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  • Writer's pictureChristina

Let's Go Girls...

At age 7, I woke up on a snowy Saskatchewan Christmas morning in 1995, completely unaware that I was about to receive a very special gift. Ok – let me clarify: I knew gifts were coming (it was Christmas after all), but toys like barbies were the only things that my young mind could picture.

It was 6 a.m., and my older siblings and I could no longer contain our excitement. We made every effort to quietly sneak out of our bedrooms and down the stairs, thinking we were the masters of not waking up our parents. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), our parents were early risers and greeted us while sitting at the kitchen table, sipping their morning coffee. We collectively let out a resigned sigh, assuming they were going to order us back to bed because it was too early (the stern “no one gets up before 7” talk had been drilled into us the night before, so we knew we had been caught breaking the rules). To our surprise, our parents overlooked this rebellion, and invited us to join them in their bedroom. Once there, my mom went around the bed, and began pulling out gifts. They weren’t wrapped, but who cares? I can’t remember all the gifts we received, but I was thrilled when my parents pulled out and handed me a Magna-Doodle, the must-have gift for any young 90s kid.

Just when I thought Christmas was already awesome, my parents took it to another level: “This next gift is for all of you to share,” they told us. We looked at each other quizzically, not sure what to expect. Then, it came into view: a black portable stereo, with a cassette deck and radio. Wide-eyed, we chattered excitedly; a radio of our very own! We could listen to any station or tape we wanted, instead of having to listen to the music our parents liked. Revolutionary. As if that wasn’t enough, my mom pulled out one more surprise: suddenly, a face was just inches away from mine, and I could hardly speak. That face was the one and only Shania Twain, donning a white robe and a sultry look on the cover of her The Woman In Me cassette, released the past February. The bold and brazen single, Any Man of Mine had kicked down the doors of conventional country music, getting non-stop airplay all year. I was obsessed with this new sound, talking my parents ears off about the amazing Shania every chance I got. Clearly, they took the hint, and here we were.

When I finally found my voice, I let out a joyful “Woo-hoo” and couldn’t wait to start listening. And listen we did. Songs like If You’re Not In It For Love, Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? and No One Needs To Know were fast favourites, dominating the sound coming from our bedrooms for the better part of 1996. Equally as fascinating as her catchy pop spin on traditional country music was the fact that Shania hailed from Ontario, my birthplace. This upped Shania’s “cool factor” considerably in my mind; I was amazed that someone from my home province could achieve such success, and, while I am not a singer by ANY means, it gave me reason to believe that I too, had the potential to do something great.

And, when it came to her music, there was no room for any negative commentary. I remember being flabbergasted when a friend came over and she had the nerve to tell me that she didn’t care for Any Man of Mine because “she’s allowed to be late for a date, but she expects him to show up on time?” (You know, double standards and all that). I looked at her incredulously and dismissed her with a wave of my hand and three simple words: “But, it’s SHANIA!”

Indeed. Shania and her music had earned a front row seat in my heart, and over the next three years, it would be incredible to watch her continue breaking convention while breaking all kinds of musical records. 1997’s Come On Over became the best-selling country album, the best-selling album by a Canadian and is recognized by Guinness World Records as the biggest-selling studio album by a solo female artist. As of 2020, Come On Over has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

Looking back now, it’s no wonder. After watching Shania’s recent Netflix documentary, Not Just A Girl, I learned that 12 of the album’s 16 tracks were released as singles. 12!! That’s an entire album of hits, and I was lucky enough to watch this incredible journey unfold in real time between ages 9 and 11. From the self-deprecating jam, Love Gets Me Every Time and the no-nonsense fiddle driven Don’t Be Stupid to power ballads like You’re Still The One and From This Moment On, Come On Over was music gold, and I was desperate to get my hands on it.

Luckily, my cousin Dan had the CD, and I convinced him to record it onto a cassette for me. I received that highly anticipated tape from my parents as a Christmas gift in 1999, and I was absolutely thrilled, as I had been four years earlier. I was a Shania fan for life.

This was also the year that my siblings and I discovered and started watching music videos, and Shania had no shortage! I was caught off guard by her iconic style in full leopard print as she coyly remarked: “So you’re Brad Pitt… that don’t impress me much!” or how we sat, transfixed in front of the TV as Shania donned a black trench coat and top hat, instituting a rallying cry to all the world’s women with “Let’s go, girls…” It was as if, in that moment, we knew that we were witnessing history in the making.

