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Happy birthday, Shania Twain: From wannabe rockstar to country music queen, here's how she ruled the charts

As we celebrate Shania Twain on her birthday, August 28, here is a look at her resilience, endurance and ability to produce some of the world's most beloved country songs
UPDATED AUG 28, 2020
Shania Twain (Getty Images)
Shania Twain (Getty Images)

It may come as a surprise to learn that Shania Twain, the best-selling female country artist of all time, had different plans for her chosen genre upon entering the musical arena. As we celebrate Shania Twain on her birthday, August 28, here is a look at her resilience, endurance and ability to produce some of the world's most beloved country songs.

When you think of Shania, you will most likely recall her country bangers such as 'That Don't Impress Me Much', 'Man! I Feel Like a Woman' or her powerful ballads, 'You're Still the One', 'From This Moment On', but would her music still have had the lasting impact it has today if she were a rock or pop singer? Fans will agree, the turnout would have probably been just as positive if you've ever known how legendary she truly is.

That question may seem arbitrary, yet Shania actually wanted to become a rock or pop singer in her youth. Thankfully, that didn't pan out because we never would have heard her stunning collection of songs that we have today. However, as we dive into her impact on country music and its culture, it's important to note the key elements here: her resounding talent and inspirational personality.

Singer Shania Twain arrives at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 19, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Coming out of the cocoon 

In 1984, Shania who was born with the name Eilleen Regina Edwards was noticed by Toronto DJ Stan Campbell who wrote about her in a Country Music News article: "Eilleen possesses a powerful voice with an impressive range. She has the necessary drive, ambition and positive attitude to achieve her goals". After recruiting Shania for backing vocals on the Tim Denis song 'Heavy on the Sunshine', Campbell then took her to Nashville to record some demos. During the time, Shania met regional country singer Mary Bailey who had country chart success in 1976. 

According to the Robin Eggar biography of Shania Twain, Bailey saw her perform during one of her shows in Sudbury, Ontario. She said of the young Shania, "I saw this little girl up on stage with a guitar and it absolutely blew me away. She performed Willie Nelson's 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain' and Hank Williams' 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry'. Her voice reminded me of Tanya Tucker, it had strength and character, a lot of feeling. She's a star, she deserves an opportunity." Bailey later noted, "She sang a few songs that she had written, and I thought to myself, this kid is like nineteen years old, where does she get this? This is from a person who's lived sixty years."

Bailey then acquired the contract from Campbell and Shania moved into Bailey's home where she allegedly practised her music every day for hours. In the fall of 1985, Shania moved in with Bailey's friend, record producer Tony Migliore. At the time she recorded a seven-song demo for Migliore and Cyril Rawson. Interestingly, it was that demo that adopted a mix of rock and roll, but the songs were never played publicly.

In the summer of 1986, Bailey arranged for her to meet John Kim Bell, who had close contacts with the directors of the Canadian Country Music Association, but Shania's continued desire to be a pop or rock singer and not country led to a falling out with Mary Bailey for two years. The following year would see Shania catching her first big break, arranged by Bell (whom she was secretly dating at the time). Bell staged a fundraiser for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (now Indspire) at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto where Shania performed with Broadway star Bernadette Peters, guitarist Don Ross, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Her performance was met with a lukewarm reception, and Bell was insistent that she should then concentrate on country music.

Canadian singer-songwriter Shania Twain performs at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on July 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

The niche that broke barriers

It was that advice that would see Shania making the biggest decision of her career. With several ups-and-downs throughout her life, one characteristic of the beloved country singer has remained: her consistency. Once she came into her own and adapted to sounds that weren't her original pursuit, Shania found a niche that was her own and stuck with it. Furthermore, playing music that isn't something your surround yourself with isn't an easy task and her hard work is felt in her tracks. Her songs are polished, crisp, jaw-dropping for the vocals and their catchiness is just a part of it.

Even though her music resides in the country sphere, let's not ignore that one of the biggest beneficial factors of a Shania Twain song is that there are traces of rock and pop sounds: this is probably the edge her songs have had to become successful and noticed by critics over the years. Several articles written by critics will include song descriptions as either country, rock, or pop and it is that subtle ambiguity of her sound that piques the interest of music lovers across those three genres. Beautifully juxtaposed to her up-tempo tracks are the equally satisfying ballads that hit hard and emotive, often leaving fans in tears.

Shania has sold over 100 million records, making her the best-selling female artist in country music history. Her 1997 album 'Come On Over' wore the crown at No. 1 on the country charts for a combined 50 weeks. It became the best-selling country album of all time reaching 40 million in worldwide sales, as well as the top-selling album by a solo female artist.

Artists such as Nick Jonas, Lauren Alaina, and Darius Rucker have shared how much Shania impacted them. Nick spoke with iHeart Radio about Shania who shared he first heard her when he was nine years old and watched her Chicago concert on TV.  "It blew my mind," he said. "The performance as a whole, how many hits she had, and just the impact she had on people's lives was really special. Then over time, I think the songs continued to mean more and more to me, and that's a beautiful thing when an artist can become a part of the fabric of your life."

Darius said, "When I hear the name Shania Twain, the first thing that comes to my mind is just 'superstar.'" He added, "She's crossed so many genres and broke down so many barriers, and just really had the songs and all the stuff it takes to be a superstar. She had that thing that made you want to look at her, and made you want to see her, and made you want to go out, and buy a ticket to her show."