15 Minutes with an Icon: Shania Twain
From leopard print to lip-syncing drag queens, this country queen proves why she’s a favourite amongst the gays.
Gay Times - UK
By Lewis Corner
October 2, 2020
To this very day, Shania Twain holds the record for the biggest-selling album by a female artist ever with 1997’s Come On Over shifting more than 40 million units worldwide. But this year she’s celebrating the album that changed her life forever. Shania’s second collection, The Woman In Me, is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a Diamond reissue on 2 October, honouring the music that made her a household name the world over. The songs are still beloved by fans everywhere, and set Shania up to become the country queen icon she is today. We had 15 minutes with Shania over Zoom to talk about the impact of the record, why she would have loved social media when she was first starting out, and just how many drag queens she’s seen pay homage to her iconic leopard-print outfit.
The Woman in Me was the album that changed your life forever. Reflecting on it now, can you remember how you felt during that period in your life?
I was ready for things to start working, even though I can say that I never ever expected it to get as big as it did. I’d been working my whole life in music, I’d been singing live since I was 8 years old, I was writing songs since I was 10, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m 30 and I’ve got to make this work.’ I was in a state of determination at this point in my life.
This album has endured the test of time. Did you recognise that this music would be timeless when you were recording it?
I could certainly tell that Mutt’s production was really extraordinary. I did sense the strength in the songs themselves. My voice was in a good place. Everything lined up and I felt good about how everything was coming together. I was a little concerned at the same time because the label and the industry people that were exposed to any early listening of the songs, the responses were a little reluctant. They wanted to tone it down. I was thinking, ‘Oh man, this is my moment to do what I really see is me.’ I wasn’t prepared to round off the edges at all, so there was a sense of concern on my part there a little bit. I was prepared to push through a few things. I was prepared for that resistance. How it was going to be received by the public? I had no idea!
Well I definitely strive for all-inclusivity. I believe in community. Period. I want to reach everyone.
Which song on the album do you relate to today during this period of your life?
I would say Any Man Of Mine still holds very true as a song I would write today. The attitude of it, the sense of humour, the rock-country combo, I’d say that one is probably the one as far as The Woman In in Me album goes. Outside of that, Man! I Feel Like A Woman I would still write and release that song today as much in that I would consider it current. It represents the way I feel now still. It is a timeless sentiment for me, that whole vibe.
The music industry has changed massively over the past 25 years. What’s one aspect of that change that you’ve been happy to see?
I really love the immediacy that we have. Even you and I right now on this video call. I enjoy the communication with the fans and being able to express things without having to jump through hoops, and go through so many filters and edits. I believe in being able to express yourself honestly and directly. Technology, for me, has allowed way more of that than ever before. Especially with COVID-19 now, being able to communicate through this technology is more important than ever. Otherwise we’d be completely isolated. So I think this technology has been one of the greatest advantages to our platforms to share music or for social exchange.
Do you think you’d have enjoyed social media when you were first starting out in the industry?
Oh I would have loved it! I would have loved it even more than I do now. Mainly because I was travelling so much over a decade and half trying to reach people that were listening to my music. Not that I wouldn’t have travelled anyway – I love to travel – but I would’ve been able to reach more people and be less edited and filtered in a lot of ways, which I would’ve appreciated.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a few times before, but why do you think your music resonates with LGBTQ+ fans so much?
Well I definitely strive for all-inclusivity. I believe in community. Period. I want to reach everyone. I’m only moved and flattered when people are so passionate and moved by what I have to say. I want to have an effect on people with my music that is positive and empowering. So when I get messages back that people feel empowered when they might have otherwise felt out of place, and that my music speaks for them sometimes, I think it’s everything. Music is the greatest communicator. To me that’s exactly what I want my music to do.
Was there a particular moment when you recognised that you had a big LGBTQ+ following?
I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I am one of these lucky artists that is bridging…’ Well not me as an artist because I don’t want to claim anything like that, because I’m responsible for writing the music, but the music deserves the credit for what it represents. So I’m thinking, ‘This makes such sense. It’s such a liberating thing to be able to sing Man! I Feel Like Woman no matter who you are.’ I don’t like to take credit for that because it’s the song and how people take ownership of it. I love that. I write a song, I let it go and then it belongs to whoever relates to it.
When you made your guest appearance on Drag Race the queens lip-synced to Man! I Feel Like Woman. How was that experience for you?
I love it! Again, that’s such a huge compliment. First of all, I was so impressed by the talent and the makeup artistry. I was so blown away by the total transformation. The styling, the beauty and the aesthetics! I am inspired by that and I learn a lot watching the transformations. That’s one thing I really love about Drag Race, is that you get to see that. I’m like, ‘First of all, where did you get that fabric?’ Everybody is so innovative and creative, so it was just a really fun experience. I mean, I even do that myself. I’m always looking to transform myself one way or another when I’m making videos or doing photography. I enjoy the art direction of it all.
If you were to guess, how many drag queens do you think you’ve seen during your career paying homage to your iconic leopard print outfit?
Thousands! Absolutely thousands! A lot of people come in drag to the concerts and are looking better than me. Not that that’s hard to do! But I’m a woman, and then I’m seeing this transformation of a man into me. It’s like looking in the mirror, almost. It takes a lot of talent. I have to say, as an artist and somebody that enjoys the artistic side of things, I’m most impressed by that. And flattered of course!
You brought back the leopard print outfit for your appearance in Orville Peck’s Legends Never Die music video, which I loved. I like to think you’ll be wearing leopard print for the rest of your life.
It’s my go-to pattern. It’s my neutral! It goes with everything and it’s timeless. I texted a friend because they messaged me saying, ‘I love Legends Never Die’ and I was like, ‘Leopard Never Dies!’ It’s true! Leopard print never dies. I love it. I mean, look at this… my makeup bag is leopard print!
Speaking of your iconic outfits throughout your career, where are they now? Do you have an archive?
There’s a museum that houses several of them. I’ve got some in storage. I’ve donated some to charities. So they’re kind of spread out a little bit everywhere. I probably need to get it all together one time and get more serious about preserving them as I realise they get more and more important. I didn’t really value them as much because I didn’t realise they would become iconic. Like the top hat from Man! I Feel Like A Woman and even the denim-on-denim. I didn’t realise at the time they would become things that I might want to hold on to.