Emerging in the mid-'90s, Shania Twain became the most popular country music artist since Garth Brooks. Skillfully fusing mainstream, AOR rock production with country-pop, Twain and her producer/husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, created a commercial juggernaut with her second album, The Woman in Me. The record became a multi-platinum phenomenon, peaking at number five on the pop charts and eventually selling over nine million copies in America alone. Twain might have sold a lot of records, but like other mega-selling acts before her, she earned few good reviews — most critics accused her of diluting country with bland, anthemic hard rock techniques and shamelessly selling her records with sexy videos. Fans ignored such complaints, mainly because her audience was comprised of many listeners who had grown accustomed to such marketing strategies by constant exposure to MTV. And Twain, in many ways, was the first country artist to fully exploit MTV's style. She created a sexy, video-oriented image — she didn't even tour during the year when The Woman in Me was on the top of the country charts — that appealed not only to the country audience, but also to pop fans. In turn, she became a country music phenomenon.
Twain was born in Windsor, Ontario, and raised in the small, rural town of Timmins, Ontario. As a child, she learned to play guitar at an early age and would spend much of her time singing, writing, and playing. Early on in her musical development, her parents pushed her on-stage, making her perform frequently around their little town; often, she would be pulled out of bed around one in the morning to sing at local bars, since as a child she could only appear in the clubs after they had stopped serving alcohol. In addition to bars, she sang on local radio and television stations and community events. When she was 21 years old, both of her parents died in a car crash, forcing her to take responsibility for her four siblings. In order to pay the bills and keep food on the table, she took a job singing at a resort in Deerhurst. With the money she earned at the resort, she bought a house and had the family settle down.
At the resort, she sang show tunes, from George Gershwin to Andrew Lloyd Webber, as well as a little country. Twain stayed there for three years, at the end of which all of her siblings had begun lives of their own. When she was finally independent again, she assembled a demo tape of her songs, and her manager set up a showcase concert in Canada. Twain caught the attention of a few insiders with the concert, and within a few months Mercury Nashville had signed her to their roster. Her eponymous debut album was released in 1993, and although it wasn't a major hit, it performed respectably in the United States, launching two minor hit singles, "What Made You Say That" and "Dance with the One That Brought You"; in Europe, the album was more successful and Country Music Television Europe named her Rising Video Star of the Year.
Shortly after the release of Shania Twain, the singer met and fell in love with Robert John "Mutt" Lange, a hard rock producer known for his work with AC/DC, Def Leppard, Foreigner, and the Cars. Lange had been wanting to move into country music for a while, and after hearing Twain's debut album, he decided to get in contact with her with the intention of working on an album. By the end of the year, the pair had married and begun working on her second record. The two either wrote or co-wrote the material that eventually formed The Woman in Me.
The Woman in Me was released in the spring of 1995. Its first single, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?," went to number 11 early in the year, quickly followed by "Any Man of Mine," which became her first number one single in the spring. The album's title track went to number 14 in the fall, while the fourth single, "(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here!," rocketed to number one toward the end of the year; early in 1996, "No One Needs to Know" became her third number one hit. By the beginning of 1996, The Woman in Me had sold over six million copies and broken the record for the most weeks spent at number one on the country charts. During the course of 1996, it would rack up another three million in sales. Come on Over followed in 1997. She spent the next two years touring the globe in support of the album; by the end of 1999, Come on Over had sold 36 million copies.
Twain took a sabbatical and returned to her Swiss home for some down time with her husband. The next summer, she and Lange welcomed their first child. A son, whom they named Eja, arrived August 21, 2001. During this time, Twain brainstormed for a fourth album. While balancing a domestic life and a career, the end result was Up!, which appeared in November 2002.
Up! was released to considerable fanfare — not only was it accompanied by a huge publicity blitz, but it appeared in three different mixes, designed to appeal to country, pop, and international audiences — and it was initially a big success, selling over 870,000 copies in the U.S. upon its first week and debuting at number one in the Billboard charts, but despite such hits as “I'm Gonna Getcha Good!” and “Forever and for Always,” it failed to have the same kind of staying power as The Woman in Me or Come on Over. Those two albums sold over 10 million copies a piece in the U.S., whereas Up! sold 5.5 million — an impressive number that only pales when compared to her track record. As Up! worked its way down the charts, Twain released a Greatest Hits album in the holiday season of 2004; the compilation was a great success, going triple platinum in the U.S. where it peaked at number two on the Billboard charts. In the wake of Greatest Hits, Twain released a song called "Shoes" on the 2005 soundtrack to the TV soap opera Desperate Housewives, but otherwise she slowly slid into an extended hiatus.
In 2008, she announced her separation from husband Mutt Lange, and in the following year she wrote an open letter to her fans apologizing for the lack of new music. Despite this, new music wasn't imminent from Twain. She started to return to active status in 2011 via the reality series Why Not? With Shania Twain, which culminated with the release of a new single called "Today Is Your Day"; it peaked at 36 upon its July 2011 release. A few on-record cameos followed — she appeared on Michael Bublé's 2011 Christmas album and on Lionel Richie's 2012 country album Tuskegee — before she turned her attention to a three-year residency at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Once that wrapped up, she embarked on a tour called Rock This Country in 2015. During 2016, she worked on the album that became Now, teased by the singles "Life's About to Get Good" and "Swinging with My Eyes Closed." Now was released on September 29, 2017, debuting at number one on Billboard's Top 200 and Country Albums charts. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine