Shania Twain continues to reinvent country
Don’t hate her because she’s beautiful. Hate her, if you must, because she’s beautiful, personable, and writes a helluva pop song. But be prepared to be outvoted. By virtue of her knack for rustling up the rural grrrl-power contingent as well as their lust-struck husbands, her latest album, Come On Over, has just gone seven-times platinum; she has racked up more American Music Award nominations than any other hitmaker this year; and she may already be the most popular female country singer in history (though lately, Top 40 programmers are just as eager to claim her). If she keeps this up, Shania looks to be ever the Twain we’ll meet.
Those of us who are suckers for a good hook will be fine with that, even if country traditionalists believe she’s the Antichrist preincarnated as Ann-Margret. Touchy demurrals aside, nearly every song on Twain’s third album is an irresistible single-in-waiting…and it’s 16 tracks deep. The last hope of naysayers was that her live show would be her Achilles’ heel, since — red flag! — she’d never performed a single gig behind her 11-times-platinum sophomore effort, 1995’s The Woman in Me. But when she finally toured this summer, we got something like a fully formed female Garth, albeit with more exposed midriff and less messianic hubris.
”The irony of all those suspicions is that the stage is where I started,” says Twain, referring back to her days covering hits in her native Canada. ”I have most of my experience there, not video and TV.” It shows, in her Brooksian ability to make everyone in an arena feel like they’ve been waved to before the night is up. ”To be honest,” she says, ”I’d be more nervous having a dinner party than I am entertaining 15,000 people a night.”
Not many dinner hosts would dress in the succession of form-fitting outfits Twain does. But there’s something old-fashioned about the 33-year-old thrush’s brand of sex appeal, which she explains in nearly neo-feminist terms. ”Even on the sex symbol side of things, I’m very careful not to be sexual,” says Twain. ”And I think [this approach] rubs off in a healthy way for young women. I wish I had someone when I was 13 say, ‘You can wear things that are flattering. You don’t have to be afraid your body is changing. But do it on a comfortable level.”’
It probably is her glamour, along with her good humor, that lets her sneak in as much female-centric message-mongering as she does — part of what she considers ”a playful approach to the way I think about being a girl. It’s not about feminism; it’s about how awkward life is for men and women and what our roles are.”
Twain’s men-are-from-Mississippi, women are-from-Virginia approach plays as well in the pop arena as in country: ”You’re Still the One” is already an anniversary standard. The rockier tunes, meanwhile, occasionally resemble the best album Def Leppard (old clients of husband/producer Mutt Lange) haven’t made in years. Twain acknowledges this might irk Nashville but says, ”I haven’t moved away from country and I don’t intend to. There’s no reason to” — not when the radio format will come to Muhammad. So love her, if you dare, because she’s a rare musical example of that elusive Clintonian ideal: a consensus builder. And a babe shall lead them….