100 Greatest Women, #15: Shania Twain

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#15

Shania Twain

2008 Edition: #16 (+1)

The biggest-selling female country artist in history, Shania Twain achieved success on a worldwide scale that is yet to be matched. Her stunning visual image made her an icon, but it was her songwriting that made her a superstar, bringing a female empowerment message that essentially ended the long tradition of heartbreak queens in country music.

She started out in her native Canada, raised in Timmins, Ontario. Her given name was Eilleen Regina Edwards, and she was adopted at the age of two by her mother’s second husband, Jerry Twain. Her mom noticed Eilleen’s gifts at an early age, and by the age of ten, she was being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night to perform country songs at the local bars. Because of her age, she could only sing in such establishments after they had stopped serving alcohol for the night. She would sing and play guitar, covering the songs by her favorite country acts of the seventies: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and fellow Canuck Anne Murray.

By the time she reached adulthood, however, her musical tastes had expanded, and she developed quite a liking of eighties pop and arena rock. She was already fronting a covers band at 21 when tragedy struck, and her parents were killed in a car accident. She was suddenly responsible for the care of her younger siblings. She moved them to Huntsville, Ontario, where she made good money performing at the Deerhurst Resort. When all of her siblings had graduated high school, she felt ready to pursue her professional recording career, and with the help of a manager who’d caught her act at the resort, she headed to Nashville.

Her demo tape earned her a recording contract with Mercury Records, who recognized her vocal talent but were hesitant about her unconventional self-written material. Now billed as Shania Twain, she was paired with veteran producers Norro Wilson and Harold Shedd, who felt her own songs weren’t up to the same standard as the material they had selected for her. Only one of the tracks from her debut album, Shania Twain, was co-written by Twain.

The album was released in 1993, but sounded like a project from the early eighties. The production was dated, some of the material was recycled, and her distinctive voice was marred with echo effects. Even the label didn’t seem to know how to market her. After producing a sexy video for lead single “What Made You Say That,” the accompanying album artwork was of Twain wearing a heavy coat next to a wolf by an outdoor fire. The wolf’s face was more clearly visible than Twain’s. After two low-charting singles and one that missed the chart entirely, the album quietly faded away.

However, the video clip for that first single would end up impacting her career anyway. When it was playing on CMT Europe, famed producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange caught the clip, and was intrigued by Twain’s voice. He contacted her on the phone, and she revealed that she was a songwriter as well. He asked to hear something she had written, so she propped up the phone and played him “Home Ain’t Where His Heart Is (Anymore),” after which he said that her voice sounded infinitely better singing her own material than it did on the record he had of hers. They became phone buddies and eventually arranged to meet at Fan Fair.

The professional became personal, and the pair soon married. Together, they co-wrote songs for her second album, which Lange produced. The lead single, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?,” went to radio in early 1995, while the album followed a month later. As the single gained traction at radio, eventually peaking at #11, The Woman in Me steadily rose in sales. Those sales exploded when the second single, “Any Man of Mine,” became a #1 smash that summer. Soon, the album was selling at a rate that was unheard of for a female country artist.

Her eye-popping videos made her a crossover star before pop radio even started playing her. Defying conventional wisdom, the now multi-platinum singer didn’t tour, as she was too big to open and didn’t have enough material for a headlining set. As the album became the top-selling by a female country artist in history, the awards rolled in. In 1996, The Woman in Me won Album of the Year at the ACM Awards and Best Country Album at the Grammys. The set produced another three #1 singles, “(If You’re Not in it For Love) I’m Outta Here!,” “You Win My Love,” and “No One Needs to Know.” By the time she was ready to follow it up, The Woman in Me had already sold nine million copies in America alone, on its way to an eventual twelve million in sales.

