It’s the first Friday of 2023 and Shania Twain is ushering in a new era: her queen era. We’re in New York and she’s the talk of the town; the paparazzi have been tracking her every move as she works the late night and early morning talk show circuit, documenting pastel pink wigs and snapping photos of her beloved dog, Saphie, along the way.
For her Rollacoaster cover shoot, Twain is rocking a bright red waist-length wig, and Saphie is wandering around the studio at Hudson Yards Loft unphased. We’re listening to a covert stream of Queen of Me, the five-time Grammy Award winner’s sixth studio album, which was born during COVID-19 quarantines and released less than a month after our shoot – topping the Official UK Albums Chart in the process.
“A song like “Queen of Me” becoming the album title is very intentional because it's really me taking charge of my own mood and saying, ‘No one else is responsible; not COVID, not anyone, not anything, for my frame of mind,’” explains Twain. “I'm the boss of me and I'm going to make sure that I get through this phase with my own empowerment, and control of my perspective on things. Especially being a parent and having a family. You want to be the strong one, but it's almost more important to be strong for yourself and hopefully that will inspire everyone else around you.”
Queen of Me is certainly inspiring. The title track boldly declares, “I'm not a girl/ I'm not a boy/ I'm not a baby/ I'm not a toy/ I'm a queen,” and has the kind of anthemic chorus you can imagine singing your heart out to in a festival field. Single “Giddy Up!” is a country pop earworm, perfect for hyping yourself up before a night out, with a video that could entice even the most reluctant dancer to grab some cowboy boots and throw down. The whole mood is celebratory (see “Waking Up Dreaming”), summery (the aptly titled “Last Day of Summer”) and perfectly defiant (“Brand New”, which waves goodbye to a narcissistic old relationship, while applauding the personal rebirth on the other side).
“I really enjoy “Last Day of Summer”,” says Twain. “I love the way it all came together; I enjoy the whole album. I was listening to it three times over on the way here on the plane. I was thinking, ‘Let me listen to it one time,’ because obviously during the mixing you listen to it a lot. It started over again and I was like, ‘Wow, that went by so fast, I can handle listening to it again’. And then again. It was a good sign. I enjoy the album. I'm happy.”
The 57-year-old certainly has plenty to smile about. In support of her new album, Twain announced the Queen of Me tour, which kicks off in April and will see her perform across the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland. So many of the initial dates sold out that she and her team quickly added five more, before announcing another 18 new shows. “We didn't know what to expect and it turns out it's a very in-demand ticket, so we added more dates and I'm really excited about playing the new music on the tour,” says Twain. “I don't even know which songs to play in the show yet, but I've got to make those decisions pretty soon and I’m literally dreaming about which songs will go in the new show.”
If the tour has even a hint of Twain’s most recent Las Vegas residency, Let’s Go!, fans are in for a real treat. The 38-show run, which wrapped in September 2022, was a high-octane trip through some of her greatest hits and most iconic looks: bedazzled leopard print for “That Don’t Impress Me Much”, emerging from a giant top hat for the “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” finale, and plenty of time at the Twain Town Saloon in between for “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”
“There's a lot of music now and a lot of music that I can't play in one show,” says Twain. “What I was thinking of doing on the tour is rotating certain songs so that even if you see the show three times – and I don't know how many people will be seeing the tour show three times, because the tickets did go fast – but I’ll probably rotate at least three, maybe five songs on more of the classic level. That way people get to hear some of the songs they haven't really heard in a long time.”
I ask which songs are most requested by fans, beyond the most obvious hits. “People always ask for “Forever and for Always”, a lot of people ask for “Ka-Ching!”, a lot of people ask for “Thank You Baby”. There’s a handful,” she says. “Songs that were mostly album tracks, but still very popular to the fans.”
Twain adores connecting with her loyal following; at the Let’s Go!residency there were various VIP experiences, where they could purchase tickets that included talking to her on stage, taking selfies together and generally being the envy of other audience members. “I love the personal connection. I really need it. So it's for me,” she laughs. “I get such a kick out of it. I could get very carried away with that, and I do – my shows can go pretty long that way. You know, like Adele loves to tell stories, she chats on and she's very funny. I'm the same way when I get with a fan and I'm chatting with them. I just enjoy those moments and I never know what I'm going to get. I never know who they are, you know? And I'm fascinated by it.”
In recent years, Twain’s hit singles from her 1997 album Come On Over – the biggest-selling studio album by a solo female artist, with over 40 million copies sold worldwide – have taken on a whole new lease of life via TikTok. “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” blew up around International Women’s Day 2021, the same week Twain joined the platform, and more recently the “cool” soundbite from “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)” has become a major trend with 33 thousand videos and counting. However, Twain’s appeal within Gen Z and younger millennial circles isn’t new; they’ve been listening to her since they were babies.
