Before Taylor Swift, There Was Shania Twain

After a 15-year absence, Shania Twain returns to Toyota Center on June 9 as part of her Shania Now Tour.
After a 15-year absence, Shania Twain returns to Toyota Center on June 9 as part of her Shania Now Tour. Photo courtesy of BB Gun Press
Taylor Swift is about as big as it gets with regard to modern-day pop royalty. She’s moved millions of albums over the past decade and sold out arenas around the world. Hell, she’s such a big deal that Swift is now playing stadiums, including a date at NRG Stadium in September.

Swift rose to such prominence by taking her country songwriting sensibilities, transitioning over and applying them to the pop music marketplace. In doing so, she’s been incredibly successful. Not that Taylor Swift was the first to do so.

Shania Twain plays Toyota Center on Saturday, June 9 as part of her Shania Now Tour. Twain is touring in support of her first proper studio album in 15 years, Now, released in September. The album is perfectly fine and inoffensive as pop offerings go, but we’re not here to talk about what Shania Twain has done over the past year. Rather, we’re here to look back on how she essentially turned pop music on its head more than two decades ago.

Now, to compare the ascent of Shania Twain to the top of the pop mountain to Taylor Swift’s rise isn’t entirely an apples-to-apples comparison. Swift was a worldwide star by her late teens. Twain didn’t really become a country superstar until she was damn near 30. Swift, by all accounts, had a very positive upbringing. Twain’s, by comparison, was rooted in poverty and abuse. Swift is, first and foremost, a musician, whereas Shania always felt more like a performer.

But the parallels of note are staggering. Both Shania and Taylor began as country artists before transitioning into more of a general pop sound. Both are incredibly attractive performers with charisma and stage presence to burn. And both – though Swift has deviated from this a bit in recent months with her bad girl/EDM shtick – have a sort of approachable, human-like quality, which makes them relatable. That said, and with all due respect to Taylor Swift – who has gone to a level rarely seen before in pop music – Shania got there first.

As mentioned above, Shania Twain was far from an overnight success. Born Eileen Edwards in 1965 in Ontario, Canada, Twain kicked around with cover bands and in honky-tonks and county fairs early in her career. Hell, she didn’t even release her first proper studio album until she was almost 28! That self-titled album was a moderate success and got Twain a little radio play for her efforts. But to call her a household name would be a vast overstatement.

That is, until she dropped The Woman in Me, and more importantly, the juggernaut that was “Any Man of Mine.” To be fair, “Any Man of Mine” – Twain’s first No. 1 single – is a country song through and through. The music is country. The delivery is country. The video, both in locale and attire, is incredibly country. But the message – namely, one of female empowerment – struck a chord with listeners, and Shania Twain was soon a household name.

Other hits would follow and The Woman in Me would eventually move more than 10 million copies worldwide. Shania Twain was already country royalty, and was certainly household name in non-country circles, but she aimed for more with the release of 1997’s Come on Over. As Swift would later do with her third record, Speak Now, Twain shifted into a more traditional pop act with Come On Over, and singles like “You’re Still the One,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” made serious waves on pop radio (the album eventually moved more than 20 million copies). Up!, released in 2002, further cemented Twain’s grip on the pop music consciousness, thanks to singles like “I’m Gonna Getcha Good” and “Forever and For Always.”

Twain’s career stalled a bit from there. She had a son. She, admittedly, went through relationship troubles and eventually divorced producer husband Mutt Lange, who engaged in an extramarital affair with her best friend. She later married her former best friend’s ex-husband, so anyone who thinks Taylor Swift is the queen of revenge is simply misguided. Twain even caught Lyme Disease and almost lost her ability to sing.

Much of this is unfortunate, but none of it dampers the impact Twain had – and continues to have – on mainstream pop music. She parlayed country superstardom into international pop acclaim. Sure, Taylor Swift may have come along and done it bigger. But Shania did it first.

Shania Twain’s show is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 9 at Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. For information, call 866-466-8849 or visit $39.95-$159.95, plus fees.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale