Shania Twain is nothing short of a force. Thanks in part to her 1997 blockbuster Come on Over, the 52-year-old Canadian sweetheart remains the highest-selling female country artist in history. And despite charting an insanely rocky course since her last release fifteen years ago — a high-profile divorce that was all over the tabloids and a battle with Lyme disease that led to a debilitating vocal-cord disorder, which she's overcome through years of therapy — the queen has still managed to come out on top.
Her newest album, aptly titled Now, is a true departure from her "Let's go girls" days. Gone (but not entirely forgotten) is Come on Over's cheeky flirtation with '90s girl-power feminism - the smirks, the loud patterns, the brazen declarations of independence set against a fun, pop-driven backdrop - and in its place is a sense of mature introspection. The album is a deeper look at the artist not as an icon but as an honest-to-goodness human. With each song, whether they're gritty guitar jams, upbeat country numbers, measured self-reflections, or, oftentimes, a mix of all three, Now pensively chronicles hardship, growth, triumph, and the kind of bootstrapping endurance seen only in the far reaches of northeastern Ontario.
From her current home in the sunny Bahamas, Twain filled me in on getting through some of her hardest years, staying positive, and avoiding karaoke at all costs.
Meredith Heil: Spending time with this new album, what strikes me the most is that it's such a journey — all these ups and downs and twists and turns. Tell me about that experience.
Shania Twain: This album really was a journey through a transition that took longer than I expected. At the beginning, there's a lot of pain. Then I start reflecting, spinning in circles, and then optimism — survival, really — kicks in, and we're celebrating the light at the end of the tunnel. Every song on the album reflects at least one of those three parts: self-discovery, self-healing, and recovery. I'm not sure I'll ever write an album like this again. It was a very unique period in my life.
Even in the lowest moments, all of these emotions were there. Some of the songs have more of a melancholy lyric, but then the music's all trippy. "Life's About to Get Good" is the perfect example. The verses couldn't be darker, but there's also this contrast. When I was in that place, I was grasping on to any glimmer of optimism, clinging to that. And when I got to the other side, I was still reflecting on the shitty moments. It's almost as if they couldn't live without each other.
MH: What does self-care look like for you?
ST: Time. I'm very protective of "me time." I like my isolation. To me, songwriting is one of those very indulgent times where I've got the perfect excuse to be alone because that's the way I focus best creatively.
Cooking is another. I love making cake, bread, soup, casseroles, all the comfort foods. When I'm bored or inspired — either one — I go to the kitchen, see what's in the fridge, and just start creating.
MH: Was there one track that was really tough to write? One that just kind of fell onto the page?
ST: "More Fun" was a song I wrote in one afternoon. I had the flu and was feeling sorry for myself because it was so beautiful out and there was a great baseball game in town, and I'm like, I would do anything to get out there and go to that game and just enjoy this day. And then I thought, I don't have time to be sick. I need more fun in my life because when I'm not sick, I'm working, and so when I'm not working, I want to be doing something that's just play. That song was about recognizing that we need to have as much fun as we can in our lives, and it was born really, really quickly.
One of the songs that took the longest was "I'm Alright," which is actually a perfect example of coming out of the darkness, overcoming negativity, self-defeat, and self-doubt. It progressed and took on different meanings over time. Sometimes getting down to the true meaning of a song for you, the writer, just takes time. You have to live with it for a while.
MH: I want to talk about how different Now is than your older work. There's a real vulnerability here; it's more personal. Can you speak to that?
ST: At the time of Come on Over, I was really enjoying writing with a sense of humor about the tensions between the sexes, sharing my point of view with attitude, and not apologizing for it. It was a really fun, naturally expressive time. And now my optimism is coming out more as gratitude and positivity, choosing to see the bright side, fighting for that bright side, knowing that it's there, and refusing to let go, refusing to stay in the dark.
MH: But at the same time, Come on Over is so current. I can't help but think about "If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask" with everything that's going on in terms of sexual harassment. Did you think twenty years ago, when you wrote that song, that it would be just as relevant now?
ST: You know, I think these issues are timeless and these problems have been here forever. I wrote that song from my own experience, and it's a statement we shouldn't, in this day and age, still have to make. I mean, we've come so far with equality, but the norms need to change in order for everything else to follow. But until we do that, it's just going to carry on.
I would say, though, I think it's good that we're talking more about it. Maybe only certain people would've related to that song at the time, and now that these issues are so much more at the forefront, it feels like it could be empowering for a much wider range of people.
MH: I agree. Speaking of reaching a wider range of people, you're famous for being one of country music's original crossover artists. Can you talk about your musical influences and how you think crossover music, especially when it comes to country, has become such a thing?
ST: The music I grew up with has influenced all the songs I've ever written. The Beatles, the Carpenters, Gordon Lightfoot, and other folk artists — that's the bank I'll tap into for the rest of my life. But I'm also really inspired by where music has gone since I was last making records.
Artists from most genres listen to a big cross section of music. I spent my teens listening to Foreigner and Def Leppard, but as a child it was Karen Carpenter and Linda Ronstadt and Johnny Cash. Regardless of what type of artist you are, you're also very influenced by other things that you're listening to and enjoy, even if that's not who you are. So you start getting these cross-pollinations, culturally and artistically. Country's just seeing a real evolution right now.
MH: In my circles, at least, your catalog is in heavy karaoke rotation. What's your go-to karaoke song?
ST: I avoid karaoke at all costs, actually … I'm just really bad at it. You never know what key it's gonna be in, and it's always a strange, funky mix, which irritates me. Maybe I take it too seriously? I do have a lot of fun watching other people sing karaoke.
MH: You've also crossed over into acting. I'm dying to ask about your Broad City cameo.
ST: Pure fun! The whole crew, they're very talented. I loved that whole comical side of things, just making fun of myself — it was an opportunity to be myself but with less inhibitions.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Meredith Heil is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn. Her karaoke song is "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley. Find her at meredithheil.com.