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It’s been 20 years since Shania Twain's self-titled debut was released, and over a decade since her last full-length studio release. In the space of just nine years, from 1993 to 2003, Twain hit the country music industry like a grenade, blowing it up from the inside out. She made women-centric pop crossovers a modern country staple (you’re welcome, Dixie Chicks, Taylor Swift) and her third album, Come On Over, is one of the biggest and best-selling country albums of all time.

But for me at least, her legacy is a complicated one. As a teenager, I couldn’t stand Twain. I felt her brand of coy, sexy country-pop pushed women back 10 or 15 years. I wrote her off as a construct of male fantasy: a girl who could ride a horse while showing off an impossibly toned bare midriff by day and slip into some sort of cleavage-baring cocktail dress at night, the emphasis always on her sex appeal first, relatability second, talent third.

In retrospect, I think my frustrations were warranted, but it was terribly un-feminist of me to ignore the ground she was breaking. I only saw what I felt were the shattered pieces of progress sacrificed by virtue of her success. I saw her success as reaffirming and congratulating patriarchy on making women conform to a specific set of ideals, of being rewarded for going along with the charade that one needs to be perceived as at least twice as sexy as they are talented in order to make it.

I couldn’t see Twain’s success as having value to all women, but it did and it does. I didn’t see her skillful manipulation of the surface to push her subversive, secret agenda — an agenda that would change country music, for a little while at least, and give rise to a new generation of women writing and producing their own material. On all of her albums, Twain asserted what she wanted as a woman, or at least what her female characters wanted, and not in service of the male gaze but in service of herself. Not that I can personally get behind every lyric, but from “Any Man of Mine” to “That Don’t Impress Me Much” to “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face,” Twain reiterated over and over again a woman’s power and independence. A number of her songs that didn’t chart reinforced feminist themes, such as "If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!."

It’s particularly striking given the current prevalence of bro-country (Florida Georgia Line, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan) that’s taken over the airwaves, stadiums and even the recent CCMA Awards. Taylor Swift has moved entirely into pop at this point, leaving Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert as modern country’s two main solo female artists. Earlier this summer, Twain announced via Facebook that she’s finally working on her fifth studio release. It’s a comeback I never dreamed I wanted, but now I think it can’t come soon enough. 

To celebrate Twain's 20 years in the music industry, I've put together the gallery above of some of her biggest moments, career highlights and surprising stories about the life and times of Shania Twain.

Follow Andrea Warner on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner.

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Shania Twain: 20 years of bad feelings, bare midriffs and breaking ground

It’s been 20 years since Shania Twain's self-titled debut was released, and over a decade since her l…

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kewi
#1 posted by
kewi
on Sep 20, 2013

I'd like to suggest that her success has paved the way for another young female musician who wasn't mentioned in your article: Miley Cyrus.  Every time a woman "makes it" by selling out, she sends the message to the younger talent that this is what you need to do to get attention and get ahead.  More - every time a woman bares some skin, the next woman thinks she needs to bare more, to ante up.  As a woman and as a musician, I think the only way for this stuff to end, is for all of us to refuse to trade on our looks or our sexuality to promote our music.  You see it in every genre, including classical.  Ladies - it's up to us to change this!  And by all means, let's hold each other accountable.

shellygrrl
#2 posted by
shellygrrl
on Sep 24, 2013

@kewi: Nice slut-shaming there.

How about if a woman chooses to bear some skin, let her. If a woman chooses to be provocative, let her. Women should be empowered to choose either/or for themselves, not be told that they have to cover up. Their worth isn't in how much skin they choose to reveal or cover, but the choice is THEIRS, not ours, to make.

How about instead of shaming female artists for what they wear, they're judged by what they do with their talent?

fidel_castro
#3 posted by
fidel_castro
on Sep 29, 2013

What a surprise, CBC music snob looks down her nose at music millions of Canadians love. 

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