Twain’s image garnered the most press, but it was her songwriting that was truly revolutionary. The women in her songs demanded respect and fair treatment, refused to be compromised or give in to sexual pressures, and even when on the receiving end of a heartbreak, would not play the victim. The era of the heartbreak queen, best exemplified at the time by Reba McEntire but played on record by nearly every female country artist, even progressive ones like Rosanne Cash or Emmylou Harris, came to an end. From this point on, female country artists would embrace assertive material, and the crop of stars who have followed since Twain’s breakthrough, everyone from Jo Dee Messina to the Dixie Chicks, from Miranda Lambert to Carrie Underwood, have all incorporated Twain’s girl power message in some form or another.

Her label head, Luke Lewis, said her third CD Come On Over would be country music’s Thriller. Released in the fall of 1997, it entered a respectable No. 2 on the pop albums chart, and sold three million copies by the beginning of the new year. Lead single “Love Gets Me Every Time” spent five weeks at No. 1 on the country chart. But the album really took off when third single “You’re Still the One” became a crossover hit. Twain appeared on the VH1 Divas Live special, and launched a sell-out international tour.

Meanwhile, her album was remixed for the international market. By the end of 1998, what had begun as a strong-selling album defied all conventional rules and actually gained strength with time. Twain scored another huge pop hit with “From This Moment On,” and she won two Grammys in early 1999. The big turning point for the project was the pop remix of “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” which not only pushed sales in America through the stratosphere, but was her breakthrough smash in England, Australia, Germany and other international markets.

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” repeated the success of “Much”, and by the end of its run, Come on Over had sold 35 million copies worldwide, including 20 million in America, the best-selling country album in history. The CMA and ACM both named Twain Entertainer of the Year, BMI named her the top artist-songwriter, and she won another pair of Grammys. She scored huge ratings for her two network specials, and her Behind the Music was the most-watched and most-repeated of all entries in the VH1 series. Her tour played to sell-out crowds around the world. Her album was the top-selling release in the U.K. in 1999, and the top-selling female album in history in both the United States and Australia.

Twain took time off to have a child and rest from the road, and she resurfaced with Up! in 2002. Lead single “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” was a top ten hit around the world, and the album sold over 875,000 copies in its first week in America, staying at No. 1 on the pop charts for five weeks. Rather than decide which fan base to appeal to, she released three different versions of the album, two of which were paired together in America and two in international markets. The U.S. got the country and pop versions, while the rest of the world received the pop and “rhythmic” versions. “Forever and For Always” became the biggest hit stateside, topping the AC charts and going to No. 4 at country radio, while “Ka-Ching!”, her indictment of mass consumerism, was a huge hit in Europe.

Twain launched another hit tour, which would set a record for amount grossed in a country trek. Up! was certified for sales of eleven million, and it earned her four Grammy nominations over a two-year period. Rather than mine the album for ten singles like she did for Come On Over, Twain returned in 2004 with her Greatest Hits, an incredibly generous package that featured four new tracks and seventeen classics. It set a record for the biggest opening-sales week of a hits collection, and has already sold more than 5 million copies in America, despite being dominated by tracks from albums that had sold more than ten million copies each.

Twain entered a long period of seclusion following Greatest Hits, where her only recordings were “Shoes,” that featured on the 2005 Desperate Housewives soundtrack, and guest vocals on Anne Murray’s 2008 Duets project.  It was later revealed that his period was a dark time for Twain, who struggled with losing her voice and the breakup of her marriage.  She resurfaced in 2011 with the reality series, Why Not?, and her candid autobiography, From This Moment On.  A successful two year residency in Las Vegas led to the nationwide Rock This Country tour in 2015.

Finally, the long delayed new album was released in 2017. Now was her first studio set in fifteen years, and it entered at #1 on the pop and country albums chart in America, as well as on the overall album charts in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.  Her first album since her debut to feature a new producer, Now was also notable for being the first Twain album that she wrote by herself.  Prior to Now, the only solo composition that had appeared on a Twain album was the 1995 The Woman in Me cut, “Leaving is the Only Way Out.”  Twain has been supporting Now with an international tour that wraps up in Australia and New Zealand in December, following dates in North America, South America, and Europe.

