MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 18: SHANIA TWAIN

I don’t think that there’s ever been a time when I’ve questioned the type of music that I have enjoyed and loved, been encouraged by and even championed, up until now. Not that switching things up and enjoying new music and new artists is a bad thing, not at all. Nor is sticking to the same artist again and again- if you know they’re proven and you’re inspired for positive change through their music, then fair enough, I guess. But one thing that this year-long (at least) exercise is, is that we ought to expect the unexpected. And that’s what happened going into this. 18 weeks in, and never did I ever think that I would listen to (and enjoy!) artists like Phil Collins, Train, Sara Bareilles, Delta Goodrem, Owl City, Martina McBride, U2 and Avril Lavigne, to name a few. Never in my wildest dreams would I think that I would enjoy and get excited about music that isn’t necessarily Christian in nature. I guess it shows that my musical tastes are expanding, all the while knowing that the Lord God Himself can choose to speak through whatever music He wants, and if it is through mainstream music, then who am I to judge?

I’m still grounded in my faith in God, but at the same time, I know that God doesn’t necessarily speak through Christian music and that’s it. There’s a lot of other musical genres out there in the big wide-open sea of music, some blasphemous and intentionally hurting, while others can be so emotive, heartfelt, and at times asking the spiritual questions that a lot of Christian music asks, and the artist doesn’t even know it. And so here I am 18 weeks into this, dare I say it, life-changing musical journey, and I am excited to say that I am to delve into yet another country artist this week. Yes, you heard me- another country artist. Maybe it is because that from hearing a lot of country music recently in artists like Carrie Underwood, The McClymonts and Martina McBride; I can testify that country as a genre is undervalued; and has some great things to say. Sure it’s not as raw and honest as rap music (of which I am somewhat of a fan, through artists like Lecrae and KJ-52), nor is it a BOP like pop music; but rather, country has heart and authenticity that I sometimes feel other genres miss a little. Country music has people singing songs about love and loss, about heartbreak, not much about hope- but that’s ok, because often times aren’t that hopeful, and you can’t manufacture feeling hope when you’re just not. And so, as I embark on this musical journey of the week, let me just say this- maybe alongside other pioneer Martina McBride in the realms of country music especially for women, country superstar and overall inspiring artist Shania Twain is an artist I leapt into this week, not necessarily knowing much of her songs at all, aside from her chart-toppers ‘You’re Still the One’ and ‘From this Moment On’. Aside from those two, I had no idea what I was getting into, and maybe that’s a good thing!

Maybe I was ignorant to the actual influence that Shania herself had on the music industry as a whole. Because as I’ve said before in previous blog posts in this 100-influential-artists series; my musical listening range prior to this last 5 years or so was solely Christian music. Not a bad thing, but not a good thing if you want to limit the confines in which you believe God can speak to you through. Nevertheless, I have always loved Christian music, and will continue to do so. But here after a week of listening to Shania Twain and her music, I am impressed to see a lot of artists from far and wide, from a myriad of genres, crediting her as an inspiration during their own formative years as artists-newer country artists like Nick Jonas, Carly Pearce, Danielle Bradbury, Lauren Alaina, Cam and Kasey Musgraves all give praise and adoration to Shania Twain in some shape or form, influencing not only their music craft early on in their respective careers, but them as people as well. I can safely say that without a doubt that the music Shania brings to us is something of a revolutionary kind. Why haven’t I heard of this artist prior to this year? I mean, aside from ‘You’re Still the One’ and ‘From this Moment On’, I was clueless. I mean, I knew the name Shania Twain, I knew those two songs, I just didn’t think much of it. That was all I knew. Nevertheless, from hearing her music this last week, I am safely confident of Shania’s place in music, even now after a 15 year wait between albums, as we saw her return to music in 2017 with her album NOW!; her place in music at the moment is still as much needed as it was back then when she was tremendously famous. Shania’s passion now as it was back then is still undeniable, and though much of music has moved on and focused on other acts (like LOGIC, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and the like!); her legacy is much to be applauded and enthusiastic about. Prominent during the 1990s and the early 2000s, prior to this new 2017 album; Shania’s unique blend of fusing pop and country together in a relatable way that can be palatable to lovers of country and lovers of pop; Shania’s music has great staying power, and an artist that’s going to continue to influence long after she retires from the industry for good.

