Opinions come a dime a dozen, but let’s face it — Shania Twain’s “got it going on” and in every way possible. Compare her to lady legends such as Loretta Lynn or the late Patsy Cline and there probably won’t be many similarities. Categorize her with today’s chart divas like Trisha Yearwood or Martina McBride and chances are, she won’t fit in. But place Twain in a world of her own and you’ll discover that she’s sitting on top of it — making the kind of music she loves and selling it like there’s no tomorrow.
Is it all — the quadruple-platinum-selling albums, a rack-up of Canadian Country Music Awards, sold out concerts and phenomenal cross-over success — part of a long-thought-out, strategic scheme to become a worldwide music icon? Shania says “Not so.”
“It’s not over-thought or as deeply planned as everyone thinks it is,” explains the scorching-hot artist who’s not only taking the country crib by storm, but bursting through format barriers like VH-1 specials, MTV and Rolling Stone. “It’s almost a step-by-step thing. I don’t really have a grand picture. Everyone thinks it’s this great plan.”
While Shania credits her husband/producer Mutt Lange for much of her success and inspiration, she says it’s the music that dictates everything and it’s the music that will guide her to the next level, whether that means reeling in even more fame or not.
“The music leads the way,” she admits. “This is how I treat everything in my career. Really what happens is that I’m going to sit down and write the next album. I’m going to decide what’s going on in my head and what I want to say the next time around, how I want to say it and what kind of personality do I want to give this next record. Then Mutt and I are going to get together and collaborate on what we’ve created independently over the next six months. I have to wait until I write the songs, and when Mutt gets his hands on that music, he can do anything with it. He can make it sound any way he wants to. So until we go through all of that, I couldn’t tell you how it’s going to end up.
“This is also what dictates the way I look, the way the videos look and the order that the songs will come out,” she continues. “Everything (else) comes after that. It’s not planned so far in advance that I can even tell you what that is going to be.”
Whatever that is, it’s working not only throughout the states and her native Canada, but across the world as well. To country fans and radio playlists, Shania is making country music. The country label, however, doesn’t always work elsewhere. Shania knew that early on and is now reaping the benefits.
After she bombarded North America’s country market with The Woman In Me, the best-selling album ever by a female country artist, her picture-perfect package of country, pop, fun-fest personality, rocketing marketing skills and unquestionable good looks quickly began to rock the rest of the world. With her current “Honey, I’m Home” smash — the song that literally set off explosives during the recent telecast of the CMA Awards Show, already becoming a lyric/music phenomenon, “You’re Still The One” from her multi-million-selling Come On Over disc became a worldwide smash in both country and pop formats.
To some fans in Asia, Europe, Japan, Holland or Australia, Shania ain’t country. In fact, the international version of Come On Over is significantly different. Typical production marks and country sounds from such instruments as fiddles and steel guitars featured throughout several songs quip faintly in the background. While Bryan White is Shania’s duet partner on the American-weaved “From This Moment On” hit, she does it solo style on the international spin. Even what Shania wears on the two seperate album cover shots are different. The North American disc features Shania in a red shirt with hands over head. The international disc reveals the singer flaunting a sexy, sleeveless, silvery gown.
Shania still insists that the packaging approach is more spontaneous than preconceived — whether the focus happens to be on the music itself or the overall image.
“It’s not over-thought, to be honest with you,” she explains of her camera-ready look. “You go in and go through a big rack of clothes. You sit down in front of the mirror and play with your hair and makeup until you’re happy with the way you look that day. The photographer takes photographs for a couple of hours, then you sit back and look back at the image that was created that day and decide how you like looking at yourself. I don’t get a stylist involved in creating my image. I want to look at myself and like the way I look, and feel comfortable with that. It’s no different than going into a good shop. You stand in front of the mirror and if you like what you see, you buy it. That’s really it. It’s not any more complicated and there’s no more time spent on it than that. I just go with the flow.”
While there’s no questioning Shania’s striking beauty or hook-line-and-sinker songs and studio production, exactly how well her first concert tour would flow was way up in the air. She faced both critics and country fans who claimed she would never pass the test when the live wire was plugged in. So far, the live wire is still hot and has been since she kicked off the tour venture that’s included countless dates throughout Canada and the United States. As the tour spills over into 1999, she’ll also hit Europe and Asia.
“I feel totally comfortable on stage in this show because everyone around me worked as hard as they did to make it what I always dreamed it would be,” she explains. “We spent several months putting the tour together and I was very particular about who came on the road with me. I have the best band on the road right now. I can safely say that.
“It’s funny, but my performance style and communication hasn’t changed since I was a teenager,” Shania admits. “I started singing without my guitar and moving around the stage and interacting with the fans in clubs. I was always a communicative performer, so I’ve just taken that on to a bigger stage. I don’t like being separated from the audience, and I couldn’t see a show without it.”
That interaction on stage also includes Shania inviting local musicians, singers or show extras to join her for every performance. Her recent CMA Awards Show performance of “Honey, I’m Home” featured a fleet of local screaming cheerleaders to help spice up the enthusiasm and energy of the song.
“From night to night, it changes,” she says. “It’s incredible. I bring people up on stage every night. It could be any one of any age — a man, a woman, a boy or girl. We’ve had some young children come up on stage and sing for us. I have a guest singer come up every night from that city to sing in front of thousands of people. It’s pretty scary for them. The reason I started doing it is because I started singing so young that the only way I was allowed in those clubs was for the band and the club owner to agree to bring me up on stage. So I like to do it for these kids to give them a chance to get up and sing. We’ve had kids as young as eight years old come up and do this in my show. We bring up a local choir as well — always a group of teenagers from a local high school and a local teenage drum corp. It’s like a party. I have an unbelievable amount of kids at my concerts,” she adds. “There are two and three-year-old kids and they know all the words. It blows my mind. That’s the biggest difference between then and now for me. Music is music, yes, but when it’s your own music, it’s everything.”
“Everything” includes the latest effort the world is witnessing from Shania — her romping “Honey, I’m Home” smash. As one music critic responded to her rockin’ and pyrotechnic-laced CMA performance, “Nothin’ like that good ole country music.” The song is sure no “Crazy” or “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
“It’s not really an ambitious song for country at all, actually,” says Shania. “It is maybe for where country’s at now. I use for example the song ‘Take This Job And Shove It.’ You heard a lot of music like that when I was growing up. It was much more frank, in your face and real.That’s what I’m trying to do with my music. I find that it’s quite traditional in a lot of aspects. It just happens to be the 90s. What I tried to do with “Honey, I’m Home” and a lot of songs on this particular album is to bring a sense of humor to real life situations that might otherwise be very problematic. Role reversal is what “Honey, I’m Home” is all about. Of course, it’s a huge exaggeration of what it’s really like and what we would imagine if it could be in our wildest dreams as women. It’s just my attempt to bring a sense of humor to the changing times and the struggles that we have with role reversal and the challenges we have with the sexes in general in the 90s.”
The 90s for singer/songwriter Shania Twain, is a far cry from what she actually dreamed of as a little girl. “My dream from the time I was a very young child was never to be a star,” she admits. “I was much happier to be in the background. I was really a closet songwriter for a long time until my mother forced me to play her my music. Being a star is a fleeting thing, whereas being a songwriter is forever.”
One can agree that times are certainly “fleeting” right now for Shania Twain.