Classic Albums Revisited: How Shania Twain Upended Country Music With ‘The Woman In Me’
I have never lived in a world where Shania Twain's landmark album The Woman In Me did not exist. And for that, I am grateful.
My arrival to this planet came one year after Twain was propelled to stardom with the release of her landmark 1995 album. I recognize this only because country music — and its relationship with female sexuality — can be broken up into two eras: Before The Woman In Me (BTWIM) and After The Woman In Me (ATWIM). When one grows up ATWIM, it can be easy to take Twain's disruption of the status quo for granted.
In 1993 (BTWIM), Twain released a self-titled debut that went largely unrecognized, even though its album cover was pure, unadulterated 90s camp. That photo shows Twain cozied up in a fringed parka standing next to a lone grey wolf in a snowy landscape that we can only imagine is the Canadian tundra. When it came time to release her sophomore album, her label, Mercury Records, had some concerns about how listeners would react.
Twain recalled Mercury's warning in an interview with The Independent.
"I would be hated by the men because I was too opinionated and too forceful and demanding, and I would be hated by the women because I was being sensually expressive," she explained.
Luckily, she didn't take these words to heart.
"I thought, well, I don't believe that'll be the case," Twain reflected.
And it wasn't.
The album sold four million copies by the end of the year, making it the best-selling record at the time. The project spawned eight different singles and music videos, including iconic hits like "Any Man of Mine," "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" and "No One Needs to Know."
Not only did those songs dominate the airwaves at the time, but they endured for years to come. By 2000, the record had gone 12-times platinum. Today, the tracks have racked up hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify. Twain was, and remains, a far cry from being hated.
While the label talking heads were mistaken about how listeners would receive Twain — especially women — their fears did spin out from a morsel of truth. She was doing something wildly different, and it's never been a secret that country music has a long history of being a genre that values tradition, both in the studio and within the realm of gender politics. Twain was upending the genre on both fronts.
The Woman in Me is undeniably a country album: the boot-scootin' boogie spirit is felt throughout the record's twelve tracks. Sonically, it's also an entirely different beast than anything the country music industry had seen before because of Robert John "Mutt" Lange's involvement.
Lange, an accomplished producer and Twain's then-husband, had found massive success working with rock icons like AC/DC and Def Leppard. With Lange's creative vision at the helm, it's no coincidence that Twain's tracks felt pre-designed to fill arenas worldwide.
At the time, nobody on country radio embraced cross-genre production values quite like Twain and Lange. Even fewer mainstream country artists embraced female sexual expression as openly and comfortably as Twain did, either.
What set Twain apart from her peers in this regard was her unapologetic power. Within the span of just twelve songs and 48 minutes, Twain covers a lot of ground. On "You Win My Love," Twain dishes out barely-veiled, car-inspired sexual innuendo like she's trying to beat Springsteen at his own game. Only three tracks later, she's losing herself completely in bland domestic fantasies about being someone's wife on "No One Needs to Know."
The beauty of Twain is that neither track is less authentic than the other or less powerful. Whether she's dismissing skeevy pickup lines on "You're Not In It For Love" or on the hunt for a simple "teasin', squeezin', pleasin' kind of time" on "Any Man of Mine," Twain is always the one in the driver's seat.
While it would be two more years before Twain uttered her immortalized command, "Let's go, girls," to all the women on the other side of the radio, she had already started her conversation with us on The Woman In Me. We've spent our lives listening ever since.
Shania Twain, The Woman In Me Track List:
1. "Home Ain't Where His Heart Is (Anymore)"
2. "Any Man of Mine"
3. "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?"
4. "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!"
5. "The Woman In Me (Needs the Man in You)"
6. "Is There Life After Love?"
7. "If It Don't Take Two"
8. "You Win My Love"
9. "Raining on Our Love"
10. "Leaving Is the Only Way Out"
11. "No One Needs to Know"
12. "God Bless the Child"