The first time I connected with Shania Twain in 2017, the country-pop music icon didn’t pull any punches, saying “equality should be a no-brainer” as she spoke thoughtfully about her relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Twain stood firm on that throughout our conversation, speaking out against supremacy (“supremacy of any sort is just poison”) and pledging to be the kind of ally we hope all gay icons will be.
In Twain’s case, she is in the same unique, bridge-building position as someone like fellow country superstar Dolly Parton — they both excite dads and drag queens, but for very different reasons.
If we’re speaking about Twain’s queer appeal, look no further than “Giddy Up!,” the first song off Twain’s sixth studio album, “Queen of Me.” It’s a song that would sound right at home in some Texas yeehaw gay bar but, like her hit “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,” could just as easily get some conservative, beer-guzzling dad to loosen up as he bellows the country bop’s fun, flirty and frankly very gay hook. (At a Shania Twain show, to which I have been, trust me when I say these things happen.)
Twain recently reconnected with me to talk about the new album, which we did. But our interview landed in places Twain herself said she appreciated as she was able to reflect on how her words — not just the ones she writes — matter.
So “Queen of Me,” let’s get right to it. There’s definitely a let loose vibe on this album that I think we all can appreciate after the last few years. How would you describe the spirit of this album and how you came into it?
I’m calling the “Queen of Me” album my happy album because it was literally an exercise during Covid — ’cause I wrote all the songs during Covid. And it was an exercise of just getting myself into a better frame of mind, a more positive frame of mind. Writing lyrics that would make me smile, make me laugh, make me wanna dance. It was like a self-help, well-being exercise to write these songs. And they ended up just being very uplifting. That’s also how I narrowed down the songs, you know? I wrote three albums worth of songs during Covid ’cause I was just bored and I ended up being very creatively productive. I narrowed it down to songs that took me to that happier place.
The title itself is so you, Shania, because you are sort of the country queen of empowerment. Like you, LGBTQ+ people really have to become the master of our own universes. So, I’m wondering, did the title happen to come out of any conversations that you had over the years with any LGBTQ+ people in your own life that you’re close to? Or were you thinking of them in the process of naming this album or working through the songs?
I’m close to so many LGBTQ+ people. They’ve been part of my creative teams over the years, and they’re just part of my life. You’re all part of my life, you know? You’re part of my inspiration. The “Queen of Me” title was directly inspired by self-empowerment. “What am I really the queen of?” I’m just the queen of myself. I’m not the queen of anyone or anything else. I shouldn’t have any control over anyone else; no one should have any control over me either. And so, I really felt motivated to express it for myself and to share it.
I’ve had people in my life going through gender confusion and gender change. Just all of the sadness that I’ve seen that’s so unnecessary. I’m just an all-inclusive person. I believe to each his own. And we should all have the right to have that confidence in ourselves to be ourselves. So, on “Queen of Me,” I’m not what you tell me I am. I’m what I proclaim I am. So, don’t let anyone tell you what you are.
When I last saw you on tour, there was so much gay energy, from dancers in cowboy hats and chest-baring leopard print to Elijah Wood, the trans person killing it on drums. Your audience is a mix of drag queens and conservative dads, and you are one of those rare artists who can bring polarized political communities together. How intentional on your part is it to bring a certain level of gayness to a Shania Twain show?
Let’s start with this — when it comes to talent, there’s two things [about] people that I want to be around when I’m in a professional or creative environment. I want people with good character, honesty, and talent. And so, whoever falls in there is in my circle. And so, it’s more about the inclusivity than anything.
If I was exclusive, I would say, “well, I only want this,” and I think we would all miss out on a lot of exceptional talent. My criteria are good people and talent. And any LGBTQ+ energy or people that are in my environment are there just on merit. And I think that’s more valuable than actually specifically being… I don’t wanna be good “for a woman.” I don’t wanna be respected just ’cause I’m a woman. I wanna be respected, period. And this is where we really make our mark. And I think it’s very important.
This is why “Queen of Me” is so the song: “I’m not a girl, I’m not a boy, I’m not a baby, I’m not a toy.” These are all the things I’m not, as being my label. And now let me tell you who I am. And that’s personal. I don’t know if everyone will relate to that, but that’s my feeling about it. I don’t want to be strong for a woman; I just want to be considered strong. And that’s even in “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” It’s an internal thing. It’s how I feel.
Let’s talk about how Pride is only just around the corner.
Pride is just around the corner. There are so many wonderful things to be said about that. I mean, so much more freedom to be gained in all realms of society. But the LGBTQ+ [community], I admire the courage because I think that the community has taken strides forward. In my own adult life, period, it’s been leaps and bounds. I’ve got so many friends in the creative world. I mean, [fashion designer] Marc Bouwer is one of them. We’ve been working together for over 20 years. And there was no such community power and support then.
It didn’t make a difference for our communication, one to one. We were always friends. There were never any barriers there, one to one. But I was so aware of the struggle. It’s just good and very rewarding to see so much advancement. I mean, Kim Petras, for example. So, 20 years ago, that’s not that long ago; even 15 years ago, even 10 years ago. Would that moment have been possible? Or would it have happened? And Kim is the most — you know, should I say she or they? Correct me so that I get it right.
Kim uses she.
I wanna get it right. Thank you. So, Kim is the most angelic person. Genuinely sweet, kind, and I could sense that she was at peace with herself. I hope that that is the case, ’cause that journey has… I haven’t asked her about it. But I know it’s been difficult. It takes courage. It’s difficult. It’s challenging. So, I just wanna say that Kim is courageous with grace.
When you think of your longstanding relationship with the LGBTQ+ community, what does it mean to you to be an LGBTQ+ ally now?
It’s very important. I write music to communicate. I write music to relate to people. And so, I’m trying to build relationships through music and friendships through music with people that I can’t know in person. It’s my avenue. It’s my way of reaching out. And so, what I say really does matter to me, and what it means to everyone else that’s receiving it. And, I mean, mostly through the music, obviously ’cause I do more music than I do talking. That’s my real language, you know? Writing, and writing lyrics. Encouraging and inspiring. That’s what I look to music for — for inspiration. When I’m on a tour in a show and I’ve got an audience there, we are on the same page. We’re all from very different backgrounds. We’re all different ages. We are all coming from different cultures, realities…
You are the bridge.
But music is the bridge, not me. So, what I say is very important in that sense. You know, it’s the music that should do all the talking.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.