Skip to main content

Home Culture Culture Music

Shania Twain on new music, LGBTQ fans and childhood gender struggle: ‘I didn’t want to be a girl’

Exclusive: The 'Man! I Feel Like a Woman!' singer also shares with Attitude her dream collabs with Harry Styles and Taylor Swift.

By Alastair James

Shania Twain
Shania Twain (Image: Louie Banks)

“I definitely write in exclamations a lot of the time!” concedes Shania Twain.

The legendary singer has sat down with Attitude to discuss her upcoming album, Queen of Me. That and the song of the same name are exclamations of who Shania is at this moment in time, but also who she’s always been.

From the beginning of her career, Shania has always seemed like she’s had a definite point of view. She knows who she is, what she wants to say, and how to say it. Her use of grammar in her song titles is a hint at that.

But as she tells Attitude here, it was not always the case. In fact, at one point, Shania wanted to be “a male wrestler.”

Shania reveals that, for a time, she found being a woman uncomfortable while growing up in an abusive household.

It’s something the singer opened up about in her 2022 Netflix documentary, Shania Twain: Not Just A Girl.

So she tried ways of suppressing her femininity, taking on a tomboy-ish aesthetic. Now, however, she’s proud to own every part of herself as it is.

Queen of Me is a celebration of this.

Shania Twain, Queen of Me
Shania Twain’s Queen of Me is out on 3 February 2023. (Image: Provided)

With upbeat and rousing bops such as ‘Giddy Up,’ and ‘Waking Up Dreaming’, to the more considered and contemplative ‘The Hardest Stone,’ Queen of Me shows Shania is back to strength after the Covid pandemic.

As she also tells Attitude: “I was writing music that I want to dance to.”

Here, the only artist to have three diamond albums in a row in the US talks about the inclusive meaning behind ‘Queen of Me,’ her difficult childhood, and which pop stars she wants to collab with.

(We’ll give you a hint, she’s already performed with at least one of them.)

It’s lovely to meet you. I actually brought something with me just to show you. [Holds up a physical copy of the 1997 Come On Over album] I think I knew all the words to this before I knew all my times tables!

Haha! We’re all guilty of that!

For sure! Now, Queen of Me, it’s euphoric in places, it’s contemplative in others. Overall, it feels like you’re looking ahead. Are we seeing a brand-new Shania Twain here?

Haha! I do enjoy renewing myself or certainly evolving. I really do write myself out of the past. I’m always writing about where I’m going or talking about my aspirations or my inspirations. Probably because songwriting is therapy for me – it’s my go-to self-help. Queen of Me, the album, being written during Covid, even though I love to be alone when I’m writing, the forced isolation was getting me down. It was getting society down in general. I felt myself writing for the purpose of keeping myself in a good mood. The songs really came out that way. And it worked! [For me] I was writing music that I want to dance to. I’m hoping it has that effect on everyone else too.

Shania Twain, Queen of Me
Shania Twain is back! (Image: Louie Banks)

It’s definitely had that effect on me – I’ve been dancing around for days now. The neighbours might be fed up but I’m having a great time!

That’s really great. So many of the songs are very danceable and very singable. [But] there are a lot of thoughtful lyrics on the album.

I’m really interested in the song ‘Queen of Me’. Does that feel like a title that you can only claim for yourself now? Was there a particular reason for that song title?

It’s a definite statement. I definitely write in exclamations a lot of the time. A title or an exclamation like that basically represents so much and this particular song represents my spirit in the moment, which is taking ownership of my own mood, turning my mood around, and not letting Covid overwhelm me. I just felt self-empowered in that.

Throughout your career, you’ve always had a very strong sense of voice, who you are, and how you show that through music and visuals as well. Was this song a personal reminder of that strength as well?

Oh, yeah! I’m definitely a take-charge kind of person. I’m the boss of me, is really another way of saying it. Throughout my career, I’ve been pushed around a little bit. It’s the nature of the music industry. It’s the nature of, sometimes, being a woman in more of a man’s environment. Also, as a child, being underprivileged and in a lot of environments that would have made me feel insecure. I just feel like I’ve arrived. I feel like I arrived a long time ago and I’m saying: ‘Listen, I’m not bully-able.’ If that’s a word. It doesn’t work with me anymore. I’m too strong now.

Shania Twain, Queen of Me
Shania Twain poses nude for the Queen of Me album (Image: Louie Banks)

I think a lot of those feelings would resonate quite strongly with the LGBTQ community. In ‘Queen of Me’ you wrote: ‘I’m not a girl. I’m not a boy, I’m not a baby, I’m not a toy, I’m a Queen.’ There’s something there for everyone regardless of who they are. Is that how you meant for that song to come across?

Absolutely. I think it’s quite normal to go through phases and periods of identity crisis. I certainly did. Being adopted, I didn’t know what family I belonged to, who I really was. And then fame kicks in and there’s a lot of confusion about who am I really. So, ‘Queen of Me,’ to me, does say it all for anyone that is still searching and getting to the point of being definitive about who you are. It’s so important. It’s a very celebratory song – this is who I am and I’m comfortable in my own skin to say it out loud.

Have you always felt a strong connection with your LGBTQ fans?

