female artist – a record it still holds. “I’ll never get tired of hearing that!” Shania tells GAY TIMES as she reflects on the career-defining era. “Whoever beats it, it will be hats off, because it’s not easy to get there.”
Next year, Shania returns with her first album in five years with Queen of Me, which will include more classic country-pop anthems while incorporating elements of folk and dance; music the country rocker says she’s “always” wanted to make. “This one is more of an adventure. I’m way less apologetic at this point in my life, right now. I feel like self-expression has no limits. That spirit is captured in the album,” she reveals. “I’m realising a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do for a while now on this album.”
We caught up with Shania to discuss her impending release, 25 years of Come On Over and how she’s finally embraced her unshakeable status as the queen of country, crossover and country-pop. Although she jokes her label will “kill” her, Shania also teases a collaboration with fellow diamond-certified country star Lil Nas X: “It could be sooner than later, if I have my way.”
Waking Up Dreaming and Last Day of Summer are both classic Shania: catchy, country pop. Are both of these songs indicative of the kind of sound we can expect on Queen of Me?
Yes. The album is very Up!. Last Day of Summer is more of a storytelling side of me, very conversational and a little more on the folk side. Waking Up Dreaming is just straight ahead fun pop. They’re great bookends of what the album is.
The music video for Waking Up Dreaming… I loved.
Isn’t it so fun?! My favourite thing is the purple pants and the pink hair.
It felt like a completely new side to you. I know it was glam-rock inspired but I sensed a little bit of drag in there too?
I’ve been in Vegas doing my residency now, off and on, for several years. I’m really inspired by people’s courage to just go nuts with what they’re wearing. In my shows, I’ve got… Whether it’s a drag queen coming as me, which happens a lot, or it’s a gang of straight guys coming in leopard print and top hats, it’s this all-inclusive… It’s almost as though everyone gets into the spirit of Shania and everyone accepts it. It’s just the coolest thing, it’s like an equaliser, you know? I’m thinking more about fashion and aesthetic and being outside of myself. I thought, ‘If I really just wanted to get nuts, what would I wear? If I just wanted to get adventurous?’ I was telling the director and wardrobe department, ‘The way I wanna look is if Prince and David Bowie had a baby with Cyndi Lauper. That’s who I want to be in this video.’ There were various versions of that, combinations of eccentricity and femininity and masculinity. I went wild there and had a really good time with it. I wanted Cher and Blondie to have a baby…
Me too, Shania.
Right?! Literally, this is exactly what I was thinking. These were my directives and it all came to fruition. And the lashes, c’mon! These Zoom calls are always so funny because I can see their faces when I’m like, ‘I want these lashes, I want this.’ They made it all happen. It’s always great to have talented people around me. I never know if it’s gonna work in the end, all I can do is, ‘Here is what I wanna do, let’s see if we can make it work.’ It’s a dream world.
Shania, it absolutely worked. You’ve always had so much fun in your music and videos, but this era so far feels so joyous and fearless. You once described Now as your most personal album to date, so how would you describe Queen of Me?
This one is more of an adventure. I’m way less apologetic at this point in my life, right now. I feel like self-expression has no limits. That spirit is captured in the album. There’s a lot of dancey stuff that I’ve always wanted to do, grooves that make me dance around the kitchen. ‘I want that on my record! I want that groove on my record! I want to say this, I want to say that.’ I’m realising a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do for a while now on this album.
In your Netflix documentary Not Just a Girl, you admitted that you initially wanted to sing rock music. Was that just a phase in your life or can we expect a full-blown rock record in the future?
I think I’ve already gone through my rock phase, I don’t know! I can’t really answer that for sure. There’s a more soulful side to me than a rock side, that I haven’t explored yet. When I was doing the country bars as a kid, it was all top 40 country music. Then, all of a sudden, the bars switched to top 40 rock. They were only hiring top 40 rock bands. I’m a teenager and I’m like, ‘I love Journey, I love Foreigner, I love Heart, I love Pat Benatar,’ and so I was game and I joined rock bands, went around in my shiny spandex! They were like quasi-disco, metal. The fashion was an odd period! I was in that mode, my hair was all frizzy and big, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed singing at the top of my range. Rock singing is super hard. You need to have serious technique in order to do that night after night. Just ask Adam Lambert, who does it very well. It was a great period and I loved it. There was so much music that was fun to sing as a teenager. I love the style of a rock show, even now. I still have that rock energy and that really became part of my style. It never left me, really. I’m a hybrid of folk, rock, soul and country.
Shania, 4 November marks the 25th anniversary of Come On Over…
Such a long time!
The album is still the best-selling album of all time by a female artist. You never get tired of hearing that, surely?
What a beautiful feeling. There’s so many wonderful memories writing the songs and making that record and the unexpected. No one could have predicted where that album went and where it is. That was such a beautiful surprise and it just changed my career trajectory forever because it was so global. There was never any going back, in a good way, which was fabulous. So no, I’ll never get tired of hearing that! Whoever beats it, it will be hats off, because it’s not easy to get there.
With record sales declining because of streaming, it’s likely to be a record that will never be beaten.