‘…there was no real one-moment impact for any one of those songs [on Come On Over], almost. Everybody was picking up on things at different times in different ways. So it was just a really long, big, incredible moment, I guess, for 12 years straight. I didn’t have perspective; I wasn’t very objective in it, because I became isolated. I do like to be isolated when I’m creative and writing or in the studio, but otherwise, it’s very hard to cope with. Loneliness is a terrible thing. And the workload was outrageous. And not a lot of people were that gracious all the time with me. I think I didn’t always feel welcome. It was just tough. It was an exciting period in my life, but it wasn’t the most fun period in my life. Looking back on it now, I’m enjoying it more from where I stand more than I ever did while it was happening. But it was hard to escape, then. Normally, if you’re in a high-stress career, you can take a vacation and cut yourself off and get a break. When you’re a celebrity at a high level, there almost isn’t anywhere you can go, anywhere, in the world that will give you that real break, where there’s not a trigger somewhere that will take you back to your professional frame of mind. There is security and logistics and you can never truly check out. That affects you, especially if you’re a younger person. But I was already in my 30s by the time this even started…’

This quote above from Shania about her third album Come On Over, arguably her most successful album of her career; is a reminder of the dangers of being in the spotlight for so long- the slow dip and dive into the realms of loneliness and expectation. For anyone who is in the eyes of the public, because of their celebrity status, much is expected of them. Sure, many expectations are unrealistic, but nevertheless, they are there. And thus, for someone to peak during the early thirties, and having seen not as much success prior (sure her 2nd album The Woman In Me released to very high sales and was certified Platinum 12 times over by the year 2000, but the 1995 album sales figures had nothing on Come on Over, considered to be the 8th best selling album in the U.S., in all of music history!); the fame and accolades that come with the massive success of an album can be very daunting and scary for an artist who everybody is looking for, for guidance, advice and a level-head in such a crazy world. Celebrities don’t like to admit it, but they are the role models of the next generation. Movie stars, authors, actors, sportspeople, they may not want to be shouldered with the responsibility of being in a position of influence, but they are there, nevertheless. And for Shania’s case, she was the pin-up girl in not necessarily country music, but music in general, throughout the 1990s.

To say that Shania sailed straight through into her role as an artist and influencer without any mishaps or dramas along the way would be a foolish thing to assume. For Shania herself had a very difficult life and upbringing, which makes her success all the more worth it to her. Since her parents divorce when she was very young, to their subsequent passing in 1987 due to a car crash, to her even raising some of her younger sisters and brothers in the time after her mother and step-father’s passing; Shania’s road to stardom was difficult from the get-go. Nevertheless, in spite of her own circumstances that many could see was limiting, she nevertheless overcame them to unveil to the world her debut album in 1993, followed by The Woman in Me in 1995, Come on Over in 1997 and her most ambitious album to date, Up! In 2002- which then preceded a 15-year hiatus from music altogether. Looking at these milestone dates in her career, we can see a sporadic album release schedule, and a whole lot of behind-the-scenes things that may have hindered Shania’s music in the moment, but in hindsight, created a way of getting stronger through adversity. Whichever way you slice it, Shania’s introduction into the world of music and showbiz was not an easy one. Still, it is a reminder that hard work and sometimes meeting the right people at the right time can and does have more of an impact on someone’s life, compared to the good luck and talent that often, other overnight successes have. Shania’s goal through her music has always been to give people a voice in various situations, and her music, especially some of her earlier music from The Woman in Me and Come On Over, offer anthems of power, of unity and independence, are some that can be applied to the society of today just as much as during the time where such songs were written.

To be honest, in preparation for this week’s post, I didn’t really listen to her debut self-titled album, not because of any dislike for Shania’s music at all- in fact, I reckon much of Shania’s music is powerful and relevant for today- but rather, it is because of the lack of her own songwriting stamp on the album, and how at times, much of the songs (of which I did hear from her debut) seem rushed and felt, from hindsight, that much of the singing didn’t gel at all with the music or even the themes expressed. Not a fault of Shania’s, but even she said in her autobiography released in 2011, From this Moment On, that she herself wasn’t a fan of her debut album, because of the lack of creative control given to her, and the frustration that anyone would feel if not given the license to freely express songwriting abilities. For me, I heard from The Woman in Me onward…and maybe that’s ok. I will re-visit her self-titled debut in the future, but not just yet. Still, her music nevertheless impacts, even without hearing her first 10 songs released in 1993.

