Ann Powers

Shania Twain: A Survivor Who Remade The Good Old Girl

Shania Twain. i i

hide captionShania Twain.

Maura McEvoy/Courtesy of Mercury Nashville
Shania Twain.

Shania Twain.

Maura McEvoy/Courtesy of Mercury Nashville

Shania Twain's new memoir, From This Moment On, is not a light read. Discussing the book with Scott Simon in an interview for Weekend Edition Saturday, the hugely successful star sounds more like a Loretta Lynn-style mountain-girl survivor than the woman who showed Nashville what a midriff looks like.

The interview (which you can hear at the top of this post starting Saturday midday) is a killer listen. Twain reveals the abuse she and her mother both suffered at the hands of her stepfather and the dire poverty they endured after leaving him. She goes into detail about her humiliating divorce from her producer and primary musical collaborator, Robert "Mutt" Lange, who left her for one of her best friends in 2008. What Twain doesn't talk about much, though, is music — and the huge part she's played in inventing the current style of international pop superstardom.

"Music is a great natural high and a great natural escape," Twain says near the end of her chat with Simon. It sounds like a platitude, but it's one that offers insight into what her massive hits in the 1990s meant — not just for her listeners, but for pop in general.

The Canadian-born Twain's massive success did offer an escape, for country music in particular — she brought the genre into the modern era, when cowboys are more likely to drive SUVs than wrangle horses, honky-tonks have karaoke machines and family values make room for TGIF nights out with the girls, getting down to a little rock 'n' roll.

With the 1995 monster The Woman in Me, Twain and Lange forged a sound and sensibility that changed not only country, but pop, forever. Following in Dolly Parton's patent-leather footsteps, and running alongside a power-ballad-loving guy named Garth, the pair perfected a fusion of heartland rock and Nashville twang that perfectly articulated the changing realities of the liberal feminist-era good old girl.

For your pleasure, then, here a few favorites from the Shania Twain oeuvre. This little lady was never anybody's fool.

Shania Twain's Career In Videos

  • "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under"

    YouTube

    In Twain's first major hit, she gives her man what-for in the style of Loretta Lynn; the lyrics are pretty traditional, and the arrangement's twang recalls alt-country pioneers such as Dwight Yoakam. But check out the video: Slinking into a country meat-and-three in a hot red dress, Twain makes it clear that there's a new girl in town, and she ain't putting on no apron.

  • "Any Man Of Mine"

    YouTube

    The arena-rock clomp of the kick drum in this definitive country crossover song tells us that we're not in Timmins (Ontario, Twain's rural Canadian hometown) anymore. You can hear this sound, still, in hits by everyone from Keith Urban to Miranda Lambert. And the chorus' lyrical hook — "Show me a teasin' squeezin' pleasin' kind of time" — made it clear that the equal relationship Twain puts forth as an ideal extends all the way to the bedroom.

  • "Man, I Feel Like A Woman"

    YouTube

    Probably Twain's most famous video, this clever twist on Robert Palmer's famed clip for "Addicted To Love" not only shows Twain at her glammed-up, self-aware best; it also connects crossover country to the rock world in no uncertain terms, expanding the genre's heritage in ways that directly reflect the eclectic tastes of its younger audience. Note the perfect correlation between Palmer's red-lipped supermodels and those blank-faced hunks in Twain's band.

  • "Still The One"

    YouTube

    This ballad from Twain's 1997 album Come on Over, still the top-selling album ever for a female artist, with its waterfall melody and lyrical explanation of how monogamy works, taught Tim McGraw and Faith Hill everything they needed to know. The video's mix of beachy sensuality and technologically assisted intimacy recalls both Janet Jackson's sexiest clip ("Love Will Never Do Without You") and J. Lo's Internet-age update for "If You Had My Love."

  • "Up"

    YouTube

    By 2002, Twain was a mom living in Switzerland with Lange and no longer the commercial force she'd been in the '90s. Her ambitious double album didn't have the impact of her two previous releases, and the Tori Amos look in this video for "Up" is a little weird for Twain. But you can totally hear where Sugarland would go in the song's fusion of down-home country rock and lyrical uplift.

  • "Party For Two"

    YouTube

    Still showing country how crossover is done, Twain released two versions of this 2004 duet -– one with New South hunk Billy Currington and another featuring alt-rock party boy Mark McGrath. Personally, Twain might have stood by her man Mutt longer than she should have. But musically, she's always been great at playing the field. And that's what not only country crossover, but pop in general, is all about these days.

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