By Marissa Gaston, Studio M staff //
On Nov. 4, 1997, Shania Twain released what some have called the greatest country album of all time.
Not only did Twain’s third studio album, “Come On Over,” solidify its permanence in ‘90s popular culture — introducing “You’re Still The One” and “From This Moment On” to the wedding song canon and arguably feminist girls’ night karaoke go-tos like “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much” — but the record revolutionized country music with hit after hit, stunning visuals and an evolved attitude and ambition.
Since then, it has paved the way for countless modern artists.
“It’s been interesting to see millennial artists who are acknowledging or have acknowledged her in various ways, and that I think is very strong proof of way that her music has resonated,” said Nashville-based music journalist Jewly Hight.
In honor of the album’s 20th birthday, here are six millennial artists who might want to consider buying the trailblazer a gift:
By 2014, Kesha had already amassed a huge fanbase, following the release of her first two studio albums and two world tours. However, the usually outspoken singer’s world went quiet when news broke that she had been admitted into rehab for an eating disorder, and personal details of her relationship with longtime producer Dr. Luke were revealed to the public. The singer sued for artistic freedom from the man who had allegedly sexually, emotionally and mentally controlled her and the label that allowed it, which put a halt on any artistic production.
The musical hiatus stretched over five years until the release of the star’s 2017 comeback album “Rainbow,” the first since 2012’s “Warrior.” Much like Twain’s new album “NOW,” “Rainbow” featured some of Kesha’s most emotionally raw material yet, explored new sounds and the reaches of her musicality and fans didn’t miss a beat, rocketing it to the top of Billboard’s 200.
“NOW” and “Rainbow” are evidence of the power of loyal fanbases, strong work ethics and dedication the craft. While both stars saw their personal lives play out in public and suffered devastating losses, both came back strong.
2. Kendrick Lamar
Few artists are as decorated as Twain when it comes to Grammy nominations and wins, especially in such a small span of time. One contender, though, is rapper Kendrick Lamar, who has received 22 nominations and won seven since his mainstream debut in 2013.
From the start of his career, Lamar has been coming for a number of long-held records set by music legends. The rapper’s debut studio album, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” was a critical success and frontrunner for Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Although he didn’t win — a snub that is just as famous today as it was that year — he earned his first two Grammy wins for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for single “i.” The next year, he returned as the most-nominated artist with 11 nominations from his second album, “To Pimp A Butterfly.” In one night, he replaced Eminem as the most-nominated rapper of all time and came second overall to Michael Jackson’s record 12 Grammy nominations in 1984. He went home the most-awarded artist of the night with five wins.
While Lamar is likely no competition for Greatest Country Album of All Time, he has already surpassed Twain’s five Grammy wins. If his career stays on the same trajectory, he could be on his way to unseating plenty more recording artists in the future.
Adele and Shania Twain share at least one trait: They’re two of the most-decorated female artists in their respective genres and times, and they both got that way on comparatively small bodies of work.
Both artists have been nominated for 18 Grammy awards. Aside from a tribute to Dolly Parton in 2004, all of Twain’s nominations came from three albums: “The Woman In Me,” “Come On Over” and “Up!” In striking similarity, all of Adele’s nominations and wins — except for “Skyfall,” the hit she recorded for the 2012 James Bond film — came from only three albums: “19,” “21” and “25.”
Adele differs from Twain in that those three albums are her complete full-length discography, all of which have been nominated. What’s more is that Adele is not even 30 years old, and even after her own four-year hiatus, is already checking off accomplishments some artists only ever dream of.
Just last week, “25” celebrated its 100th week on the Billboard 200 Chart. While “Come On Over” is still considered the greatest country album of all time, “21,” which is officially the longest-charting album by a woman on the Billboard 200 Charts, is the greatest album of all time.
At the height of success for “Come On Over,”, Beyoncé hadn’t even released her debut album with girl group Destiny’s Child. But Twain and Beyoncé share a unique staying power in pop music.
Popular phrases — such as Twain’s “Let’s go, girls,” “That don’t impress me much,” and “Man! I feel like a woman!” and Beyoncé’s “I woke up like this,” “Put a ring on it,” and “Flawless” — conjure up images of strong, independent women who operate on their own terms and make it difficult to remember a girls’ night without them.
However, neither artist’s influence is limited to elaborate or even sexy music videos, but transcends memorable outfits and exciting choreography. Both outlined their own definitions of womanhood and encouraged other women to do the same in how they dressed, expressed themselves and their sexual agency, and especially the way they were unafraid to challenge and critique themselves and the larger society.
“Shania represented a youthful, liberated version of womanhood that was as relevant to female country fans in the 1990s as was Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daugher-on-the-Pill persona in the 1960s,” said music journalist and critic Ann Powers.
Similarly, Beyoncé has long been a champion of women and a feminist icon. Beyond powerhouse performances of girl power anthems, the usually private star made a shift toward personal on 2014’s visual album “Beyoncé;” she grappled with her own experiences with issues that intimately affect women everyday, such as infidelity, insecurity, loss, sexuality and miscarriage.
“NOW,” Twain’s most personal album yet, peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s 200 Chart, but it was preceded again by Beyoncé’s concept album and short film, “Lemonade,” in 2016, which chronicled her own journey from betrayal to forgiveness in the wake of personal and social turmoil. The album made history as her sixth No. 1, making her the first-ever artist to top the Billboard 200 and the first female artist to debut 12 tracks at once.
“When you’re a veteran artist who broke through as a younger person, especially when you’re a woman, that is a kind of turn to make in your artistry that makes sense,” Hight said.
5. Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift has had a massive 72 songs chart on Billboard’s Hot 100. While the number is evidence of her lightspeed rise to superstardom, it also points to a certain trend in her career. If you trace the list from 2008’s “Hey Stephen,” which peaked at No. No. 72, to 2014”s No. 1 “Shake It Off,” you’ll notice Swift’s transition from down-home sweetheart to pop machine. In fact, only five of those songs have peaked at No. 1, and they’re all from her most recent releases, 2014’s “1989” and September’s single “Look What You Made Me Do” — both of which are categorized in pop.
However, Swift is not native to Nashville, and neither was she confined to the sound associated with the city. Rather, country was an entry point to a much broader scope and sound she was reaching for even before audiences took notice. But long before Swift left behind her tear-stained acoustic guitar and completed her transition to bedazzled, world-touring pop star, traipsing around arena stages — making her country music’s biggest, most successful crossover — Shania Twain did it all first.
“Taylor Swift owes (Shania Twain) a lot: Sshe also was a Nashville outsider when she started, and even when she was embraced by country, her music could be read as pop,” Powers said. “The music Taylor has made with producers like Max Martin has the same pop and shine as Shania’s music.”
Twain set the example for Swift on how to occupy two distinctly separate spaces at once.
Marissa Gaston is a senior majoring in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.