The 90s star who’s become a Gen Z icon

Twain’s revival is all the more remarkable because Queen of Me is only her second studio album since 2002. Giddy Up!, its thumpingly infectious second single, features a cute nod to the decade in which Twain began her imperial phase: “I got a fast car with the ’90s on,” she sings. And what an imperial phase it was: in the US, Twain remains the only female artist in history to have three consecutive albums certified diamond for sales of 10 million apiece. Twain’s white-hot streak began with 1995’s The Woman in Me, then continued with 1997’s Come On Over and 2002’s Up!. The latter was so designed with global domination in mind that Twain released it in three different versions: “red” with pop-focused production, “green” with a country twang, and “blue” with an international flavour. It was a move that oozed confidence.

However, the jewel in Twain’s crown is undoubtedly Come On Over, an era-defining blockbuster that is still the best-selling LP of all time by a solo female artist. On its way to shifting an estimated 40 million copies worldwide, it yielded two country ballads that remain radio and karaoke staples to this day: From This Moment On and You’re Still the One. It also spawned two unstoppable pop-crossover hits with indelible music videos. If someone asked you to picture Shania Twain, you would probably imagine her hitchhiking across the desert in a hooded leopard-skin suit – her signature look from the That Don’t Impress Me Much video, which is now on display in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. If not, you might visualise her in the empowering Man! I Feel Like a Woman! promo: here she rocks fishnet stockings, a black corset and a top hat as she marshals an all-male backing band in a gender-reversed homage to Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love.

Both Man! I Feel Like a Woman! and That Don’t Impress Me Much showcase what Muna characterise as a “highlight” of Twain’s songwriting style – namely, “the importance of being funny and playful”. “OK, so you’re Brad Pitt,” she deadpans on the latter before delivering the iconic payoff: “That don’t impress me much!” During her imperial phase in particular, Twain was never afraid to punctuate her song titles with idiosyncratic exclamation marks and parentheses. I’m Not in the Mood (To Say No)! from Up! is quintessential Twain: you can tell it’s her from the title alone.

Her particular songwriting gifts

This utterly unselfconscious exuberant streak is one of Twain’s many gifts as a songwriter. Another is her ability to express universally relatable sentiments in a way that feels fresh and definitive. When she sings “You’re still the one I kiss goodnight” on You’re Still the One, she is essentially crystallising an entire relationship into just eight words. She also has a nifty turn-of-phrase, as exemplified by the way she gently scolds a jealous lover on Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You): “You even get suspicious when I paint my nails, it’s definitely distracting the way you dramatise every little small detail.” In this sense, Twain is arguably the Fleetwood Mac of the 1990s and early 2000s, though her own songwriting style is generally lighter.

At times, however, she has released darker and more cathartic music, most notably on her 2017 comeback album Now. Penned by Twain without co-writers, it features several downbeat songs about the breakdown of her marriage to music producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who worked with her on The Woman in Me, Come On Over and Up!. “Poor me this, poor me that, why do I keep looking back?” Twain sings on Poor Me. “Still can’t believe he’d leave me to love her.” The “her” she is most likely referring to is Twain’s former best friend and secretary, Marie-Anne Thiébaud, with whom Lange had an affair.

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