If you would have to pick two albums that placed Shania on the map and choreographed her into an artist who can write and sing great love and relationship-style songs, then it’d have to be The Woman in Me and Come on Over– much of her singles were about love, the complications of it, and at the end of it all, the necessity of it in people’s lives as a whole. Songs from both these two albums I’m sure were used in weddings ever since, and Shania’s reputation of being a songwriter that delivers in the songs-about-relationships department, hasn’t gone away- it still hasn’t. ‘You’re Still the One’ is a retrospect song, looking back at one’s relationship and being thankful and asserting that they are still the one for you, even years later; while ‘From this Moment On’ is as a perfect wedding song as you can get- reminding us all to hope for and long for a perfect moment with a someone who brings out the best in us, because what is shown in the song, should be available for everyone. The lyrics are incredibly poignant, especially the chorus. And it has been these two songs that have carried the success of Come On Over from the 1990s and into the 2000s and the 2010s.

Other songs like ‘Who’s Bed Has Your Boots Been Under?’, ‘You Win My Love’, ‘The Woman in Me’, ‘I’m Outta Here’ and ‘Any Man of Mine’ all anchor Shania’s second album musically and thematically- ‘Who’s Bed Has Your Boots Been Under?’ catalogues a woman’s confrontation of a man who has been constantly cheating, and gives women in general a voice in a relationship, that had been rarely seen in music until Shania’s song, while ‘You Win My Love’ and ‘The Woman in Me’ both are all-out love songs and express unconditional love between man and woman. ‘I’m Outta Here’ reminds us all of the real reasons we all should enter relationships, and if a relationship isn’t based under the foundation of love and commitment to the other person, then, as the song suggests, we should have the mentality of ‘I’m outta here’- while arguably the song from Shania’s second album is ‘Any Man of Mine’- a crossover country-pop hit that personally gives me a lot of CCM-pop artist Amy Grant vibes when I hear not only the song, but watch the video as well. Recorded to a beat that is very similar to Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’; the message of it is simple- Shania gives her own account of what she wants a man to be, that ‘any man of mine’ would have these qualities. The song itself gives us a glimpse inside the female mind, all the while reminding us men to treasure women and to take care of them as the respectful and dignified ladies that they are.

Even though ‘From this Moment On’ and ‘You’re Still the One’ are the songs that people gravitate to and think about when you say the words ‘Shania Twain’ or even ‘Come On Over’; that doesn’t mean that there are no other standouts from this album, on the contrary. Out of a standard 16 track album release, 12 songs were released to radio, and arguably, most, if not all, of the songs resonate to people in different ways. You have the love/wedding songs in ‘From this Moment On’ and ‘You’re Still the One’. Then the female empowerment songs in ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman’ and ‘Don’t Impress Me Much’, the former being an anthem taken by women around the world and sung in an identity-building way. Much of the LGBTQI, and especially trans-women, have taken this song as well as used it as an anthem for their own personal experience; while ‘Don’t Impress Me Much’ states the obvious, that much of today’s men with the good looks or even the geeky nerdy information, don’t necessarily impress a woman, but rather, it is their character and their willingness to learn and at times be humble when they know they’re wrong, that will impress girls and women when it comes to finding someone for a relationship. Come on Over also has the end-of-the-day stress relief song in ‘Honey, I’m Home’, as working men and women relate to a song that reminds us all that the working 9-5 job can be such a laborious task sometimes, and that all that is often needed at the end of the day is a little care and concern from the spouse; while a song like ‘When’ puts an absolute nail-in-the-coffin analogy as to when a relationship is going to be repaired- ‘…when will I wake up? Why did we break up? When will we make up? When money grows on trees, people live in peace, everyone agrees, when happiness is free, love can guarantee, you’ll come back to me, that’s when…’ Though the song is pretty much one that is morbid and of no-hope; Shania nevertheless gives the song a quirkiness as describing idyllic but rather impossible scenarios, and then explaining that when all these seemingly improbable things start to happen, that is when a relationship is going to be repaired…which is a little sad. Nevertheless, a song like ‘When’ still resonates with people, as we’re reminded of our continual need of relationships that last the distance.

