She's Number One
The Native American has never been a big hit with the youth of Britain. Children prefer to play John Wayne, and it's a sad fact that the school's least agile pupil is elected to run around shouting "I'm Tonto!" while classmates throw small pebbles at his back. In the movies, too, the Indian has a hard time. He's either a leathery-faced scrote who'd toss a hunting knife at your head as quickly as say "How!" or a clod-hopping mental patient, like that big luff off One flew over the cuckoo's nest.
But finally the UK is warming to the incredibly hard done-by Native American, thanks to the race's most attractive - and famous - Public face: Shania (Ojibway Indian for "I'm on my way") Twain, the multi-million-selling singing sensation. Only she's not actually Native American. She's Canadian, and, to be perfectly honest, it's her adoptive father Jerry who carried the family's teepee-building genes. But the press love an angle, so Shania's basically an Indian - and She's a country and western star too. Mercifully, the truth about Twain's music is that it has nothing in common with twang, dusty "Yeehaw!" sound that most of us know and hate. It's sexy, foot-stomping pop rock, and lots of ballads. With corny lyrics...
"I write with comic relief," Shania smiles. "You can't take it seriously. I don't think hardcore country fans realise it, but everyone else knows that the songs are meant to be humorous and corny."
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Shania - or Eileen, as she was called at the time - was mad about music from the word go, performing in smoky lounges and bars before she'd started on her nine times tables. She may not have shone in class, but had sense enough to graduate. Her true gift was her powerful set of lungs.
"I used to skip school a lot," Shania tells FHM, "and I'd write fake notes from my mother. I didn't want to be in history class when I could be in the music room writing songs. I was pretty much a loner, but I had my music and I was happy with that."
She'd never known her real dad - her parents split up when she was two - but Jerry was kind enough to take the teenage songbird hunting for such local delicacies as rabbit and moose. It's difficult to imagine the enormity of the tragedy that struck in November 1987. Jerry and Shania's mother, Sharon, were killed in a head-on collision with a logging truck - leaving Shania little choice but to bring up her younger sister and two brothers. These dreams of pop stardom were put on the back burner.
But in 1991, a Nashville producer heard about Eileen Twain's prowess in the lounges of southern Canada, and agreed to work on a demo. She moved to Nashville and signed a record deal, even though her debut album - and transformation from dull old Eileen into Shania - meant she had to sing other peoples songs. "I'm a practical person," she says, not. "I'm a survivor, so I did it their way. It didn't work and it wasn't a success."
Then fate - perhaps trying to make up for the lousy hand it dealt her so far - put Shania in touch with famed rock producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange. The curly-haired South African had already co-written such monster hits as Bryan Adams' Everything I Do (I do it for you), Billy Ocean's When the going gets tough, and half of Sheffield rockers Def Leppard's big tunes, as well as help shape the sound of AC/DC, the Boomtown Rats and even those American pop lummoxes Backstreet Boys. So when Lange heard Shania's shaky debut and offered a helping hand, there was no chance she was going to turn him down.
Over the next few months, as the pair wrote songs over the phone, the twice-divorced Lange became besotted. And 16 years Shania's senior, Lange must have been cock-a-hoop when he convinced the Canuck beauty to marry him in December 1993. Two years later and with a huge input from new husband, Twain released the watershed album Woman in Me; it was a massive hit in the states, and went on to replace Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits as the best-selling country album ever. Now it's sold well over ten million copies, as has the follow-up, last year's Come on Over.
Worldwide, Shania Twain is in the same league as Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. The facts speak for themselves: She's the first female artist to sell over ten million copies of consecutive albums; she's only one of five women ever to sell over ten million copies of one record; she's won Grammys, Billboard awards and played to over 2.5 million people. Come on Over has been knocking around the top end of the US charts for 90 weeks - and she's signed a $3 million deal to be the new face of Revlon.
Twain is worth a packet, and Lange himself is thought to be good for a whopping $100 million - putting their combined personal wealth on par with the GNP of Western Samoa, Population 170,000. And with Mutt earning an estimated $10 million a year in royalties ($192,000 a week) for doing nothing, she doesn't need to work ever again...
"It's not all about the money though," Shania says. "At times I can be like, 'What am I doing this for?' But everyone needs new goals."
Notoriously press shy, Shania has done just three big interviews in the last year: Rolling stone, Cosmopolitan, and US Elle. And now she's cracked the UK with the hit singles You're Still the One and That Don't Impress Me Much, she's doing FHM.
"Britain was slow to pick up on me as there was definitely a stigma with the country and western perception. That's changed now that people have heard the music. It was slow, and frustrating. I don't have a lot of time to spare, so when I come here I'm really pushing it. I didn't want it all to be in vain - and obviously, it wasn't. I'm glad I can say it was worth it."
