“I thought I had lost my voice forever, that I would never sing again”. Shania Twain has glimpsed the end of her career on several occasions. One such moment occurred in 2004, after the world tour of her fourth album, Up!, which would become her third consecutive diamond record, with more than a million copies sold. It was her first time working since giving birth to her son Eja D’Angelo, the fruit of her relationship with producer and composer Robert John “Mutt” Lang. “I was riding a horse when I got bitten by a tick, which was infected with Lyme disease,” explains Shania Twain in the documentary Not Just a Girl, which premiered on Netflix on July 26.
“I would get dizzy on stage, lose my balance and be afraid of falling off it. The fades were very regular, every 30 seconds or every minute. I had all the symptoms of the disease while following the treatment; I recovered, but my voice was never the same again,” acknowledges Twain.
The artist, whose legal name is Eilleen Regina Edwards, began performing in the bars of Timmins, a mining city in northeast Ontario, at age eight. She moved to the town with her mother Sharon after her parents’ divorce. Raised in a family that barely had enough to pay for electricity, rent and food, she watched as her stepfather, Jerry Twain– to whom she owes her stage name–beat her mother every night.
In her 2011 memoir From This Moment On, the singer of “You’re Still the One” confessed that Jerry also abused her. “Physically, psychologically and yes, sexually,” she told The Guardian in 2018. “I am not going to go into details about it. I don’t mind saying it, because I think it’s important for people to understand that you can survive these things.” The recently released documentary barely touches on the incident.
When Twain was 22, her mother and stepfather died in a car accident. That marked a turning point for Twain and her then-fledgling music career. “I didn’t know how to sing and wear high heels at the same time. I had to learn quickly,” explains the artist, recalling the job she took as a singer at an Ontario resort to financially support her siblings Jill, Mark, Darryl and Carrie-Ann.
Another critical moment for Twain came after her divorce from Robert John Mutt Lange, a producer and composer with whom she was married for 14 years. The couple worked together on the two albums that made her the pop star she is today: her second album, The Woman in Me, which sold six and a half million copies in less than six months, and her third album, Come on Over, with 40 million copies, the sixth best-selling album in history.
In 2008, the singer discovered that Lange had cheated on her with her best friend, Marie-Ann Thiébaud, who lived in the same Swiss town as them. In the documentary, she compares losing Mutt to the death of her parents, which she says she never fully got over. In 2010, an unexpected twist in this story of love, betrayal and heartbreak came along: the artist became engaged to Frederic Thiébaud, Marie-Ann’s former husband.
“The only thing I could do was see how it was going to come out. So I made the decision that the first thing was to write songs,” she recalls.
It would take her a while to return to the recording studio. But in 2012, a decade after her last tour, she returned to the stage with a show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. “The only way to achieve something with my vocal cords was to put myself between a rock and a hard place,” admits the artist. Her live show included all of her greatest hits, most of them collected in Come on Over. And in 2017 Twain finally recorded an album, titled Now, of new songs.
Twain has now gone from country singer to international pop star. She forged the image of an empowered woman, and children, parents and grandparents came together at her concerts.
Taylor Swift inherited that passion. The older singer recently congratulated Swift for beating one of her previous records: becoming the female artist with the most weeks at the top of the Billboard Country Albums Chart. Harry Styles also admires Twain. He invited her to sing with him at his debut at the last Coachella festival. Dressed in sequins, white boots and a guitar, she performed hits like You’re Still the One. In the last minutes of the documentary, Twain reveals that she is preparing a new album in London, with the same spirit of feminist struggle and resurrection: “As always, I think I will rise again.”