In fact, when Harry Styles brought her to the stage as a surprise guest during his Friday night headline slot at Coachella in 2022, his core memories of Twain’s music reflected that of his entire generation. “Now I have to tell you, that in the car with my mother as a child, this lady taught me to sing,” Styles told the crowd, between their duets of “Man!” and “You’re Still The One”. “She also taught me that men are trash. But, to you, for the memories you gave me with my mother, I will be forever grateful.”
“What a crazy moment,” says Twain. “We were so in sync in every way with it, even the way we were dressed, and it was not coordinated. We were both in sort of psychedelic sequins and thematically on the same page without realising. Maybe it was naïve of me not to realise that Harry represents the generation that grew up listening to me. I was excited just to go and do it with him; I really can’t take credit for the impact that it had, it was his vision and he invited me. At my own concerts I’m reunited with the Harries of my early career. It’s logical, but I guess I didn’t expect them to be such a huge part of my audience and it’s a really pleasant, amazing surprise.”
“It's nostalgic for them and they relate to it a lot, like Harry with his mother, and I know my son does the same thing with me. A lot of the music that he has learned from in his own development is the music that he heard from my catalogue, my playlists, and the albums I would play when he was a kid. It’s a fascinating experience for me now, all these years later, to be reunited with the same kids that are now grown up. A lot of people tell me that they're bringing their moms to the shows now and thatit’s a great experience for them to share.”
Twain’s only son, Eja D’Angelo Lange, who she shares with ex-husband and former song writing partner Robert “Mutt” Lange, has followed his parents down a musical path – and even has a writing credit on Queen of Me. “He writes and arranges, and produces all kinds of stuff, from top to bottom,” Twain says proudly. “In finding himself as a producer he’s experimenting with every kind of music, every kind of sound, so in that way we're very different. But we do have a lot of similar tastes and I really enjoy listening to the music he listens to, and listening to his music ideas; in fact, I stole one for this album, which is cool. I really wanted to dance on this album and so one of the songs that I picked is something he was doing as more of a dance song. That’s “Number One” on the album, it’s his phrasing and his whole lyric and melody, which was very different for me to get my head around. It was really fun.”
Despite Twain’s success, her son – now 21 – was able to enjoy his childhood out of the spotlight. “He was never raised backstage; he was exposed to it, but it wasn't his life,” she says. “He's really lived among a very normal school environment, normal friends, none of them are in the music industry. He sees them as two separate worlds and appreciates it, and I think he really likes the fact that he has a normal life and can step into the Shania world very comfortably when it's there. He probably had a realisation around the age of seven when he was like, ‘Are you famous?’ and I said, ‘Why do you ask me that?’ He said, ‘I don't know, one of my friend's mothers said you are famous. I'm not sure I know what that is.’ Then you have to explain, but to him, it's not reality. ‘That’s my other mom. My mother has another thing. It’s her career.’”
Twain’s own upbringing in Ontario, Canada, was a vastly different story. Realising her eldest daughter’s talents early on, her mother was sneaking her out to bars to perform late at night from the age of eight, with the money Twain – then known by her birth name, Eilleen – earned helping to pay the family’s bills. “That was my whole childhood from the age of eight years old, singing in clubs,” she says. “Everybody was usually already drunk, because I was going in quite late; I was legally allowed in the bars from the age of 11, meaning that I could go in earlier in the night to perform, because my mother obtained a liquor license. Before that, from the age of eight to 11, I was only allowed in from midnight so everyone was already drunk. You see a lot. I got used to the environment. I got used to dealing with trying to keep an audience's attention as well and understanding a lot about live performing and communication with the audience.
“I became good at it early on. I didn't like to be on stage. I could have done without it if I'm being really honest. I just wanted to be in the background writing the songs. I wouldn't have minded being on stage, but I would've way preferred being the backup singer. I love music, I love to play music, but I just didn't want to be the front person. Maybe some of that was because it was such a weird environment for my age. I'm not sure how you unwind all of that and why I had such stage fright. Maybe it was just too intimidating for me, but this was every weekend of my childhood practically.”
To this day, Twain isn’t sure how to feel about her early musical endeavours and the life that followed. “I felt entirely pressured. If my mother had not pushed me to be on stage, I would never have gone up there,” she explains. “At the time, I resented it, of course. Now I have mixed feelings about it. I'm glad that I've got this incredible career, but it was a painful road to not want to do that for so much of my life. I wanted to be musical, I was musical, my passion is music. I would've written music anyway, no matter what, no doubt about that. And I would've always enjoyed singing, but to myself and for myself. It would have stayed with me. Maybe the song writing would've gone somewhere or maybe it would've evolved into being a novelist. Creative writing in general is what I love to do. I'll never know, because I ended up on the stage, and then when my parents died it was all I knew how to do. I was already in my early twenties, so I ended up just carrying on with that. In a way I'm just very lucky that it did actually work out, after all those years of investments in my youth when I suffered through it.”
