In the six years since her last album, Now, Shania Twain has held a Las Vegas residency, released a Netflix documentary giving an uncharacteristically frank yet characteristically empowering look at her career, and announced a 54-date world tour. True to her roots, she’ll be accompanied by a handful of today’s most polished pop country singers like Kelsea Ballerini, Lindsay Ell and Mickey Guyton.
This eye for her own brand and the ear to give it a 2023 coat of paint has helped Shania make a shift to the status of being a protected Gen Z icon and is the same approach that allowed one of her own greatest influences, Dolly Parton, to do the same thing.
This self-awareness and lack of pomp make you root for Shania on her new album, Queen of Me. Twain’s vocals are certainly changed, caused by Lyme disease, which led to nerve damage, but she understands and reveres the love that people have for her ‘90s hits and happily nods to them.
In fact, the “!” on ‘Giddy Up!’, the most obviously country-leaning number on the album, is a direct reference to Man! I Feel Like A Woman. Despite some rather on-the-nose lyrics (“I’m not a girl, I’m not a boy, I’m not a baby, I’m not a toy, I’m a queen” on the album’s title track, for instance), it translates to an infectious euphoria that makes you want to cheer her on – and maybe even share this tape with your friends. I say “tape” not because I’m old but because in another ‘90s nod, *technically* this release has an A-side and a B-side, at least according to Shania’s Instagram. How this will translate to streaming services is unclear – there’s certainly no reference to it on Spotify.
Shania made her name as a crossover artist, and it’s fair to say that, at least on this album, she is standing quite firmly on one side of the pop-country line. Despite the fact that underlays of acoustic guitar thrummed throughout, the production is thoroughly pop.
Songs like the heady ‘Waking Up Dreaming’ sound like something the Weeknd would cut, accompanied by a quick ten seconds of Queen-inspired guitar. ‘Pretty Liar’ has the same bubblegum, light-headed feel as ‘Marry You’ by Bruno Mars. It’s all wrapped up in the synth-driven swell of Taylor Swift’s Midnights and scattered with plenty of Meghan Trainor-style “ooohs”, “heys”, “uh uhs”, “do do do dos”, and “la la la las”.
Though, of course, as Shania holds the record of being the best-selling female country artist of all time, it’s a matter of opinion on who inspired who. ‘Number One’ is a shimmery, disco-inflected number. When Shania stops singing midway through to say “get the lights”, you’ll find yourself instantly taken back to the “okay, so you’re a rocket scientist” of ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’.
The lyrics as well are mostly pop-driven, though tender ballads like ‘Last Day of Summer’ contain enough of the strange and specific lyrical detail (“I think you’re funny, you think I’m smart, ‘cause I can name the planets all by heart”) to turn them into stories you’d expect from a country star.
It makes sense because this album isn’t about everyday life’s details. It’s about the excitement of a Shania reborn, or as she says on ‘Brand New’, “you’ll always be the same old you but I’m a brand new me”. Maybe… but if this album proves anything, we haven’t said goodbye to the old Shania just yet.