It may be difficult for the current generation to visualize, but music videos once actually played on TV. Canadian cable in the 90s/early 2000s was populated by such channels as Much Music (Top 40), Much More Music (older Top 40) and Country Music Television (CMT) where all the country music lived before sitcoms eventually took over. My dad was a particular fan of the latter channel and its genre, often tuning in during the evenings after the news hour. It was here that I was exposed to the likes of Paul Brandt, Michelle Wright, Lone Star, Faith Hill, Amanda Marshall and the greatest of them all, Shania Twain.
I can’t overstate the fact that Shania was (and many would argue still is) the Queen of Country Pop, having successfully crossed over between the two genres with her winning mix of party jams, heart-rending ballads, stunning visual style and an explosive stage performance to boot. Then suddenly after four albums, three of which were among the biggest of their generation, Shania suddenly sank from public view and didn’t emerge for nearly a decade. The highs, lows and comeback of her legendary career are chronicled in the recently dropped Netflix documentary, Shania Twain: Not Just a Girl.
Raised in the small Ontario town of Timmins, Shania was seemingly singing not long after learning to walk. This talent was nurtured by her mother who would often have her sing in bars after last call which helped her low-income family pay the bills. As a teen, she was the lead singer in the local band and was sometimes invited to perform on shows like Tommy Hunter on CBC. Tragedy struck in 1987 when her parents were killed in a car crash, forcing a devastated Shania to support her four younger siblings by performing at a vegas-style show at the Deerhurst resort.
After finally scoring an album contract in 1992, Shania was disappointed at the lack of input she was allowed into the musical content of her self-titled debut album. Her sassy and sexy presence displayed in the album’s accompanying music videos however gave her some notice and it was her second album The Woman in Me which saw her collaborate with industry veteran and eventual husband Robert “Mutt” Lange that really put Shania on the country map.
But being Queen of Country wasn’t enough. Shania had her sights set on international superstardom and with the help of new management, her third album Come On Over sent her career straight into the stratosphere with 12 out of the 16 songs being released as singles, “a good deal for the consumer” as one of the interviewees points out.
With two megahit albums and a sell-out world tour, Shania still wasn’t content to rest on her laurels. After taking time off to have her son Eja, she was back in 2002 with yet another hit album, Up which took the unique step of releasing in three different mixes: country, pop and international. I believe my dad bought all three.
It was after touring for this album that Shania soon dropped out of sight. It turns out this was due to lyme disease (an affliction which also struck fellow Canadian singer Avril Lavigne). After effects severely affected her singing voice which Twain reveals was a real struggle to come to terms with. Some friendly encouragement/pressure from Lionel Richie to join him on a new duet of “Endless Love” helped her jump-start her journey back to the limelight which resulted in a Las Vegas residency in 2012 and finally a new album, Now, in 2017. Having influenced countless singers including Taylor Swift and Orville Peck, Shania is now working on her sixth album which will doubtless continue to showcase her seemingly bottomless grace and talent.
Taking its name from the recently released compilation album, Not Just a Girl capably opens the book on the story of one of Canada’s greatest talent exports. Those unfamiliar with her background will find plenty to enjoy here as Shania opens up about her struggle to launch on her own terms and her later battle against lingering effects of disease and divorce.
Unfortunately, the doc comes up short of delivering a satisfying overview of Twain’s life and career as it skips details like her disputed Indian Status (her stepfather was Ojibwe) and the entire section on her last album (released 15 years after her fourth) seems to end before it even has a chance to begin. The section on her compromised singing voice alone was one of the most engrossing parts of the doc. At a scant 88 minutes, you can’t help but wonder what the rush was.
Not Just a Girl ultimately like an extended “Behind the Music” special albeit without the commercial bumpers. It serves as a slick overview that merely scratches the surface. Shania is more or less well-served here, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that one of the world’s brightest musical legends deserved a more comprehensive profile.
Shania Twain: Not Just a Girl is now streaming worldwide on Netflix