Essential Singles

  • Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?, 1995
  • Any Man of Mine, 1995
  • (If You’re Not in it For Love) I’m Outta Here!, 1995
  • No One Needs to Know, 1996
  • You’re Still the One, 1998
  • From This Moment On, 1998
  • That Don’t Impress Me Much, 1998
  • Man! I Feel Like a Woman!, 1999
  • I’m Gonna Getcha Good!, 2002
  • Forever and For Always, 2003

Essential Albums

  • The Woman in Me,1995
  • Come On Over, 1997
  • Up! ,2002
  • Now, 2017

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • The Woman in Me, 1996
    • Entertainer of the Year, 2000
    • Top New Female Vocalist, 1996
  • Canadian Country Music Association Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • The Woman in Me, 1995
      • Come On Over, 1998
      • Up!, 2003
    • Country Program of the Year
      • Up! Close and Personal, 2004
    • Duo of the Year
      • From This Moment On (with Bryan White), 1999
    • Fan’s Choice Award, 1996, 1998, 1999
    • Female Artist of the Year, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2003
    • Single of the Year
      • Any Man of Mine, 1995
      • You Win My Love, 1996
      • You’re Still the One, 1998
    • Songwriter of the Year
      • Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?, 1995
    • Top Selling Album of the Year
      • The Woman in Me, 1997
      • Come On Over, 1998, 1999
      • Up!, 2003
      • Greatest Hits, 2005
    • Video of the Year
      • Any Man of Mine, 1995
      • You Win My Love, 1996
      • Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You), 1998
      • That Don’t Impress Me Much, 1999
      • I’m Gonna Getcha Good!, 2003
  • Canadian Music Hall of Fame, 2011
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Entertainer of the Year, 1999
    • International Artist Achievement Award, 1999
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Country Album
      • The Woman in Me, 1996
    • Best Country Song
      • You’re Still the One, 1999
      • Come On Over, 2000
    • Best Female Country Vocal Performance
      • You’re Still the One, 1999
      • Man! I Feel Like a Woman!, 2000
  • Juno Awards
    • Artist of the Year, 2003
    • Country Female Vocalist of the Year, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
    • Country Recording of the Year
      • I’m Gonna Getcha Good!, 2003
      • Up!, 2004
    • Entertainer of the Year, 1996
    • Fan Choice Award, 2003
    • International Achievement Award, 1997
    • Songwriter of the Year, 2000

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

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Previous: #16. Lee Ann Womack

13 Comments

  1. It’s always amazing to me to remember just how few albums Shania put out and that so many of her hits all came off one album that Come On Over is essentially a greatest hits in itself.

  2. One could argue, also, that Shania’s mega-success (paralleling Garth Brooks’) did a lot to “de-countrify” the music to a large extent as the 1990s came to an end. I think this is true to a certain extent (certainly not everything she has done, in fact maybe only half, has been strictly “country”), but she did set the bar quite high for others to follow, for better or worse.

  3. I wish they’d delayed the Greatest Hits package another year and kept releasing singles from Up. Still feel that’s her best album.

    I think her big hit albums all showed a respect for the genre and featured prominent country instrumentation. I described the difference back then as being she was making pop records with country instruments, while the lesser crossover efforts made country records with pop instruments. They were trying to mimic her, but didn’t understand the actual structure of pop records, so they just took swapped out the fiddles and steel instead of building pop songs from the ground up.

    Don’t even know how to describe what is going on now. It seems like most of what the mainstream artists are releasing, especially the newest ones, is completely untethered from country music in any of its 20th century forms.

