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Shania Twain's 'Come On Over' Turns 20: The Singer Reflects on Going From Country Sweetheart to Best-Selling Pop Superstar
By 1997, Shania Twain was already at a point in her career that most artists can only dream of: Her sophomore album, 1994’s The Woman in Me, had spawned four No. 1 songs on the Hot Country Songs chart (as well as notcing her first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100's top 40), and in November would be certified Diamond by the RIAA, an exceptional level of crossover success for an artist from her genre.
While the now 52-year-old admits she was shocked by the second LP's success, it gave her confidence to really dive deep into her songwriting for the album to follow. "I felt more grounded, and I’d made a lot of discoveries in what I wanted to do and try out,” she tells Billboard over the phone. “I just felt freer to experiment."
Twain’s creative liberation -- which she also attributes, in part, to Robert “Mutt” Lange, her then-husband and regular co-writer/producer -- resulted in a follow-up that practically made its predecessor look like a warm-up record. On Nov. 4, 1997, Twain released Come On Over, a 16-track, genre-bending album that pushed boundaries in both a musical and visual sense, with some of its music videos becoming as instantly iconic as the hits they accompanied (see, for example, the leopard-print cloak in "That Don't Impress Me Much").
The album was such a brilliant fusion of country, pop and rock that it quickly solidified Twain’s legacy, with 11 of the 16 songs hitting the top 30 on the Hot Country Songs chart (8 of which were in the top 10, including three No. 1s). What’s more, Come On Over has sold 15.7 million copies in the U.S. to date – the top-selling country album and the best-selling album by a female artist in any genre in Nielsen music history, since the company started tracking sales in 1991.
Certified Diamond by the RIAA on April 7, 1999, Come On Over sent Twain around the world touring for a year-and-a-half straight, with the album’s final single being released in 2000. Though Come On Over’s success was legendary, Twain today admits, “the album was outlasting me,” which partially accounted for the eventual 15-year break the singer-songwriter took before picking things up where she left off earlier this year with her fifth LP, Now, which topped the Billboard 200 albums chart.
In honor of the album’s 20th anniversary, Billboard chatted with the superstar about how she approached following up her first Diamond record, why she wanted to push the limits with Come On Over, and the impact the album had on her career from 1997 to Now. Below, see an edited transcript of her look back.
We were very surprised by how big The Woman in Me became in the first place. So that was already something that went beyond my expectations. I really just felt very lucky, and wasn’t sure that it was even possible to get another Diamond album off the back of that one.
I didn’t tour off The Woman in Me, and that was partly because I really felt I needed more powerful music under my belt to get out and do a really powerful show, and one where I wasn’t doing any covers -- I’d spent my whole career up until then doing covers to make a living. It was important to me to focus a lot on the songwriting, and not be touring at the same time.
One thing I learned [from] the gap between the first two [LPs] was that you can’t rush writing good songs -- you’ve got to take your time, you can’t be distracted doing other things. I can only speak for myself, but I was looking around me and noticing a lot of other artists were putting out a lot more records. They were putting out a record once a year, or once every two years, and they were getting one song hit off the album, and then that was pretty much it. And it just felt like it was a trend for me in the way I was working, and the way Mutt was also working, that it just takes longer to make a truly great album, if you want it to be that great.
My mindset was, “Right now, I’m a songwriter. I’m not a performer. I’ve got to put my performance side on hold and focus on being the best songwriter that I can be.” So I put my head down, focused on the songwriting and went to work. I was kind of pragmatic about it, to be honest. It was just time to make an album that was my best in that moment.
I was a bit more nervous with this record because… a song like “Any Man of Mine,” that song really made a huge statement in country music. And I’m thinking to myself, “How am I ever gonna top [that]?” -- to me, that was the perfect female country [song], it was everything I wanted to say. It had all the attitude that I love about a great country song, and I just wasn’t sure I was going to be able to capture some of that in this next album.
But [Mutt] had a lot of confidence in my songwriting, and after the success of The Woman in Me, I felt more grounded and I’d made a lot of discoveries in what I wanted to do and experiment with. I felt even more liberated going into the making of that album.
There were key moments in writing [Come On Over] that felt like I was really getting somewhere deep in my maturity of songwriting. “You’re Still the One,” that felt like it was going to be an amazing song. I can never anticipate when a song is going to be a hit when it’s my own song, ‘cause I’m just too close to the music and I’m not always objective about that. But I was very excited about “You’re Still the One," and ‘From This Moment On" as well.
One of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written is “The Woman in Me,” and that song didn’t get the appreciation that I was hoping it would. So I knew I had something powerful there with [“You’re Still the One” and “From This Moment On,”], I just thought nobody was gonna be interested in my ballads. But both ballads became so huge! It’s just interesting how you just don’t know what the reception is going to be, so that was a very unexpected and wonderful surprise.
“You’re Still the One” is a very typical type of song that I would be comfortable just sitting around writing. But “From This Moment On” was a real departure that I never anticipated singing myself. I wrote that song without an instrument; I just wrote it in my head. I was writing that song, to be honest, thinking about Celine Dion -- and dreaming in my wildest dreams that she would record that song.
And it was Mutt at the time that felt really, really strongly about it being on the album, and that I had to be the one to record it. And I did argue about it. I thought, “This really isn’t a song for me. I’m not that type of singer.” I didn’t write it for myself. I was writing it more as a power ballad thing and thinking of it more as a balladeer singing it.
[But] my voice is very adaptable; I have a versatile voice. I’m not complimenting myself in that sense, just that I’d spent so many years singing so many different styles of music, genres, singing every Top 40 hit under the sun, singing classics. So I’ve adapted every singing style since I as a child, and that’s been my singing job until I got my record contract.