Shania Twain reflects on 'The Woman in Me' at 25: 'I had nothing to lose'
By Mark Daniell
October 10, 2020
In her 30-plus year career, Shania Twain has felt pressure plenty of times.
Surprisingly, though, she had little weighing on her when she went into the studio to record, The Woman in Me, the chart-topping 1995 album that catapulted her to music stardom.
After the lacklustre performance of her 1993 self-titled debut, Twain, who grew up in Timmins, Ont., before leaving to pursue a singing career in Nashville in the early `90s, says she didn’t yet know what it was like to be famous, so that made her open to taking chances on her sophomore follow-up.
“I had nothing to lose as far as my career was concerned,” she says in a phone interview.
“I was just trying to do my best. I thought if I was extremely lucky, maybe I would get a three-million selling album out of it.”
But The Woman in Me — which Twain, 55, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of with a reissue that includes remastered versions of the original album, unreleased tracks, early takes of the songs and more — made her a global singing sensation and took country music into a brand-new direction, opening the door for country-pop crossover artists such as Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.
Recorded with her rock producer ex-husband, Robert John “Mutt” Lange, and backed by a string of hit singles, including Any Man of Mine, (If You’re Not in It for Love) I’m Outta Here!, The Woman in Me (Needs the Man in You), You Win My Love, No One Needs to Know and Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?, The Woman in Me was 1995’s biggest selling country record, going 12 times platinum in America and netting Twain her first of five Grammys.
Her follow-ups continued her hit streak with 1997’s Come on Over and 2002’s Up! both reaching diamond sales status.
“But it was The Woman in Me that became the workhorse of three consecutive diamond albums,” Twain says. “It was the record that set a whole new standard for country music.”
A Lyme disease diagnosis in 2003 almost sidelined her career, leaving her with barely a singing voice. But she persevered, taking to the stage for her first Las Vegas residency in 2012 and mounting large-scale tours in 2015 and 2018.
In 2017, she returned to the studio to release Now, her first album in 15 years. And last December, she was back in Sin City with a new show, Let’s Go!
Now married to Frederic Thiebaud, the mother of one, who helped care for her siblings after her parents died tragically in 1987, says life nowadays couldn’t be better.
“I just stay optimistic and positive,” Twain remarks enthusiastically.
With her recent Vegas shows paused due to the coronavirus, Twain has been busy writing new material while looking forward to the day she can get back on stage.
“I can’t wait to do that again,” she says softly, “but it will come.”
Calling from her home in Geneva, Switzerland, Twain reflected on the 25th anniversary of The Woman in Me, recounted her battle with her record label over releasing Any Man of Mine as a single and revealed the one piece of advice she would give her younger self right before her world changed forever.
The Woman in Me marked a huge turning point in your career and what followed. Looking back on it, what stands out to you most in the making of that record?
I had been writing all of my life and a lot of the songs that ended up on this album, I had written in my little cabin in the bush, just outside of Timmins, Ont. I had hoped that they would have been on my very first album, but none of my songwriting got on my debut record.
It wasn’t until The Woman in Me that I got to record my own songs. So the leap of intense songwriting, just in that one year leading up to The Woman in Me, was enormous. I had never met anyone like Mutt before and he took (my) songwriting to a whole other level. He was very demanding, but in a very good way for me.
He saw the potential in the songs. When I think about making this album, it was the real launch of Shania Twain — the singer-songwriter.
It was your second record. What were your expectations?
As far as the industry went, I was just getting started. It was more, ‘Can I live up to Mutt’s standards and expectations?’ He was driving that really hard … Prior to this, I was just self-taught. I had never been in an environment where I was bouncing ideas off another person or anything like that. So, it was really, really good for me and it launched me into a whole other level of confidence in my songwriting. Especially when it became as successful as it did. I think it really made me see what I had to do.
Your beginnings here in Canada are legendary. We spoke earlier this year, and you talked about playing late-nights in bars after last-call because you weren’t old enough to perform while they were serving alcohol. How did the hard beginnings translate into what ended up on this record? You had done a lot of living before The Woman in Me came out.
Totally. By the time I had my first hit I was already 30. I was already pretty mature from a music industry standpoint. I had a lot of stage experience, but I had no experiences with the pressures of fame and competing at the highest level. What was good, though, was I was a bit older. I had lived a lot and I was more ready to rise to the occasion. By the time The Woman in Me was made, I was ready for it and I was poised for it. That might explain a little bit why it was so big. I had someone who believed in my writing and my creative expression and nurtured it. You add to that the level of maturity I had by being in my late 20s, and I think that was a recipe for success.
I remember reading once how the label didn’t want Any Man of Mine as a single. Why not?
(laughs) Well, Any Man of Mine is quite demanding. I’m being quite bossy in that song. I’m chirpy and there’s a sense of humour there, but it’s pretty bossy — especially for country music. They were thinking men were going to be offended and women wouldn’t be able to relate to the fact that you’re sexy. I thought it was the exact opposite. Women think this way and this is what we want. We want this from men. I was already in my late 20s and I remember thinking, ‘I’m one of these women. I’m my own audience and I know what I want.’ It wasn’t like I was a teenager trying to relate to a woman’s point of view. So, I really did share that in common with women. And the men, they took it way better than the label thought. They weren’t offended at all; they just went with it. A lot of men have said to me over the years that their wives sing them that song with a sense of humour, and that was the intention. It wasn’t meant as an angry song. It was meant to be (listened to) with a sense of humour.
The Woman in Me was an album that had massive crossover appeal. Are you able to see your impact on the way country music was able to change?
I don’t think anybody growing up when I did in Canada saw country the way the U.S. saw country music. To me, folk was in there, bluegrass was in there, a lot of pop was in there. In Canada, it just seemed that what was country was a broader spectrum of styles. So, my music ended up being an eclectic mix. There was a bit of pop, a bit of rock, some bluegrass, a little folk; that was my kind of country. When I went to Nashville with this hybrid sound, they weren’t even sure it was country. But my thing was, ‘This is how I hear country music.’ But, yes, it did end up impacting the genre. I think a lot of artists started allowing other influences to direct the style of their own type of country.
The record turned you into a global superstar. What advice would you have given the young Shania, right before she became an overnight success with this record?
(laughs) I would tell her don’t look back. You’ve heard that saying that if you’re ever on a high wire don’t look down? I think there’s a lot of truth to that. For me, I would tell young Shania, don’t look back because there is no going back. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Keep moving forward and just don’t look back.
The Woman in Me: Diamond Edition is available now.