When Twain last appeared on our cover in 2017, it was to promote Now – her first album in 15 years. It was a crucible for Twain, not only returning to a much-changed streaming-led musical landscape, but also her first since her multiple diamond-selling records with ex-husband/creative partner Mutt Lange. She handled every single detail of it by herself and describes it as the most “pure, personal, creative work I’ve ever done” – and Twain was rewarded with a No.1 album in the UK and the US for her efforts. But Queen Of Me? It's an altogether different beast. For one, Twain can be heard swearing on it. She has also collaborated with a host of different writers and producers for the first time – including David Stewart, Sam ‘Rømans’ Roman, Jessica Agombar, Mark Crew, Dan Priddy, Wayne Hector, Tom Mann, Adam Messinger, Mark Ralph, Iain Archer, Jack Savoretti, Dave Cobb, Georgia Barnes and Tyler Joseph. And then there's her voice – stronger than it has been in years after she elected for open-throat surgery in 2018.
Hailed by Republic Records co-president Wendy Goldstein as “everything you could hope for from a Shania record,” and as “some of her best work to date” by EMI co-president Jo Charrington, Queen Of Me marks the incredible, exuberant return of one of the best-selling artists of all time.
On top of all this, Twain’s gigantic 77-date US, Canada and UK tour starts in April in Toronto. It will go on to take in two nights at London’s The O2 in September as well as dates in Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.
In our career-spanning interview Twain reflects on embracing collaborative songwriting, her throat surgery, legacy, body positivity and much more besides.
Also interviewed in the piece is Leila Hebden – part of a Maverick Management triumvirate steering Twain alongside Scott Rodger and James Adams – who adds insight to the creation of Queen Of Me, and also a wider campaign at play to make sure Twain finally gets the respect she deserves as an artist and a songwriter.
“In her lifetime I want not only her audience but the industry to pay Shania her dues,” said Hebden. “That’s my goal. And then I want to retire and make pottery in the countryside [laughs].”
Here, in an unread extract of our cover feature interview, Hebden takes us deeper into the triumphant return of Shania Twain...
On Shania Twain’s last album, 2017’s Now, you were trying to reestablish her after a 15 year gap between albums. You're in a more unique situation with Queen Of Me where that grand comeback has already happened, so what was the goal this time around?
“Well, last time also, people skirted over it because it somehow becomes this thing that you're not supposed to mention, and you're not supposed to say Mutt Lange’s name, because somehow that would be so difficult because they were in a relationship and that ended. But you have to look at the two relationships separately. If you're able to do that, you can see that the sort of gravitas related to Now is much more to do with the fact that it was the same as when Lennon and McCartney were no longer Lennon and McCartney, and it was just McCartney – it’s a huge variant, it's a completely different world.
“And so for Shania the biggest, biggest, biggest thing in the universe was that her partner, her writing partner, her musical partner was gone, and there wasn't really time I don't think to address that, or maybe even process or deal with it. I did a lot of the Now promo with her and I just remember thinking at the time that people were scared to talk about it because their romantic relationship eclipsed their working relationship. But their working relationship is so, so, so very important. And I feel like we've done a bit of a disservice to her as an artist because we don't acknowledge her and Mutt and their influence as songwriters, not just with pop music but many genres of music today. So I think Now was quite a transitional record, which I hope isn’t unfair – she was sort of on a journey. Whereas with this new record, she's arrived somewhere. I don't think she's in transition anymore. And a lot of this record just feels like she's relaxed. She's comfortable in her own skin. I think this album speaks to a sense of being a laid-back, comfortable, reassured woman, like, ‘I actually don't have anything to prove to anybody anymore, I actually really want to make music that people enjoy and have fun to’. And that's what this is.”
In terms of her new music, there are so many different spaces those songs can occupy playlist-wise. Number One is almost a disco song…
“For sure. I think that's probably how she listens to music as well, she's not dedicated to any one genre. She has an expansive interest in music. And she goes to see a lot of music. She's a bit of a chameleon as well, in a good way. If you put her in with a producer and a collective of musicians, it could be electronic music, it could be blues, it could be jazz, it could be pop, it could be whatever… I think she can just find her way. She's technical enough that she understands music and she's got a wide interest. And she can adapt.
“Shania talks in the documentary [Netflix's 2022 release Not Just A Girl] about how, when she was younger, she just decided that she needed to be able to play 100 popular songs. And she was young, so there was no real pressure from anybody to be able to do that. That's a pressure she's put upon herself by saying, ‘I think it will be important for me to be able to play at least 100 really popular songs in varying genres.’ The documentary is interesting because you see that this [amazing career she’s had] doesn't really have a lot to do with luck. There was this dedication and this determination that paid off. And it's been there since she was a child.”
We're going for a full celebration of Shania Twain as a songwriter
Leila Hebden, Maverick Management
And what remains to be done with her recorded legacy, in your eyes? Is there an archive of material that people haven't heard?
“We're going to reissue Come On Over, there are loads of interesting parts to it because there was an international version and the US version of Come On Over. Same with Up! and all its variations. I'm pretty determined. If we're reissuing albums, we're definitely reissuing albums. For The Woman In Me we did a really nice offering that included a well-written essay about Shania Twain and her importance. I was like, ‘The first one has to have this value, it has to have some depth to it’ so it had a lot of images that people hadn't seen. And Come On Over will be even better. We're going to celebrate Shania: that's what I'm looking for, a full celebration of who she is, what she means, her catalogue and her as a songwriter now.”
In terms of that celebration campaign, are you getting a palpable sense of the next generation of Shania fans coming on board on the back of her new music, her performance with Harry Styles, her TikTok channel, the 2022 Netflix documentary and more?
“Totally, but that's also the normal process of music when it's good. I’m not super-surprised that my kids love listening to, say, Yellow Submarine, because it's cross-generational. People are like, ‘God, it's so crazy that Shania's got such a young fan base.’ I'm like, ‘Not really – really popular, well-written music works in that way.’ Of course, kids love her music. My kids love her music."
There’s a huge international tour planned, too. Can you tell us anything about how you approached that? Will there be anything different about Shania Twain’s live shows going forward?
“She's got so many hits, and we've been talking a lot about what the songbook will be for this tour. There'll be a lot of the new stuff, but there'll be a lot of old stuff, of course, as well. And we’re obviously going to have an amazing creative. There's going to be all the great things that make a Shania Twain show fun.”
Once you introduced Shania riding on a flying motorbike as standard, it’s kind of hard to take that away…
“Yeah, she's creative! She's like a kid in a candy store when it comes to the creative parts of it. She was just like, ‘I want to play with great musicians, I want to sing this great catalogue of songs and I want to do some stripped back stuff, I want people to hear me and to be able to go out there with my guitar and play a few songs in that way.’ I think it will be a different show, but I think it will be a lot of fun. The tickets have flown out, we're adding more shows to what was already a big run. And it's hard to tour at the moment, it's really hard for our costs. I mean, it's so boring, and nobody wants to hear it, but it's hard to cross the ocean for anybody at the moment. And to have a tour that size be successful, it's hard for people to buy tickets, people don't have a lot of cash. The whole thing is hard, but I can't help feeling that her ticket sales are good because when you're going through a recession, when you're going through these things that are hard, the whole point of music is that it makes you feel good. And so this is a bit of a beacon of hope, and enjoyment. I think that's why people are flocking to come and see the show, to just feel good.”
Subscribers can read the full Shania Twain cover feature here.