In a new documentary Not Just A Girl (on Netflix July 26), the legendary Shania Twain opens up about thinking she would never sing again as a result of her Lyme disease infection.
“My symptoms were quite scary because before I was diagnosed, I was on stage, very dizzy, I was losing my balance, I was afraid I was going to fall off the stage,” Twain explains in the documentary. “I was having…millisecond blackouts, but regularly, every minute or every 30 seconds.”
My voice was never the same again. It just went into this strange flanging, lack of control… I thought I lost my voice forever, I thought that was it, I would never, ever sing again.Shania Twain
It was actually while she was experiencing the terrifying effects of Lyme disease that she faced another tragedy, she found out her husband, music producer and song writer Mutt Lange, was having an affair with her best friend.
“In that search to determine what was causing this lack of control with my voice and this change in my voice, I was facing a divorce, my husband left me for another woman,” Twain says, starting to get emotional in the documentary. “Now I’m at a whole other low and I just don’t see any point in going on with a music career.”
“When I lost Mutt I guess I thought, I was thinking that the grief of that was, it was similarly intense to losing my parents and it was like death,…a permanent end to so many facets of my life, and I never got over my parents’ death. So I’m thinking, shit, I’m never going to get over this… So all I can do is determine how I’m going to carry on from there.”
‘Growing up in a violent household was horrible’
Long before her marriage and her Lyme diagnosis, little Shania Twain was a music-loving child growing up in Timmins, Ont.
The documentary reveals that her mother was particularly supportive of her daughter’s singing, taking her to local bars to sing from the time she was eight, when her father was asleep.
But Twain also revealed that if her father was awake when she and her mother returned, “that would not end well.”
Growing up in a violent household was horrible but I locked myself away with music to block out everything else so that all I could see, hear, think and imagine was music.Shania Twain
“Probably hearing my mother saying, ‘you can make it, you’re going to make it,’ I felt like that was going to save us somehow, if I made it, and it was more of a responsibility to be a performer, to do it as a career.”
As Twain’s star continued to shine brighter, teaming up with country artist and Twain’s former manager Mary Bailey to make demos to get interest from music producers and record labels, Twain’s parents both died in a car crash in 1987. That left the 22-year- old responsible for her younger siblings and that financial responsibility led to a job performing a Vegas-style show at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ont., while writing songs in the very limited spare time she had, and learning how to perform.
“I had no idea how to sing and wear high-heeled shoes, for example, at the same time,” Twain says.
‘A disruption to the image of country music’
Shania Twain signed her first recording contract in 1992, but the singer admitted that at the time, she didn’t feel she had any creative control over the music being made for her first album.
“You had a female artist and a female manager, to start, and I don’t think that we were taken that seriously,” Mary Bailey says in the documentary.
“You have to work three times as hard as the average guy in country music in order to get a shot,” Twain says. “To be relentless was the only way.”
“I think that’s the only way that they’re going to be taken seriously, you have to kill yourself to get there. I don’t know, is it worth it? I don’t know, I mean, I think that when you’re young, why not, right?”
It was really in her music videos that Twain was able to express her creativity and really present herself the way she wanted to in her career.
Twain calls herself, “a disruption to the image of country music,” largely related to her music videos, starting with the video for her song “What Made You Say That.”
“That was the moment that I grabbed onto it creatively and it was liberating,” Twain says in the documentary. “I liberated myself in so many ways, right from that very first video, it was like freedom.”
“It was probably the biggest turning point for me as an artist, that it was going to be hands-on from then on.”
Bailey echoes Twain’s comments, calling her “What Made You Say That” music video “fresh.”
“Look at it, it’s like, oh my God, how can we show this, I mean this woman is very sensual and CMT initially wasn’t too keen on that because that was brand new, women didn’t really show their midriff that much in country music,” Bailey says.
‘It’s a sexist point of view’
As Shania Twain continued to pave her way in the music industry, one strong focus of Not Just A Girl is the sexism she has faced in her career.
By the time she released her “Come On Over” album in 1997, which became the best-selling country album and the best-selling album by a female artist ever, the sexism still persisted, including how her collaboration with her then-husband Mutt Lange was perceived.
“In interviews, journalists would refer to him as a Svengali and how could all of this phenomenal stuff come out of this girl from nowhere,” Twain explains. “I guess they just didn’t believe it.”
“Of course, if I had been a guy, it just wouldn’t have been seen the same way. It’s a sexist point of view, there’s no question about it. Creating another great work, to me, was the proof in the pudding that this was just a really genuine and authentic relationship that had nothing fake or strained about it.”
When music videos for songs like “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” were released, Twain was a bonafide feminist icon but also, as Diplo says in the documentary, “America’s most wanted female.”
“During that time,…I just enjoyed singing with attitude, singing about being a strong woman,” Twain says. “It’s just part of my personality, it really is my genuine personality, I have my point of view, I want to get it across, I expect to get it across, but I’m not out to piss anybody off in the process. “
Looking at Twain’s present life, post-Lyme diagnosis and post-divorce and re-marriage, still making music to this day, Twain says now is a time that, for her, is all about self-empowerment, being “less apologetic than ever ” and feeling good in her own skin.