Shania Twain On Feminism, Being A Trailblazer & Pushing The Boundaries In Music

Before Taylor Swift crossed over from country to pop successfully, there was Shania Twain who essentially forged the path for her. We all remember Shania for giving us some of the biggest hits of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, and after a 15 year absence, she is back with a brand new album called ‘Now’.

After learning about what the artist has been through in the past decade and a half, the album title does far more than indicate the present moment. Since we last saw her dominating the charts, Shania has gone through a divorce with her ex-collaborator and music producer husband Robert “Mutt” Lange after he allegedly had an affair with her best friend, been diagnosed with Lyme disease, and recovered from a condition known as dysphonia that affected her voice. So when we learned that the first single of the album was ‘Life’s About To Get Good’, it’s clear she has come through the fire and is ready to talk about it.

Her comeback is well overdue, especially when you consider she has sold close to 50 million albums worldwide, the majority being ‘Come on Over’ from 1997. That album is one of the top ten biggest selling albums of all time (NBD), and with hits such as ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’ and ‘That Don’t Impress me Much’, it’s not hard to see why.

In a recent interview with Macleans.ca from her home country of Canada, Shania spoke about recording her new album and what it’s like to be recognized as a feminist trailblazer today, despite the male-dominated, conservative nature of the country music world.

The music video for ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’ became a feminist anthem especially when the music video was released. Dressed in a top hat and tuxedo, surrounded by docile muscular men not actually playing the instruments they were holding, the scene was a deliberate script-flipping Robert Palmer’s ‘Simply Irresistible’ music video. Shania said it wasn’t necessarily received well among everyone back then, but would probably have a much better reaction today.

Putting out “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” There was such a sassy, feminist spirit to the song. Feminism has evolved so much since then—it has been 20 years since that song was on the charts! You know the perception of feminism back then was really different. It is shocking that I had to keep repeating myself to people and say stuff like ‘just because you’re feminist or even if you don’t consider yourself a feminist or you’re just a strong woman, it doesn’t make you angry’ or ‘You don’t have to be resentful to believe in equality.’ Some people still didn’t get it. They thought I was anti-men. It felt a little too ahead of the curve in some ways. I think it could be released today and easily fit in with the times,” she said.

Although the country music genre is male-dominated and not exactly known for it’s feminist tendencies, it has a long history of female artists unapologetically being feminist outliers despite the status quo. Dolly Parton sang about slut-shaming in ‘Just Because I’m a Woman’, Loretta Lynn controversially sang about birth control in ‘The Pill’, Martina McBride tackled domestic violence and abusive relationships in ‘Independence Day’, and Neko Case slammed the protestors who shame women outside Planned Parenthood in her song ‘Pretty Girls’, to name but a few.

Like many people who are ahead of their time by presenting something new or creating a movement that only gains momentum over time, Shania tells Macleans’ Elio Iannacci how she appreciates the recognition she gets today for the female empowerment messages she sang about 20 years ago.

“All these artists are coming out of the woodwork and saying exactly what I wanted to hear back then. Things like ‘Shania influenced me. She was a trailblazer.’ I’m enjoying the compliments and enjoying the fact that I don’t have to fight for that place. It’s just where I’m at. My place in music is not something I have to defend now,” she said.

Like many female artists, Shania has had to battle against criticisms regarding her appearance from the very beginning of her career. The music video for her very first single ‘What Made You Say That’, released in 1993, was panned by critics because she dared to show her midriff. Shania says she wasn’t afraid to take on the dissenting narratives in interviews and defend who she was.

In other genres the midriff thing was so not a new thing. It was just a new thing to country. I think the acceptance of it from me just came with the fact that I was not traditional in so many ways. It was just part of who I was. They eventually embraced who I was, creatively and artistically,” she sai. 

There was some pushback from traditionalists. I’d say it was a sexist thing. That sexist attitude? Even some women supported that!” she added.

Music has always been an areas where artists can push the boundaries, challenge stereotypical attitudes, and even change the way society thinks. We certainly hope to continue seeing Shania incorporating feminism and female empowerment into her music. You can watch her music video for ‘Life’s About To Get Good’ below:


 

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