I see them in my audience. I hear from them. I’ve got lots of friends in that community. So, it’s part of my daily life. It’s really fun to visibly see the presence more now. Obviously, the community has been part of my fan base probably since ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman!’ but I’m just seeing them more openly present and voicing up. That’s really great. I think we’ve come a long way there. I just always hope that everybody in my audience feels comfortable to be there.

In a recent interview, you talked about flattening your chest to appear less feminine as a child. Again, I think sections of the LGBTQ community could relate to struggling with how they looked or felt for different reasons. Have you heard from people about how your personal story as well as your music resonates?

Yes, I do. When I was 10, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I remember my mom asked me one time, she said: ‘What do you want to be when you grew up?’ I was probably nine. And I told her that I wanted to be – this is going to be really weird that I’m saying this, I think it’s the first time I’ve said it out aloud – but I told her I wanted to be a male wrestler. I wanted to be a bodybuilder.

Haha! I used to always watch wrestling and I wanted to be strong. I didn’t even really know what I was saying. She was horrified! Then my body starts developing. And now I’m turning into this girl and I’m hating it. I just want to carry on playing sports, I was very athletic, I was very tomboyish. That’s what everybody called me. I was strapping down my chest so that I wouldn’t bounce and wearing loose clothes so I didn’t have curves. I was pushing back; I didn’t want to be a girl, I felt intimidated by being a girl. It got attention that I didn’t like, it made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t explain it really. I was never on the beach with the other kids in a bathing suit, I was always very shy about my body, very insecure.

Finally, I start started making [music] videos. All of a sudden, there was a platform where I could explore fashion and use myself sort of like a hanger, just draping things. I started to appreciate what fashion could do with the body. And that is when I started thinking, I actually don’t mind being a woman, I don’t mind now that I’ve developed into a woman. I’m starting to embrace the pleasure of things that are fitted for me, for my shape. I can take off my bra altogether and I started to feel more beautiful which was a very strange feeling for me.

Now, I wouldn’t have been able to do that on a beach, for example, but I was able to do it for a video and I was able to be more expressive making videos, which was such a liberating experience for me. So, making videos is where I had all of my fun being female all of a sudden, and this is where ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman!’ became a song in the first place.

Shania Twain
The ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman’ singer has always felt connected with her LGBTQ fans (Image: Louie Banks)

Was finding the right platform key for you to express yourself and feel that liberation?

Yes, the creative platform was the first discovery of how I could actually grow into myself as a woman and accept it without feeling like I had to hide myself. I was coming out of my shell, I guess as a woman for the first time. There was a lot of inappropriate behaviour in my house growing up as well, there were a lot of reasons why I didn’t want to be a woman. I was fondled, my mother was beaten a lot, and there was a lot of violence. So, it was like, who wants to be a woman?

In my mind [then] I don’t think I want to be a woman. I want to just avoid this altogether. So, I did fight that for a very long time, and it affected me. I’m finally now more comfortable in my own skin than ever. 57 years, that’s way too long! I like to say to people, please get comfortable in your own skin ASAP. Be yourself. I was trying to hide myself.

I remember thinking when I was younger, before I had money, I thought, when I start making some money, I’m getting a breast reduction, I was going to change my body. I’m so glad I made it through all of that intact. And I actually love myself now. I can look in the mirror, and I can say that I have great respect for my body. Whatever faults it may have in the eyes of society, I don’t care.

You collected the Music Icon Award at the People’s Choice Awards in 2022. You mentioned ‘love is love’. The LGBTQ community in America is going through a tough time at the moment. What would your message be to people at the moment?

I do think that love is the most inspiring mindset to be in. It is very easy to get angry when you are being ridiculed and oppressed. Hated, even. But I’ve always found that feeling hate in return or as a result just doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It’s toxic. Stay with love, love is love, and love yourself. If you can love yourself and keep that emotion in the forefront. That is the best way to survive. You’ve got to survive this and then thrive.

Shania Twain, Queen of Me
Shania Twain’s Queen of Me is out now (Image: Louie Banks)

After your performance with Harry Styles at Coachella last year, is there any update on collaboration between the two of you?

I’d love to. We haven’t yet. That was our moment together on stage. I don’t know when the next one’s gonna be. I’d love to sing with him even in a more intimate setting in a recording. We’ll see. I may be crossing paths with him again soon. And I’m gonna have to tell him that everybody keeps asking me that.

Is there anyone else that you would want to collaborate with?

Oh, gosh! I’ve got so many artists that I love. I’ve been thinking lately about how much Taylor [Swift] and I have in common. We have a lot of parallels. I just see us getting together in a room and writing a song, getting our guitars out, and creating something that we bond over. That would be fabulous. Also Taylor Joseph from 21 Pilots.

Shania Twain
The star is keen to work with Harry Styles again. We’re keen for that too! (Image: Louie Banks)

Finally, have you ever been approached about working on a ‘Shania Twain’ musical of your life? Or has anyone approached you about using your music in a jukebox musical?

There actually is a musical. It’s been in the works for a while now. My music is the soundtrack, so that’s really exciting. It’s not about my life, which I enjoy the creativity of and seeing how my music applies to a written story. So, that’s very much in the works, and I’m excited about it. Hopefully, that will be surfacing in the near future.

I guess it’s not the one I started writing…

Oh! Fabulous!

Queen of Me by Shania Twain is available now.