The Woman in Me at 25: Shania Twain reflects on one of the biggest country albums of all time
The Canadian icon was in Nashville struggling to pay her bills and feeling alone when the album skyrocketed
By Jennifer Van Evra
September 9, 2020
Shania Twain's second album The Woman in Me was released, she was just coming out of being a small-town Canadian musician and trying to make it in Nashville.
Twain was a long way from home, struggling to pay her bills and feeling alone in the world.
Then her manager called to say he had some good news, and asked her how many albums she thought the new record had sold.
"I said, 'Well I don't know. I mean, it would be incredible, and pretty much a miracle, if it sold three million," remembers Twain in an interview with q host Tom Power. "And he said, 'Well it's way beyond that.'"
"Way beyond that" is right. By 2000, the album was certified 12x Platinum by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represented 12 million in sales in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, the album sold more than 20 million copies.
The album also won heaps of awards, among them album of the year at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) and the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMAs), country album of the year at the Billboard Music Awards and best country album at the Grammys.
It also catapulted Twain into the limelight, and set the stage for her to become one of the biggest country and pop artists of all time.
A quarter century later, hits including The Woman in Me (Needs the Man in You), No One Needs to Know, Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? and Any Man of Mine still get regular radio rotation.
'It was very liberating'
What's more, Twain wrote almost all of the songs herself — a relative rarity in the top 40 pop and country realms — and as she looks back, she says that was likely part of the album's success.
"I think that a lot of what is behind the success of any album is being able to be original and unique, and a good way to do that, if you're a songwriter, is to write your own songs, to record your own songs," she says.
"So I think that just being able to have that opportunity to self-express, to pour my attitude and my character into the songwriting, to have a producer that nurtured that edge — and that personality was important."
Twain also wanted to show a contrast that at the time wasn't common in country: that a woman can be confident and assured in her opinions, and still be feminine, vulnerable, sensitive and human.
That attitude, she says, seemed to really resonate with people.
"The Woman in Me was for the most part very upbeat and there were a lot of kick-ass attitudes and very straightforward lyrics. So in that sense, it was very liberating for a lot of people who maybe were a little more insecure about expressing their opinions and being a little bit different," says Twain.
"We all have something to say. But I think that we need others to sometimes open those doors for us and to be vessels for us, to be communicators for us. So I think the album did that a lot for people — and for me, too. It was liberating for me."
'It's too daring'
But first, Twain had to convince her record company. The artist wanted to release the edgy, rock-infused track Any Man of Mine as the first single, and the label said no, because they didn't think it would work on radio.
That single went on to be Twain's first number one hit.
"Everyone said, 'No, it's too bold. It's too daring. It's going to be too offensive. The men don't want to hear a woman telling them how it's going to be, and the women might feel intimidated by your sense of independence. And I'm like, 'No, this is an all-inclusive, empowering song for everyone.' I saw it as a positive message, not a negative one," she says.
"But it did end up being second single and it's still one of my biggest songs."
The Woman in Me was produced by her husband, legendary producer Mutt Lange, who worked with some of the '80s biggest hitmakers, among them AC/DC, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Michael Bolton, Bryan Adams, Huey Lewis and the News and the Cars. (He has since worked with acts from Nickelback to Lady Gaga.)
The pair later split after Lange allegedly had an affair with Twain's best friend; still, Twain says that experience hasn't tainted her view of the music they created.
"We were strong collaborators. The songwriting came very naturally to us. Not that it was easy to write successful music, but it was easy to exchange creatively," says Twain.
Lange would come up with great riffs, she says, and she would get inspired, then come up with lyrics that made him "light up." The pair would then write the song.
"We really played off each other. It was a good teamwork environment, and we had a lot of mutual respect for each other's ideas. He really nurtured my independent nature and he was humoured by my attitude and thought I was quite funny with my directness. And we captured that in in the records and in the songwriting," she says.
"So listening back to it, just awesome memories of making the album."
'It's telling their story'
On Oct. 2, The Woman in Me is being re-released as a "Diamond Edition" that will be available as a limited edition clear crystal vinyl album, as standard vinyl, as a two-CD set, as a three-CD set with a book, or as a "Super Deluxe Edition" digital download.
The CD sets also come with bonus live performances and single mixes; the three-CD set also comes with early recordings.
Of course, when an album reaches the level of success that The Woman in Me did, and has endured for as long as it has, it means the songs really speak to people — and Twain is quick to say that, while she wrote the songs from a personal perspective, she recognizes they aren't entirely her own.
"I really believe that once you record a song and you release it, it belongs to everybody else, and it belongs in their life, in their story. It's telling their story," she says.
For example when she sings Life's About to Get Good, she sees the audience light up.
"Everybody has been through some sort of heartbreak or some sort of betrayal, and they really embrace looking on the bright side. And that goes for a lot of the music," says Twain.
"So it's fun for me and rewarding for me to watch the audience owning the music."