Shania Twain - Breaking the Rules

American Country - June/98 cover Ever since Country music became an actual industry, women artists have fought an uphill battle. Maybe it was because "the business" formulated in a time when everything in the world was dominated by males. Maybe it was because the first women artists didn't fare too well. Who knows. But it remains a fact, Nashville has always had a different view and a different approach to women artists.

Until now.

Women artists have always had a different set of rules they needed to abide by. Not necessarily the kind that you'll find in any handbook or anything like that, but the kind that almost every label exec keeps hidden in the backs of their minds. And even though they've never been taught at any music school or written down in and passed around theclass, they have followed them almost to a tee.

Shania Twain is the exception to every one of those rules.

For years, Nashville had it in their heads that (Rule #1) - Women don't sell records. Well, Shania does. The Woman In Me has been found at one point or another on the weekly Billboard Country Album charts since its release back in 1995. And believe it or not, all these sales are for an album ~ that when it was released, critics had a hard time classifying it in the country music category.

(Rule #2) Sex and country music don't mix. There's no questioning the sheer sex appeal that Shania brings to her music. And to top it all off, it appeals to both men AND women! Women look at her and they want to be her. As for guys, well let's just say they enjoy looking at her just as much as they do listening to her.

(Rule #3) An artist is made on the road. This is the one rule that applies to all artists, both guys and gals. And it's one that every country music executive, and every other form of music preach. You introduce yourself on the radio - but you make your name on the stage. Touring is the only way to build up a strong and true fan base.

Every bit of Shania's success to date has happened without her taking the stage even once. Sure she toured off her debut disc back in 1994, but she was merely a warm-up act without a hit back then. The album didn't fare very well in stores, radio pretty much ignored it and to be quite honest, though she performed well, she left few lasting impressions.

Yes, we're still talking about Shania Twain.

Now, all of that has changed. Instead of going out to merely support an album, Shania's 1998 tour is being considered the touring event of the year. Quite a jump from her last trek out on the road, but a well deserved one nonetheless. Think about it, since that time Shania's put more than a few hits under her belt, a few trophies on the mantle and in addition to that, she's appeared on some some pretty platinum records on the walls of the awards shows.

But think about those awards shows where she did play live. They were huge productions. They were FUN! She could never have pulled that off on a club stage or in a 3,000 seat venue. She couldn't have done the songs the justice that they deserved. Bottom line - she couldn't be the Shania Twain that she is, she would have had to compromise. Now she'll be able to use the big stages of the concert venues she deserves. Now she can put on the production that she has always wanted.

But don't get caught up thinking that Shania will be lost when she hits the stage for more than just one song. Remember what I said, she has toured before and we are talking about a girl that starting singing professionally at the tender age of eight. It's just that most of her touring came before her success.

"The reality of it is that I have toured very much," muses Shania, settling back into her chair. "I was on the road in my parents car playing clubs from a very early age. Then I was in a van with all the guys and the equipment. I toured all the way up to the end of my first album.

"In my opinion, I've paid my dues as far as touring is concerned. I was able to prove that you can sell records through radio and television just on the basis of the music. You don't have to have all the hoopla."

I guess when you sell 12 million copies of an album, you get hoopla. And now that she does, she wants the tour to come off perfect.

"When I do get out on tour, I'll be able to do a full show of original songs that people will be familiar with. It's going to be ideal, almost like I couldn't have planned it better, even though I didn't really plan at all. I am glad I waited, and I'm going to give it all I've got to make it everything the fans have been waiting for."

Some of those songs that are sure to light up the stage can be found on her latest album, Come On Over. 16 songs that range from just fun songs to dance to, to songs that really tackle some serious issues. When it's all said and done, there is over an hours worth of material here and not a throw-away song in the bunch.

Now ~ (??lot of Pe-iT~ightiind~~~??) remarkable - that someone can put out an album with 16 phenomenal cuts. I for one don't. Nashville is literally crawling with tons of tremendously talented songwriters.

What I find amazing is that every one of these songs on this album (and her last as well) were written by Shania and her husband/producer Mutt Lange. Even more amazing is that while they're all great songs, there really is no siguature. There's no recurring formula that Shania runs to for a successful song. Many times, writers will go back and write in the same style or manner as whichever song was a hit for them. Or maybe wherever they feel the most comfortable.

"It's definitely a personality record. I don't usually write about my life, but I have to say that this album is pretty much the way I really think. It's definitely the way I perceive things.

"Songwriting is my favorite part of what I do. I like to give every song its own personality and attitude and to sing each one with its own style. I grew up listening to Waylon, Willie, Dolly, Tammy, all of them. But we also listened to people like the Mamas & Papas, the Carpenters, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder. The many different styles of music I was exposed to as a child not only influenced my vocal style but, even more so, my writing style."

And it has been her writing style that has made Shania the success that she is. Much like in any other aspect of life and business, the more successful you are, the more power you get. Which leads us right into the way Shania was able to break yet another "industry rule."

Rule #4 - an album should never have more than 10 or 11 songs.

Once again - here comes Shania, bouncing all the way up to the retail racks with 16 cuts on her album. Normally with an artist that sells as well as she does, labels would love to cut this in half and release it as two separate albums. Or at least package it and make it a double album so they could jack the price up a bit. Heck, look at what happened with LeAnn Rimes. After Blue set the world on its ears, the label found some old recordings she did before she was signed, packaged it up and released it as a new album The Early Years. LeAnn was only 14 years old at the time it came out!

Now that's not to say there's anything wrong with the idea. Let's face it, there are two words in music business and one of them is business. Business means to make money. Plus, you and I all know that we would head down to the record store as many times as it took and we'd pay whatever the price tag said in order to buy (Sim~i'~iwt~bi~ ~ WOn!~ mat-ter) if it had 8 songs or 16 But that's not the case here. Shania had an agenda with this album and that was to merely put out the best album she could.

"We narrowed it down as much as we could and we still wound up with 16 songs. There was so much that I wanted to achieve, I couldn't have done it in any less. Every one of them makes this album feel complete to me. Maybe it's because of the time I was given, I just felt like I couldn't leave any one of them out."

Which includes her successful crossover single 'You're Still The One.'

"I relate very personally to this song. When I look at our relationship (her marriage to Mutt), which is a very successful and wonderful one, it was one which was very unlikely to succeed. Not in my mind, but I think in a lot of people's minds. I think a lot of people in the industry think it was based entirely on career, which is so ridiculous. They say, well, he married a young good-looking girl, and she married a successful producer. So people thought it was based on that and certainly couldn't last. But it isn't based on that, and this song is us in a certain way. This song is a celebration of that."

Ken Churilla, American Country, June/98 cover


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