Right? Maybe they’ll reconfigure how they do things, but if someone does beat that, then it would be a big hats off. It’s so hard to get to that level as an artist. Anyone that gets there or got there earned it, with a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
The documentary highlighted how the album came together out of your refusal to tour with The Woman In Me…
But it was a risk, a giant risk. There were a lot of things going on in my hand. I just thought, ‘The Woman In Me is a success. I will not let go of that, I will persevere and build off that, even if it’s a mistake to not tour.’ I had it in me to fight for traction to carry on. I wasn’t afraid of going back to zero. I knew it was a risk. I knew there was going to be a big loss in money, so it was a big thing to announce to everyone around me, ‘I’m not touring yet.’ So everyone who makes money off of touring artists was waiting for this tour to start. It didn’t happen, so they were all very disappointed. I felt that pressure. Also I thought, ‘The fans will forget about me.’ But if I didn’t write a better album, and I can’t write while I’m touring, I thought, ‘I have to make this investment and bet on my writing.’ I had to put my eggs in the writing basket and count on that.
The gays wouldn’t have forgotten, I can assure you.
Definitely some of my most enthusiastic fans in the audience.
One of your main aims with Come On Over was to have crossover appeal and to go global. Did you ever expect that it would also come with the title of LGBTQ+ icon?
No! Look at how beautifully – and it’s never fast enough for any of us – progress in social and cultural growth has been. At the time that I made that album, no one was aware of the progress that we would make; that would bring us to the point where it’s part of our daily language to speak openly about all of these subjects that have always existed and never spoken about. It was ahead of its time in a certain way, but I can’t take credit for knowing that because I wouldn’t have known where we were going. Nobody would have known that. Nobody knew that we would gain confidence in this self-expression that [Man! I Feel Like a Woman] says. Even for a woman to speak for that… I was heavily criticised for it from the very beginning, but criticism doesn’t scare me. It takes a lot more than criticism for anyone brave to push forward. I’m proud of the progress. I know it’s not fast enough, but I’m proud that when this song is sung today, everyone understands that it’s for everyone.
Back when you were touring with Come On Over and Up!, I can’t imagine there were a lot of openly queer fans in the audience because of country music’s homophobic history. Now when you go out on the road, I can imagine you see more LGBT’s in the crowd?
Of course. My crowd has been diverse for a very long time, but they just didn’t exist as openly. This is why I’m so excited about now, especially when I’m doing Man! I Feel Like a Woman. It’s been a really big ice-breaker for me in my communication with the fans because… I’ll share this quick story. One of the funniest and heartwarming karaoke things is a wife that sits in the audience at a bar, and it’s her husband that gets up and sings Man! I Feel Like a Woman, and he’s proud of it. He’s rocking. He’s just taking on the energy of the conviction. It’s not even about what he’s saying. There’s so much conviction in that song and he’s just embracing the spirit. I think this is where we break down barriers and we just have fun with what music is meant to do, and that’s to make us feel good and have fun. That guy is not judging himself. He has no fear of getting up there as a straight guy and singing that song, knowing that there’s other people in the audience that are relating more literally to the song. He doesn’t care. That’s my role anyway, as an artist, to not change the world; it’s to be my own self and say what I wanna say.
You recently collaborated with the incredible Orville Peck on Legends Never Die. I have to ask, when is your next collaboration with another one of the decade’s most influential country stars, Lil Nas X, happening?
I know! I really want that. It could be sooner than later, if I have my way. I really want that. I’m going to have to put it in his court to be honest. I have a specific song that I want him on, so let’s see when the next time we speak if that happens.
We’ll @ him on Twitter and make it happen.
You’ve got to do that. It’s on this album. The label is gonna kill me, but I want this really badly! I love him. You’ll know what I mean. If it happens, you’ll understand why it was him. But Orville? What a sweet and smart man. He’s got so many talents and he’s so incredible and talented as a director.
Yeah, I’d marry him. He doesn’t even need to take the mask off.
Oh my god, he’s so beautiful in person. I’m not even kidding. He’s a dancer, by the way. He has a dance background, like ballet. He didn’t even say that, but his body is amazing. He’s so elegant, strong but elegant.
We love Orville. Earlier you mentioned Adam Lambert. You’re joining him on the panel of ITV’s Starstruck – very excited for this. Why did you want to be part of this series?
Well I love Adam Lambert. I’m a giant fan. He’s one of my warm-up voices. I love him with Queen as well, but I’ll put his music on and warm up to it. I think he’s such a talent. I wanted to get to know him even better and the team on the show are fabulous. I love it here [in the UK]. I just like it here. I feel good here. So I thought, ‘I’m gonna do this.’ I had a lot of fun and the whole panel is so lovely. I really enjoyed it.
Finally, what do you want Queen of Me to say about you at this particular moment in your career?
I want it to say, ‘I am the boss of me. You are you, I am me.’ This is all about self-empowerment, self-acknowledgement and learning how to be unapologetic and true to yourself. Queen of Me, man, that’s what it means. You are responsible for all the good and the bad that you are and whatever that means. I take that on without any fear. The thing that sparked the name for the song is, there’s so many people over the years, especially young people, who say, ‘Shania, you’re the queen!’ and some artists literally refer to me as “queen” in texts. I’m the queen of country, I’m the queen of crossover, I’m the queen of pop-country…
Which are all true…
That’s all very flattering, but I am the Queen of Me. Whatever I represent to others means a lot to me and I have a responsibility, so I thought that I should own that title. For a long time I felt like, ‘Do I really want to be responsible for affecting so many people? What if it’s a bad influence?’ I was worried about it. It’s a big responsibility when you have mass impact with a song. I’ve learned to embrace that and enjoy it. Queen of Me was born out of that attitude.
Shania Twain’s sixth studio album, Queen of Me, is due for release 3 February. You can purchase tickets for the UK & Ireland tour here.