  4. I was waiting on this one. Bear witness the long comment I’m about to make. Shania Twain is my all time favorite country artist. Shania is the reason I feel in love with country music in the first place. When I first started listening to country music when I was young, I didn’t connect or understand it at first. I was always more of a hip hop and rock fan and I was jaded to country music outside a few artists I like. But, when I heard Shania’s What Made You Say That for the first time, I was in awe of her. From her distinctive voice, unique songwriting and of course, her gorgeous looks, I have to listen to anything that she has put out and seek out other women in country music (I been more of a fan women in country music than men) from the past, present, and future and later on in my life find others in country that I enjoy now. Shania made me truly understand how beautiful of a genre that country music is. Shania had that aura about her of a woman who is confident, bold, and wasn’t afraid to push the envelope, but respect country music. She did it in the most simple way possible in her songwriting and let the listeners interpret her song meanings. You’re Still The One holds a special place in my heart because it showcases Shania’s talents as a singer-songwriter. When you listen to it, we all know the oblivious meaning of Shania’s journey though love, but I got another meaning out of it, that she was singing in the perspective of her mom being love with her dad with the line “But, just look at us holding on. We still together still going strong.” That You’re Still The One was her parents’ song and Shania lived through her mom and it touched me. Shania got a lot of flack for being pop-country, but in reality, she was showcasing diversity and being different. Shania never need the traditional sound of country to be country, she was country of being herself and make others feel proud of themselves and where they come from. Shania gave women a voice in not only country music, but other genres of music. The Woman In Me, Come On Over, and Up! are classic albums, her self-titled debut album I feel is a very underrated album and even after a year reflecting back, Now is still a solid album that deserved a little more love. Thanks to Shania, I found country music and I love it.

  5. @ Kevin:

    I don’t know what is really going on in mainstream country for the most part anymore, other than that I am not wild about it. I would not take bets that Shania would be able to find an audience if she were starting out now, instead of 25 years ago. And in any case, my opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the majority of great albums by female artists are by those on the alt-country/Americana side of things, such as Tift Merritt, Caitlin Rose, Margo Price, Lindi Ortega, and others.

  6. Back in 2008 this name generated a firestorm of comments, particularly from someone who apparent had a crush on Twain.

    Given an extra 10 years to contemplate her place in the cosmos, I don’t think I would have her in my top twenty-five today. She is a talented songwriter, but as a performer, she seems to have been more of a product of her production team than her own vocal prowess

  7. I have all of Shania’s music, but it hasn’t really held up over time for me nor do I find her voice to be particularly compelling. Like the Swift entry, I find her record breaking sales to be more an achievement in marketing rather than talent. Still, I do cede that she did contribute to the genre by changing the message in a lot of women’s songs after she came along, so I thank this write up for shining some light on that for me.

  8. She definitely influenced a lot of young women and has a passionate fan base; she’s just not among my personal favorites and so she would rank lower for me.

  9. Agree w Paul – “She is a talented songwriter, but as a performer, she seems to have been more of a product of her production team than her own vocal prowess.” and Michael A – “nor do I find her voice to be particularly compelling. Like the Swift entry, I find her record breaking sales to be more an achievement in marketing rather than talent.” I have never purchased a ST song.

    Besides Anne Murray, my favorite Canadian female vocalists are Lisa Brokop and Stacey Lee Guse of the Western Swing Authority.

  10. The most impactful and successful female country artist of the last 25 years falling at #15 I have to laugh. Returning with a #1 album in a genre that gave zero support for a mixture of sexist and ageist reasons. Rock This Country tour clearing over 60 million. The two most successful country from the mid-2000’s to now, Taylor and Carrie, being largely indebted to her.

    Her songwriting skills and warm vocals are what made her such a great artist. What pushed her even further ahead was she had that special it factor that only comes around so often. I would say only three other women have it that have or will be featured on this list.

    Come On Over, The Woman In Me and Up are all classic albums in that order!

  11. So, it looks like jake’s back for more after ten years. At least he waited two days after its posting, as opposed to the day of.

    As for my thoughts on Shania? Well, I don’t believe I’ve ever been much for her, but whenever Kevin or somebody else brings up the catchiness of her material, they’re not wrong. I’ve heard “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” one time to date (in fact, it was when I saw its video), and I cannot unremember the hook!

  12. Based on sales, her placement at #15 seems about right. Not a fan though of her pop country. As Erik says above if you trace the history of how we got to what is called country today, you go right through Shania and Garth.

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