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Shania Twain back with new album Queen Of Me after surgery to ‘save her voice’ & ‘killer’ Covid infection

GIDDY UP! Shania Twain back with new album Queen Of Me after surgery to ‘save her voice’ & ‘killer’ Covid infection

By Simon Cosyns | The Sun - UK | January 26, 2023

BY any stretch, Shania Twain’s life has been one helluva ride. 

The horse-loving “Queen Of Country Pop” has a history of euphoric highs and devastating lows.

Now, at 57, the Canadian is back in the saddle for her vibrant, forward-facing sixth studio album, Queen Of Me.

It is the latest step in what Shania calls her “rehabil­itation” to the world stage after two major health scares.

In 2003, she caught Lyme disease, a type of bacterial infection, from a tick while out riding.

It affected the nerves in her vocal chords and meant she required open-throat surgery to save her voice.

“I didn’t know if I’d ever sing again,” she tells me. 

“I thought my career was over.”

Then, much more recently, she had a life-threatening bout of Covid pneumonia at the height of the pandemic.

Shania says: “I was not doing well and was in a hospital isolation room for ­several days. 

“I was given plasma therapy because I had no antibodies but, finally, they started to kick in and I was out of the woods.”

After her recovery, and as soon as she could travel, Shania headed to London for the sessions which resulted in Queen Of Me, including a song about her difficulty breathing, Inhale/Exhale Air.

There she hooked up with some esteemed British producers and even singer Jack Savoretti, who gets a co-write with her on feelgood single Last Day Of Summer.

“I live for the creative part of my work. It’s my therapy, my self-help,” says Shania.

“Even if this procedure on my larynx doesn’t hold up, I’ve still got songwriting.

“It’s all I would do if you didn’t stop me.

“I would probably forget to sleep.”

As if to confirm her passion for all things equine, her album’s opening song is a riotous hoedown called Giddy Up!

“I’m just saying, ‘OK, party’s on’,” she affirms.

“It’s still very country, still the old Shania but it’s also me with a fresh outlook.”

That outlook is plain to hear in the title track which includes the line “I’m a queen who doesn’t need a king”, reaffirming her fabled independent spirit.

“I really feel like I’m driving my own bus,” she says, although she might as well have said, “Riding my own horse”.

The Queen Of Me cover picture likewise sets the tone for what lies within — Shania on a beautiful dark steed in a revealing black outfit and looking every inch a woman in control of her destiny.

“I was very specific about that photo,” she reveals. “It contains so many messages.

“I wanted it to represent somebody who is in charge of their own actions. Sitting up on a horse is just that in itself. 

“And I’m not wearing a bra,” she adds triumphantly.

“I’m being very forthcoming about newfound confidence in my body image.”

Shania says she’s fed up with hearing that keeping in shape is “more difficult as you get older”.

“Well, it can only get worse so, if I don’t start loving my body now, I’m doomed!”

When she broke through in the Nineties, Shania was approaching 30 and something of a late bloomer.

She embarked on an unequalled run of three diamond albums in the States, The Woman In Me (1995), Come On Over (1997) and Up! (2002), each surpassing ten million sales.

Among her hook-laden hits were Any Man Of Mine, You’re Still The One, Man! I Feel Like A Woman and That Don’t Impress Me Much.

Her videos were key, revealing a sassy, sexy performer with a wicked sense of humour.

Today, she says: “I know I’m never going to look 30 again and I refuse to be disappointed about that.

“I want to look in the mirror and go, ‘Yeah, I’m 57 and this is what the average 57-year-old looks like naturally’.”

Though she is mostly based in Switzerland where she lives on a farm with second husband Frédéric Thiébaud, ­Shania is speaking to me from America’s West Coast.

I ask her what sort of fitness regime she employs.

“I still ride fairly often,” she replies. “I had a really good, physical ride yesterday.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh boy, maybe I’ve pushed it a bit’, but I feel great today. Also I’m very active on stage and I do really watch what I eat.”

Shania first fell in love with horses when she was ten, living with her hard-up family in the mining town of Timmins, Ontario.

“We had neighbours with horses and I just wanted to be around them,” she says.

“I couldn’t ride them — I didn’t know how to — but I would clean the stalls and feed them.

“I really loved their company and then I slowly started riding without any ­training.”

