Next month, we will be given the greatest gift of the last 15 years: new music by Shania Twain.
After teasing “Life’s About To Get Good” with a promo for next year’s Olympics, the singer announced she’s basically seconds from stepping back into the spotlight (and without the production assistance from ex-husband Mutt Lange).
Which makes for perfect timing. Considering Celine Dion’s been living that sweet (and well-deserved) comeback life over the last little while, the resurgence of Shania is inevitable. In fact, it’s the 90s comeback we’ve all been waiting for.
Country music fan or not, you’d have to be a walking Big Shiny Tunes album to have avoided the Shania Twain madness that dictated top 40 between 1995 and the turn of the century. The Grammy-nominated Woman in Me introduced country-pop mainstays “Any Man of Mine” and “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” while “No One Needs to Know” earned a signal boost after being featured on the Twister soundtrack. And from there, Twain delved further into pop, releasing Come On Over in 1997, giving us “Man! I Feel Like A Woman,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and “You’re Still The One” (the single that will play at every wedding and school dance until we’ve all been dead for centuries).
But it’s not like Shania was alone in her country splendour: around that time, country-pop crossovers were tearing the charts up thanks to albums by Leann Rimes, The Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, and Trisha Yearwood, who ushered the genre into mainstream realms, breaking from twang and adopting faster tempos, remixes, and even autotune. (Never forget Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me.”) We think of the 90s as the golden age of grunge and boy bands, but Country Music 2.0™ also had its place.
Because this instalment wasn’t “country” in the Grand ‘Ole Opry sense of the word. This 2.0 brand of the genre was glossy and shiny and primarily dominated by female artists who used their lyrics to establish themselves as independent heroines, and not lovelorn singer-songwriters. So while artists like Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw issued a bevy of singles during the decade as well, their sound remained rooted in the past and largely honoured existing country music stereotypes. (Think storytelling and heartbreak, and all while wearing cowboy hats.)
But in the 15 years since Shania’s last album (the top 40-centric Up! released in 2002), our approach to pop has changed. We know that the internet’s levelled the playing field as artists dip in and out of genres, experimenting with their capacity for creativity. And we know that the country music stigma of yore is dated and embarrassing. After all, Beyoncé tapped into country with 2016’s “Daddy Issues,” while Taylor Swift mixed it with pop on Red. Plus, all artists worth talking about have embraced music as a whole, not just the sect they’re synonymous with: Harry Styles made a rock album, and Niall Horan slowed down and got sexy with his latest, “Slow Hands.” Miley Cyrus just dropped “Malibu,” a far cry from anything off the club-centric Bangerz.
And this marriage of genres is a language Shania is already fluent in. Recently, Horan revealed that he and the singer had worked together in-studio, which alludes to Twain’s willingness to approach music in the way this particular generation has been favouring: a place of universality and acceptance. Plus, she’s not sticking to what she knew.
Shania’s zest for collaborations implies her understanding of the way good music works, but it also shines a light on her willingness to mentor. And this will make her new music particularly powerful—first, by appealing to existing fans, and also by drawing in new audiences curious to hear more from the woman Niall Horan learned country music from.
So while 90s mania continues its reign, let’s remember who helped musically shape a decade we tend to look at with blinders on. Because without Shania Twain, we’d lack the long list of things that don’t impress us much, we’d still be battling the country stigma, and Céline Dion would be forced to endure Canadian divadom on her own.
Shania’s comeback is upon us. And it is up to anyone who claims to respect 90s music to welcome it.