Shania Twain

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.

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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.

Once you find your own place as a singer/songwriter, you sort of come into your own and take ownership of who you are as a singer/songwriter, and what that sounds like. This album was very diverse, much more diverse than The Woman in Me in the sense that it was rock, it’s country and it’s pop. There was just everything in there. I opened up a little bit more, feeling a little bit more confident to express more of my background. I thought that had already started with The Woman in Me, because I was having such a hard time at country radio, because a lot of those elements already in there -- a rocking, country-type influence and folk influence. But Come on Over went more in that direction.

A lot of diversity came out, so songs like [the soft, poppy] "I Won’t Leave You Lonely" just had a whole other feel to it that I wouldn’t maybe have felt confident enough to put out on the first album. "If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!" was a lot of fun, I was real tongue-in-cheek in that one, and just musically very different from the rest. "Black Eyes, Blue Tears" as well.

Image-wise, I paid no attention to boundary. And that was my goal, for sure. I was going to just ignore whatever the boundaries were, or whatever the expectations were -- they weren’t relevant to me. I was very defiant that way, and thankfully I had a record label head that said, ‘Okay, if you want, you just go ahead and take whatever risks you want to take, and I’ll do my best to stand behind you.’

I wanted to have fun experimenting with fashion, and working with people that weren’t even in the music industry, they were just in fashion. I thought that was a really fresh way to make something original.

There are a lot of artists that come to me, or just say in their interviews and stuff, that Come on Over made them feel more confident in exploring that diversity. Or they tell me in person, and it’s always really a great compliment. I think it did inspire some artists to have the courage to not feel so limited. Taylor Swift -- and she was able to tell me in person as well -- she’s always talked about me being an influence. Miranda Lambert [too].

There’s been several pop artists as well, but if we’re talking specifically about country -- especially female country artists -- it does take a lot of courage to show your diversity and to be artistically expressive and unique. Because you might just cut yourself out of the loop that way, which definitely was a risk that I took. You have to take that risk, and I think doing that myself inspired their confidence in doing that too.

What changed mostly of any of the songs on the album, for me, is more just what the songs have meant to the public, and how the songs’ meanings evolved once they belonged to the fans. "From This Moment On" became a huge wedding song. Brides and grooms come to the shows over the years still dressed in their wedding clothes. It took on a whole new meaning for me -- it wasn’t just a love song anymore, it was a song of commitment and it had such a deeper meaning.

But there was also a woman that told me that she played "From This Moment On" on repeat during the delivery of her child. – it was her inspiration during her delivery. And I thought, "Wow! What an interesting way of looking at that song." But of course, it makes total sense. "From this moment on, life has begun." Same thing with "Honey I’m Home." A lot of people have had a lot of fun with the liberated-woman spirit, and I always feel it when I do that live.

"Man! I Feel Like a Woman" never gets old. The audience entertains me more than I entertain them, I think, on that song [Laughs]. There’s a lot of gay men out there that just sing that song from the bottom of their heart, and they take it on as an anthem -- it’s got such a beautiful spirit in that sense. I just love it. Everybody gets into it in their own way, and it’s got an anthemic quality to it that is so beyond what I ever could have imagined it would develop into. For men, for women. For women, it’s their party song. It comes to life every night, and I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it.

The only thing that I would say [about] Come on Over is that I didn’t expect it to end bigger than The Woman in Me, because it just wasn’t likely. Not because I didn’t believe in the album, but it was just an unlikely scenario, especially for a female. It was gonna be almost a miracle to have two Diamond albums in a row. Because sometimes you hear a lot of things -- like if you’re off a very successful album, and there was a gap between albums, there was anticipation felt -- so I’m using my logic, thinking, ‘People are a little bit excited, and it’ll do well for a little bit, then it’ll flatten out and come down.’ I had no idea that it was gonna be single after single after single after single.

It really opened up a lot of work. I thought making the album was a lot of work, but it was the follow-up [2002's Up!] that ended up being the most work of all [Laughs]. Just trying to keep up with the success, to be honest, was really exhausting. The album had more stamina than I did, which is a really good problem.

It took a lot of confidence for me to just make [Now], and I didn’t put my expectations on how successful it would actually be. I was so focused on just getting my voice back, wading through that whole ordeal -- which was a very long, arduous, painful process. So to me, it was a huge success to get through that. And then next making the album, to dive into that commitment of taking the chance of putting my voice back on a record again.

I wrote everything myself, so I knew I was taking on a huge responsibility. And it was going to be a huge ask, period, to expect success from it. I had to make it my own personal journey, and you can imagine how amazing I feel that I was welcomed back so well, and it actually went No. 1. I’m just really grateful.

I fell back into it very easily, like I had never been gone. And it’s also a lot of fun to be able to share new music, and [the next] tour is now gonna have new songs for us all to sing together. I love that, and I look forward to it.