Despite singing in clubs from a very early age, she recalls: “I couldn’t own a horse because I couldn’t afford one.

“Riding is not a poor person’s sport in North America.”

Her mother Sharon and stepfather Jerry could barely afford a car and when Shania was 22, still dreaming of hitting the big time, they were killed in a road accident, leaving her to look after her younger siblings.

“It wasn’t until I was 29 that I could buy my first horse and, ever since, I’ve been riding as much as I can,” she ­continues.

One of Shania’s most memorable ­videos was shot in Egypt for The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You) and shows her in a flowing white dress galloping around the pyramids.

She remembers it well and says: “If you want to do anything really epic, you have to be up for the adventure.

“That one was definitely an adventure! I couldn’t be precious about it because I was riding a horse I didn’t know in rusty stirrups with bare feet and no helmet.

“It was dangerous, very rocky and wild, but I’ve always felt brave about exploring the visual element of my music.

“It’s very important to me.”

Today, thanks to all her success, she can enjoy an idyllic life beside Lake Geneva.

Switzerland is my base and most of my horses are there. We also take our dogs out on a boat all the time,” she says.

“I love being on the lake. Growing up in Canada, there were lakes everywhere.”

Last year, a captivating Netflix biopic, Not Just A Girl, charted Shania’s rise from poverty in rural Ontario to global superstardom.

It showed pictures and footage of this young girl with a clear, sweet voice singing in seedy bars to help scrape a living for her family.

She says: “Looking back at that stuff, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Wow, this is probably why I had stage fright for so many years’.

“I was performing in bars full of drunk adults, places that were just not comfortable for me at that age. It was very intimidating.

“But I loved the music. I loved to sing, I loved writing and I was very professional about it.

“As I say in the film, I really did have a hundred songs in my repertoire.”

Despite vivid memories of that time, Shania says: “I feel a little disassociated from it — as though it was another lifetime.

“But whoever I am now is due to all those experiences.

“Whether they were good or bad, they contributed to my talent, my character and my whole perspective on life and career.”

The Not Just A Girl documentary revisits the moment she finally got a record deal to make her self-titled debut in 1993, though success did not come overnight.

But when she hooked up with producer and husband-to-be Mutt Lange, they struck gold (or, I should say, diamonds).

He had worked with AC/DC, including their seminal Back In Black album, Def Leppard and Foreigner.

By bringing rock into the mix with country and pop, Shania had an all-conquering, stadium-sized sound.

“I have always been a hybrid artist,” she says.

“My earliest roots are my grandparents’ and parents’ country music, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings.

“I still really like those story­tellers and my songwriting education came from them. But, as I got into my teens, the bars were hiring rock bands so my repertoire had to change.

“I started doing Journey and Queen and The Beatles and, by the time I got a deal, I had developed my own style.

“Then when Mutt heard my voice, he brought the rock edge in even more with guitar-led arrangements.”

Cue those three diamond albums, huge arena shows and those iconic videos which all made Shania the best-selling female country artist in history.

Next, however, came twin devastations — first she contracted Lyme disease, preventing her from singing, and then cheating Mutt ran off with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud.

After her 2010 divorce, in a remarkable twist, she married Marie-Anne’s ex-husband Frédéric.

But Shania believes the most “challenging” of her setbacks was losing her voice. “I had seven years of not knowing if I would sing again,” she says.

In the film, you see how Lionel Richie persuaded her to join him in the Bahamas to record a new duet of his ballad Endless Love, originally featuring Diana Ross.

It proved to be Shania’s first baby step back to the limelight.

“That was before I had the operation but at least I knew my voice was somewhere in there, that my muscle memory could kick in,” she says

“Then all I had to do was get the anatomy sorted. There was no other choice but to have this operation.

“It was the only possible procedure out there and so I was like, ‘OK, well, if I really want to sing again for real, I’ve got to do this.’ So I took the plunge.”

In 2017, Shania released her comeback album Now and, er, now she’s taken things to the next level with Queen Of Me.

She says: “This album is an experiment in testing my voice, where will it go, where won’t it go.

“I have mourned never being able to do certain things again but I learned very quickly to focus on what I can do. 

“There are still a lot of lovely qualities in there. I like them, I enjoy them and I don’t try to fix them. They are part of the character of my new voice.”

I sense from talking to this unstoppable soul that she won’t be riding off into the sunset any time soon.


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