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by Paul Read
And you thought maple syrup was the sweetest thing to come out of Canada... Even sweeter is the woman who has broken all traditions, all records, and a whole lot of hearts. The absolutely stunning Shania Twain has done something in which almost every other country music wannabe has failed dismally - to make it in the United Kingdom.
Maybe it's just our cynical, blinkered attitude that prevents these country bumpkins getting any further than Heathrow Airport customs. There must be a big room, decked with Stetsons and Magnums - filled with the likes of Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty and every other artist from Nashville, Tennessee who had the same delusions of making it big this side of the pond. But then comes this individual who prefers to appeal to as many people as she can.
Ah! So that's the trick to this popular music lark. Well, in order to appeal you have to be appealing, and that's unquestionably what Twain is. Making commercial music since 1993, Shania is no one-hit wonder. Her first album, "Shania Twain" initially sold a mere 100,000 copies, with no more than one of her songs on the record. Written by Nashville for Nashville, Shania's dreams of international stardom were fading.
But then came along Shania's liberator - Robert John "Mutt" Lange. If you liked a track, Lange most likely produced it. Responsible for Def Leppard, Bryan Adams and The Backstreet Boys amongst hundreds of other successful bands, Mutt happened to notice Shania in one of her music videos for the song "What Made You Say That", whilst working in London a few months after her album was released. Within six months they were married and making music together; within two years, Shania Twain was one of the biggest names in country music history thanks to her huge album, "The Woman In Me".
Okay, so all of this was going on when Britpop ruled our world. Oasis and Blur fighting it out for No. 1. What did we care about the country music revolution that Shania had started, threatening years of convention and in the British opinion, boredom? A full three years of experience and the confidence acquired from countless hits in the Americas and Australia made Shania actually think that she could get away with it - coming to Britain that was. Shania publicly stated in front of 20,000 fans packed into Wembley Arena that she was so afraid coming here. And who can blame her.
Of course it was going to be tough. Try playing anything remotely country on a bus and you'll be walking home. Shania and her management team, incorporating London based publicity consultants, drew up their battle plans to release her current album in conjunction with its international translation. "Come On Over" became two differing but equally acclaimed albums which since 1997 have sold over 30 million copies between them.
The steel guitars, the banjos, and the violins were filtered out with the subtle use of drum machines and synthesisers whilst maintaining the original essence and direction of her work. Determined to keep die-hard fans content, but at the same time attracting a new fanbase, has proven tricky to Shania and her team of consultants and will continue to be. The trouble is that a good proportion of her British and European aficionados prefer the original.
Shania's record label, Mercury Nashville, tested the British public with the country sounds contained within the American version of "Man! I Feel Like A Woman" in place of the widely expected international version. Not as successful as many had hoped and with a little too much country twang for most, the song only reached No. 3, failing to produce the same interest that her remixed hit "That Don't Impress Me Much" managed to create a few months previously. Although "Come On Over" was the biggest selling album of 1999 in the UK, spending weeks at the top of the chart, Shania has yet to make the No. 1 spot in the singles charts.
Her latest offering, "Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)", has already been criticised of tipping this uneasy balance well over to the other side. Barely able to hear Shania's beautiful voice amongst the drum and bass, the radio edit sounds nothing like the album version, and claims that she is in danger of distracting her most loyal fans could turn out to be quite true. Judging between chart success and allegiance to her most devoted followers could be the most important decision Shania and her management have yet to make when her new album is released next year. Whether or not Shania plans to release two versions of her music is yet to be revealed.
Now being one of the most recognised female faces in the world, Shania's life is somewhat different than it was five years ago. Winning hundreds of awards and millions of dedicated followers, her conversational, simplistic lyrics, and effective music touches even the most country-hating of hearts. With one of the most distinctive voices in her business (and it is her business) and also being the most accurate and cleanest, it's a winning combination that those Nashville writers back in 1993 failed to tap.
Currently working on her third album deep within her Swiss chateau, Shania's cooking up something that is sure to make her the most successful female music artist in history and not even the ignorant tastes of us British can deny it.