That’s the thing about Shania: she has always been a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to do what it takes to make it happen. Her style, the way she moved and her outside-of-the-box music all glowed with an err of absolute confidence; nothing and no one was going to stand in her way in the journey to make her dreams come true.

By the time Shania released Up! In 2002, I was a moody 14-year-old fully immersed in heavy eyeliner and the emo music scene; bands like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Panic At The Disco and Evanescence dominated my stereo. And yet, as aloof and hard done by as I had become, Shania’s music captivated and softened me once more with tracks like I’m Gonna Getcha Good, Forever and For Always and She’s Not Just a Pretty Face. I was convinced that Shania was unstoppable, and I think the rest of the world, was too.

But, life has a funny way of throwing a wrench into even the best laid plans, and Shania was no exception. In the years following Up! I assumed she was indulging in a long, well-deserved break raising her son and enjoying a sweet life in Switzerland. That may have been the case at first, but I learned much later that Shania faced difficult battles for many years: contracting Lyme Disease in 2004 and losing her voice; losing her husband to her best friend, and most sadly, losing her confidence as a performer. Her long absence from the spotlight had been completely unintentional.

Yet, knowing these hardships, I always wondered when Shania would make her triumphant return; my fingers were always figuratively crossed for her. In the meantime, I got my fix by watching interviews she had given throughout the years, and reading her 2011 tell-all book, From This Moment On. From these things, I learned that as much as I admired her as an artist, I admired her as a person even more.

In both interviews and her book, she openly shared how she came from an abusive family, growing up poor and often going hungry. And yet, Shania’s mom did everything in her power to foster her musical talents, sneaking her out of the house at 8 years old to sing in bars to anyone willing to listen.

When her parents were killed in a car accident in 1987, 22-year-old Shania put her musical dreams on hold to take care of her younger siblings. She did whatever she needed to do to keep a roof over their heads, whether it lined up with her ambitions or not.

This, to me, showed Shania’s true sense of class and character; to stray from her chosen path and sacrifice years of potential opportunities for the good of her family must have taken an immeasurable amount of strength and courage. To even the biggest dreamers and talents, musical success is no guarantee, especially if you start late in the game, as Shania had. Nonetheless, she never gave up; at 26, Shania decided it was time to get serious about her country music career, making the jump from northern Ontario to Nashville. Ultimately, the rest of the story is history. But Shania was living proof that musical success is not just a prize awarded to the very young. In her case, it was awarded to the incredibly talented 30-year-old whose fate had been years in the making.

And, any musician who believes the notion that the industry discards women over 30 needs to shake their head and do a sharp adjustment: that may have been the case at one time, but no more. Shania paved the way for artists like Taylor Swift (32) and P!nk (42); they may have attained success young, but some of their best works are happening right now, making them more popular and more successful than ever. It’s not about being the right age, it’s about having the talent, vision, and tenacity to get where you want to go and then making music that’s so fucking awesome that no one’s going to care whether you’re 15 or 50.

We all know Shania’s got that formula down. I can’t tell you how thrilled I (and the rest of Canada) was when Shania finally made her comeback in 2017 with a new album, and a stunning half time show at that year’s Grey Cup. I watched the TV excitedly as Shania entered the stadium in a parka, being pulled by sled dogs. It doesn’t get ANYMORE Canadian than that, I thought, as I cheered her on gleefully from my living room. Plus, after years of stupid half-time choices (the Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber??) this felt like the perfect choice. No football fan was going to have a problem with Shania, who was pretty much a Canadian music legend. Her wonderful performance made her 15-year hiatus seem virtually non-existent. It was the same Shania I had always known.

Fast forward to today, and Shania is at it again: her recently released 80s rock-inspired single Waking Up Dreaming is tearing up the charts and showcasing what a chameleon she really is. That woman can do anything she sets her mind to, boundaries be damned. The single comes on the heels of a brand-new album, due out in February, followed by a massive world tour. I am thrilled to say that one of my own dreams will soon be realized, after 27 years in the making: I will be seeing my icon doing what she does best live, in person at the Scotiabank Saddledome on May 10, 2023. I could use the old expression “No words can truly describe what this means to me”, but that would clearly be a lie since I’ve just used more than 2,000 words describing EXACTLY what it means to me.

Even though I am 34 now, I’m confident that on that fateful night, my seven-year-old self will make an appearance, ready to punch out anyone who dares to diss the one and only Shania. And, while I may act totally crazy and forget I’m a lady, man, I’ll feel like a woman! And a very happy one at that.



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