But Britain was a bitch to crack. The Woman in Me failed to grab us, so Come on Over was "de-countryfied" for its UK release: the hideous fiddles were taken off, the slide-guitars removed - and her image was revamped. It worked - it's sold 650,000 copies since its release in March 1998. And Shania's first ever UK tour earlier this summer was a sell out.
"I feel quite comfortable here," she says. "And I still don't recognized all that much in the streets - I love that. Freedom!"
You're obviously recognized all the time in the states - do you ever sit and think about all the hairy Texans who have pictures of you in their bathrooms?
Argh! I think I'd be surprised by a lot of the places where my pictures are pinned up. I was amazed at first by how many different people are into my music. I see them at my concerts - Last night in London there were a couple of German biker-ladies.
Are you followed everywhere by chubby bodyguards?
I hate having bodyguards. I have a dog - a German shepherd - that I take on tour, he's my bodyguard. That way I can run to the corner store for a soda or whatever without having people with me. It's less conspicuous - just a girl walking a dog.
No one could say you're inconspicuous on stage - have you ever had an embarrassing incident?
Hmm. Well, I've fallen a few times - and I can't say I landed well. I've forgotten the words to my own songs, too - usually when you see someone singing along in the audience. If they get the words wrong it throws you off. And burping is a problem! I have to time when I eat before a show.
How do you stop yourself from sweating on stage?
I'm not a perspirer, but if the band sees me sweating it's a big deal - like "Man, you were sweating tonight!" I get sticky, but you rarely see me dripping sweat.
These days, all you gigs are at colossal arena. Are the backstages areas ever revolting?
Yeah, they can be awful - really smelly and dirty. I usually have my bus with me on tour, and that's where I hang out; but in the UK, for example, I don't have my bus, so when I shower after the show I'll put towels on the floor - everywhere - so I don't have to step barefoot on dirty rugs.
Are your roadies screened to make sure there's no drooling weirdos in your crew?
That's taken care of, but the local crews you have no control over. They're told not to harass me - I'm not stand-offish, I walk around like everyone else - but it can get out of hand. Once I was sound-checking when a guy jumped on stage, grabbed the mic and started singing, like it was an audition. He was something to do with seating. He had to go.
You wear some saucy outfits during your shows. Privately, though, when do you feel most sexy?
I think it's when I get out of the tub. I know a lot of girls feel this way - you've just had a bath and you get out and your skin is fresh and you've stuck your hair up without even looking. That's when you look the best. I don't get it - you just get out of the bath, look in the mirror and go, "Wow! I look great!" But you're not going anywhere - you're just going to bed!
So you must stroll around naked if you're that pleased with yourself...
I do! I never used to - I was never comfortable with myself that way, but I'm a lot less critical now. It's a great time of the day - when there's no one around.
You've just swapped your 3,000-acre New York estate for a 19th century manor house in Switzerland. Do you have any famous neighbours?
Phil Collins lives close by. There's quite a few in the area - Sophia Loren is near, and there's Tina Turner...
Would you have Phil over for a barbie?
Perhaps. But I'm a vegetarian, so he wouldn't be getting Steak.
Who's the richer these days - You or Mutt?
Ha! We're about equal. I've caught up pretty fast.
You're not joking - but do you still take stuff from hotel bedrooms like the rest of us?
Ha ha! Yeah, I do - I take the little mouthwash things, and sometimes if my curling iron's still hot when I leave I'll put a hand-towel around it.
What's the worst thing about living out of a suitcase?
Public bathrooms - usually at airports. You're travelling for 15 hours, and you're reliant on them, but you end up having to brush your teeth in public. I hate that.
We're doing a feature this issue on tough women - when was the last time you lamped a bloke?
I haven't done that. I have arm wrestled here and there. I'm not particularly good, but guys seem to want to test my strength.
Maybe they just want to hold your hand...
Aww! That's cute. I'm gonna remember that - next time someone asks for an arm-wrestle, I'm onto them!
In the FHM sex survey, 71% of women said their first shag was "Unsatisfactory". Any comments?
Ha ha! No, mine was pretty unforgettable. I'm kind of old-fashioned, so I was never really into the do-it-at-a-party-in-a-side-room thing. I wasn't drinking, it was well thought out, and I was like,
"Okay, now I'm gonna experiment." And it was enjoyable.
Awesome! Finally, did you ever catch the British sitcom Never the Twain, starring the mighty Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies?
I never have. Never the Twain - how cool. We have company for dinner tonight, so I'll bring it up.
Interview by Mike Peake, FHM, September/99 cover
Note: This article also appears in the Oct/99 issue of the
Australian FHM, with the title Rock Solid Star