Shania’s hits from Come on Over keep coming- ‘I’m Holding On (To Save My Life)’, a song that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed when hearing the album, is a song that was the 12th and final single, a song that didn’t get a music video, but a song nonetheless that spoke about keeping love close and holding onto it and choosing it daily in a world where the word ‘love’ is flippantly used and often interchangeably with lust or infatuation; while patriotic single ‘Rock this Country’, a song that I myself don’t necessarily connect to on an American patriotic level, but nevertheless enjoy because of the admiration that at least Americans have songs that are about being faithful to the country (unlike here in Australia where there are next to no songs about that!), is a song that though wasn’t the strongest in the Shania Twain catalogue, was still picked by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during her 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. ‘I Won’t Leave You Lonely’ allows Shania to delve into the language of French to deliver a love song of devotion, as this song can easily be sung by anyone who has a loved one, as a declaration of love and commitment to them (and for me one of the most underrated songs on the album), while ‘Don’t Be Stupid’, one of the only Shania songs to fail to make an impact on the radio, despite being the second radio single, features fiddles and a riverdance in the music video to create a traditional 1990s feel video that I’m sure was fun to create.

What is unique about her next album in 2002, Up!, is what makes that particular album my favourite album from Shania, and while I’m sure others would pick in a heartbeat Come On Over as their favourite, for me I’ve felt that the album released in 2002 is one of not only Shania’s, but one of the most unique albums I’ve seen by any female artist…ever! Yes, I know that is a very bold statement, but take a look at the facts. An album full of 19 tracks. Yes, 19. Not 10, 11 or 12 like many people do right now in music. No…a whopping 19 songs given to us in Up! Then here’s the real kicker- not only did Shania deliver to us Up!, but rather Up! in 3 CD’s, all with different arrangements- the ‘normal’ country edition, with the country music we are accustomed to hearing from her, a pop rendition (replacing the banjos, mandolins and steel guitars, with a more electronic feel), and a world edition, in the realms of Bollywood. Yes, Shania went there, and though I know for me I personally can’t really sit through any song that is a Bollywood rendition (and believe me, I’ve tried!), I can nevertheless appreciate the skill it takes to create the same song three times in three different styles, and then do it again 19 times over. For me, Up! moved away from the relationship-love song atmosphere, and brought to us more themes that people can deal with, in everyday life. Though not as successful as Come On Over, this album nevertheless allowed Shania to delve into genres and themes that wasn’t discussed and explored in her career till then.

Title track ‘UP’ gave us the anthem to sing when things aren’t looking our way, as we know through the song that things should look up as we focus not necessarily on our circumstances but be reminded that as sure as things travel south, after a while they’ll travel back up again. ‘She’s Not Just a Pretty Face’ is an anthem for all the girls, to remind them that they are more than just people with ‘pretty’ faces and what they have to give to the world is valuable and necessary, while songs like ‘When You Kiss Me’, ‘Thank You Baby’ and ‘Forever and For Always’ all pay tribute to Shania’s then-husband, Mutt Lange, and all are different musical styles too- ‘When You Kiss Me’ an acoustical ballad, ‘Thank You Baby’ an orchestral piece with synths added in, while ‘Forever And For Always’ plays the radio friendly card. ‘C’est La Vie’ takes a page out of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’, as Shania musically samples the 1970s powerful hit, and makes a song of her own- like a Kumbaya what will be-type melody, a song that tells us not to worry about circumstances, to find the beauty and the tension in the not knowing and to just live in the now. Shania’s standouts on Up! continue to inspire- ‘I’m Gonna Getcha Good’, though on the surface can seem like a stalker-ish song, is nevertheless a reminder of what happens when we have goals and set out mind to things (in Shania’s case in the song, it’s on a person!), while for me the most out-of-the-box song Shania has done of all time is ‘Ka-ching’- a tongue-in-cheek satire about how we as human race love shopping and spending money, living in a world fuelled by our constant need to have more and to one-up on everybody. With the album presenting more of a diverse set of themes and messages as opposed to her earlier material, I’ve found Up! to be her most all-rounded album to date, and arguably my favourite of her 5 albums!

Then there was silence. Radio silence. Shania went dark in 2004, shortly after a greatest hits album with new songs like ‘I Ain’t No Quitter’, a song about her loved ones not quitting on a vice, and her in turn not quitting on them. News broke in 2010/11 of a split with her husband, and after a few talk shows and an autobiography, the public learned of the deception and betrayal- her husband had a repeated affair with her best friend, and then subsequently left Shania for her. Sad, hurtful, it would’ve been a bummer if that was the end of the story. But alas, there is a silver lining- Shania got married again- this time to the husband of her best friend that her previous husband Mutt Lange had the affair with. Confused? Regardless of all the partner-swapping, from the period of 2004-2015, Shania had off. Not singing, not even touring. Her reasoning? Lyme disease. Though I myself don’t know much about the disease as I know I should, what I do know is that it’s crippling beyond belief. And though while many people thought her career was done, she got back out there again, this time without Mutt Lange as her partner in crime (husband and producer of albums) and delivered a comeback album- in 2015 a live CD/DVD of a night in the Rock The Country tour, which then bled into a 5th studio album titled Now! That unveiled in 2017.

