Shania Twain on Reclaiming Her Throne: 'I Don't Have Anything to Prove Anymore'

The country-pop icon reflects on her storied career, the difficulties that nearly ended it — and how she returned stronger than ever — as she prepares to release her new album Queen of Me

By Jeff Nelson
December 20, 2022

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She's still the one!

Nearly 30 years after her first album, country icon Shania Twain is back and busier than ever.

Twain, 57, has scaled some historic peaks. The bestselling female country artist of all time with more than 100 million records sold worldwide, Twain redefined the genre with rollicking hits like "Any Man of Mine," "That Don't Impress Me Much" and "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" But she also endured devastating lows on her path to superstardom, from her parents' tragic deaths and a shocking betrayal that led to her divorce from her first husband to a battle with Lyme disease that nearly destroyed her voice.

Despite the hardships, "I really found such a wonderful life," Twain — who learned to love again with second husband Frédéric Thiébaud, 52 — says in the new PEOPLE cover story.

Now healthy, the beloved singer is back on top of her game as she prepares to release her sixth studio album, Queen of Me (out Feb. 3), and embark on a global tour.

"It's like a renaissance period for me. To be experiencing it as a relevant artist still, that's rewarding," Twain says. "I feel a renewed confidence. I don't have anything to prove anymore, and I feel freedom in that."

The Timmins, Ontario, native began singing in bars at 8 years old. And when her mom, Sharon, and stepdad, Jerry, died when she was just 22, Twain began performing at a resort to support her three younger siblings.

"It was like, 'This is all I know how to do. I've got to support the kids.' That gave me a motivation and a fearless state of mind, because when you don't have a choice, you've got to push through — and that's what I did," she says.

She eventually brought that brave spirit to Nashville and in 1995 broke through with her second LP, The Woman in Me, which she created with her producer husband Robert "Mutt" Lange. But it was with her third album, 1997's Come on Over, that Twain disrupted a male-dominated business and made an unprecedented crossover to pop, paving the way for future artists like Taylor Swift.

"She wasn't afraid to blur genre lines, show midriff or redefine what it meant to be a woman in country music," says country-pop star Kelsea Ballerini, 29. "That boldness is something I hope to carry throughout my career."

Adds Grammy winner Maren Morris, 32: "Shania really had one of the most iconic crossovers in country history... I admire her confidence in her path because she really just loves bringing people together, no matter the sound coming out of the speakers."

With her 2002 album Up!, Twain became the only artist ever to have three successive diamond-certified albums (with sales of more than 10 million each). But even with her groundbreaking accomplishments, Twain struggled to be taken seriously as an artist and faced sexist assumptions that she owed her success to her male collaborators.

"It was very offensive to be considered a molded artist, that it took a man or a team to mold me," says Twain. "I bit my tongue a lot. But when you're in the industry from a young age as a woman, you really learn how to let it roll off your back."

Twain faced even more setbacks after she took a break from the spotlight to focus on raising her and Lange's son Eja, now 21, in 2004. In 2008, her 14-year marriage to Lange imploded when she learned of his affair with her close friend Marie-Anne Thiébaud.

"It was a very low period in my life," says Twain, who sank into a depression. Following the betrayal, she and Marie-Anne's husband, former Nestlé exec Frédéric, commiserated over their shared heartbreak and soon after fell in love.

With her heart on the mend, Twain confronted another issue: her voice. For more than seven years, she was unable to project vocally and worried she'd never sing again. Eventually doctors diagnosed Twain with Lyme disease from a 2004 tick bite, which they believe damaged the nerves in her vocal cords. She relearned how to sing, with lengthy warm-ups and physical therapy, and in 2018 Twain underwent open-throat surgery to strengthen the weakened nerves.

"I may not be able to [sing] forever," she says, "but right now I'm just enjoying where I am."

Indeed, Twain's contentment comes through loud and clear on Queen of Me, her upbeat, empowering new LP that she says she wrote to escape the despair of the pandemic. The record — her first in five years — is just the latest chapter of her resurgence. Her surprise Coachella cameo with Harry Styles last April helped her win over a new generation of fans, and her Netflix documentary released last summer, Not Just a Girl, reminded longtime devotees why they loved her in the first place.

"All these years later, I'm still here, almost in a bigger way," she says, "and I'm embracing it."

For more on Shania Twain, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Thursday.