Twain was just 22 when her mother and father tragically died in a car accident, in 1987, leaving her to look after her younger siblings. “There was a side of me that was thinking, ‘Now I don't have to do this anymore. I'm only doing it for my mother,’” she says. “I knew that if I'd ever quit, it would just destroy her. She was quite a fragile person and quite dysfunctional for a lot of my childhood, so I thought, ‘Oh man, I can’t quit’. I really felt that, just like a lot of kids go to school for the wrong thing, because that's what their parents want them to do. It's not an uncommon scenario. I was one of those kids.
“When they died, I felt like now I'm off the hook if I don't want to do this anymore. I'm free from that pressure now, but the practical side is that this is all I know how to do and it's all I've educated myself on, plus I've got kids to take care of. So what now? Am I trapped anyway? My friend Mary, who is also in music and older – she's like my adoptive mother – she said, ‘Do not quit. You can't throw this away. You're too talented.’ That was her take. So, considering everything, I carried on and it paid the bills really well and I couldn't walk away it seemed, and I feel so grateful that it worked. Imagine if it hadn't. I would've probably been very mad at myself for not going back to school and doing something more secure. This is a risky career. I mean, the chances of making it are so slim. The odds were entirely against me. So imagine, how incredible it feels, to have made it. It’s remarkable.”
She still likes to write more than anything, and her song writing process on Queen of Me has been quite unlike any of Twain’s previous albums. “I love it. It's my favourite thing,” she says. “I'm so glad that I have song writing for many reasons. It’s therapy. It's a great escape. It’s a creative outlet that I really need, that I rely on, kind of medicinally. It’s also something that's evolved, because I've never been a collaborative writer before; Mutt was the only other co-writer that I'd ever had, so I’d never been in the group writing sessions or anything like that. I wrote a lot alone during COVID and then finally, when things were opening up, I was really excited about getting in some group sessions to finish the album. That's been a great evolution and a very fun, new experience so late in my career. There’s always something new.”
There is an incredible sense of calm and gratitude surrounding Twain as she enters this newest stage of her career – and, as she tells me, sometimes it takes losing something to realise how much you love it. A battle with Lyme disease, that began with a 2003 tick bite while she was horse-riding and almost ended her career, made her see both her voice and her time on stage with a renewed perspective. “The stage fright was there right up until I started recovering my voice after Lyme disease,” she admits, a process that took years and involved a risky throat surgery. “I just turned a corner. I felt like, ‘Wow, it's time to celebrate.’ I’ve been through all this crap, I don't have to do this anymore, but I refused to lose my singing voice. I pursued recovering it, so now I want to do something with it, and I'm so appreciative and grateful that I have it.”
“If you project yourself into the future and you imagine yourself without something, even if it's something that you don't know you love, it might dawn on you that it’s really something that you don't want to live without,” she continues. “When my parents died, even when Elvis died [laughs], I was in denial. I remember being like, ‘He must still be alive somewhere. It's gotta be a scam.’ I just couldn't believe it. I'm like, ‘There's no way, he's much bigger than life, how could that happen? He must have faked it so that he can be free.’ My immature, childish, wishful thinking.”
“Then, when my parents died, the same element surfaced. I wasn’t in denial, but if someone came to me and said, ‘This was just a joke’, there's not an inch of me that would be angry or upset. I would be so grateful. It's a good exercise, I've realised, when you feel you've lost appreciation and respect for life, and you've lost your mojo, or you've lost the up in your giddy. You have to cheer yourself up by whatever works for you. When I really thought my voice was gone, I said, ‘Holy shit. If it comes back, I'm gonna celebrate my voice for as long as I've got it.’”
Long may Twain – and her voice – reign.
Shania Twain’s sixth studio album, Queen of Me, is out now. For more information on her upcoming tour dates, visit shaniatwain.com.
Photographed by James J. Robinson
Styled by Juliann McCandless
Hair by Frankie Foyefor Imaj Artistsusing Oribe
Makeup by Susana Hong using Viseart Paris
Nails by Sonya Meeshat Forward Artists using Kiss Nails
Words by Jennifer Lynn
Creative & Editorial Director Huw Gwyther
Editor Ella West
Cover Design by Aparna Aji
1st Photo Assistant Ally Chen
2nd Photo Assistant Alynna Tan
Fashion Assistant Dunya Korobova
Special thanks to BB Gun Press, Hudson Yards Loft& PLANTA