What does this mini-history lesson mean? That I firmly believe that what was initially planned for Shania to experience heartbreak and setbacks, God Himself turned it around for good. I don’t think of any artist who has come back from a divorce (and subsequent re-marriage), Lyme disease and dysphonia (a vocal chord disorder that causes hoarseness and trouble speaking), and a 15 year sabbatical, to an album that is as emotive and powerful as NOW! Yes, it doesn’t sound like Shania at all, and because of her disease, I don’t think it should. She has literally battled her way out of the lows of the pit, and an album of uplifting, but also confronting, songs is a result- ‘Poor Me’ is a reflection upon her discovery of the affair and her emotions, while ‘Life’s About to Get Good’ is an assurance by herself for herself, reminding herself and others that life is about joy, hope, family, forgiving and forgetting. ‘We Got Something They Don’t’, a song that has been playing on shuffle on my Spotify recently, is a song of optimism and hope, while a song like ‘Soldier’ is perhaps Shania’s most personal song she’s written in a while (aside from songs to do with her divorce). Below is an excerpt of Shania sharing the meaning behind the song ‘Soldier’, and what it means for her that the song was given a home and placed as a theme song to a movie about soldiers, Thank You For Your ServiceWhen I wrote “Soldier,” I was thinking of my son, and the anxiety of separation, and thinking of him soldiering his way through life. I have my son here with me, but even just saying goodbye to go to school, I feel that. And I think a lot of that just comes from losing my own parents so suddenly, without being able to say goodbye. And I thought of other families that have a military member going off to serve, and when they say goodbye, they really may never see that person again. In the times right now where we’re always having discussions on TV about military and wars here and there, I’m affected, like everybody else. I’m concerned… That song starts with “Don’t close the door when you leave.” Normally you would tell someone, when it’s cold, to close the door. But this is: Don’t close the door behind you, because I don’t care if it’s cold, I may never see you again, and I just want you to promise me that you’ll be back … I’m crying, I get so emotionally wrapped up in that. And when I saw the movie, it such a perfect fit. I cried a lot when I wrote that song, so I’m happy that the song has found such an appropriate home.

When we look at a snapshot of Shania’s career, and see all the number one hits, we scratch our heads and wonder- why. Because really, she’s only released 5 albums across more than 20 years, she isn’t that influential and famous right? Well, for someone to gain the attention and the accolades as she had in the short period of time she has been active, is saying a lot about her staying power. I mean, think about it- selling over 100 million records across her whole career, she is classified as the best selling female country artist in all of music history, and amongst the best selling artists of all time. Come On Over is now hailed as the best selling album across every genre, by a female artist. And with her own OWN miniseries titled ‘Why Not? With Shania Twain’ that released in 2011, alongside her tell-all autobiography in that very year as well, alongside her inductions into the Canada Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as the very fact that she is the only female artist to have three consecutive albums (The Woman in Me, Come On Over and UP!) certified Diamond by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America); the accolades speak for themselves. Shania has impacted music as a whole; and have come into our lives during moments of need and moments of laughter, moments of comfort and moments of despair. Her songs have given people solace, while also finding a place in our hearts to declare out with her the songs and their meanings. And dare I say it- Shania is indeed the mainstream version of Amy Grant, and what Shania is doing for country music, Amy is doing for CCM, and Avril Lavigne is doing for pop-punk? I know, weird comparisons, but after this week, I am officially a Shania Twain fan. Yes I am. And yes I know I am a 29 year old male, but when music is good, it’s good, and gender of the artist, or even the music style of the artist, shouldn’t really matter. But who am I to declare such assertion? I’m just a humble reviewer on a website, and a café owner as well. Nevertheless, this is where the power of opinion comes in. Listen to Shania and her music, and whatever opinion you come up with is ok. You may enjoy her music. You may not. She may have had influence in your own life growing up, or maybe you have discovered her recently like I have. Whatever the case, the world can undoubtedly declare that music and humanity is better for it, with Shania’s music in circulation!

Does Shania Twain make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘You’re Still The One’ and ‘From This Moment On’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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