Published January 14, 2015
A car full of dudes. Radio blaring. Annoying guy in the back singing off-key to Shania Twain (search)'s "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" while his buddies look seriously uncomfortable.
Twain, who co-hosts Tuesday's Country Music Association awards with Brooks & Dunn (search), hasn't seen the Chevy commercial, but she's heard about it — and laughs at the thought.
She's the first to admit her songs have a strong female perspective. But it's far more than women who are buying her records by the millions and filling arenas for her concerts.
"It's girls, boys, men, women, grandparents, everybody," Twain says. "I don't know why that is. They all relate to it somehow. I think they relate to the sense of humor of it. It's not straight-ahead female empowerment. Men relate to it because it's got a sense of humor."
Twain's new album, a greatest hits package, comes out Tuesday — the same day at her CMA appearance. If it follows course, it will be a huge success. Her last three albums have topped the 10 million mark, with 1999's "Come On Over" reaching 20 million and placing her among music's elite.
Only a handful of acts — none of them country, not even Garth Brooks — have had bigger-selling albums.
"As a country artist, she is in a bit of a category by herself," said Wade Jessen, a chart director for Billboard magazine. "In terms of radio and video exposure, Shania is a bona fide signed, sealed and delivered crossover artist."
Dressed casually in a blue, green and white striped sweater with black pants and boots, Twain, 39, sips hot tea during an interview. She's polite, offering refreshments to a guest, and candid, answering pointed questions without flinching.
She's unabashed in her pursuit of commercial success. She and her husband, producer extraordinaire Robert John "Mutt" Lange, approach each song as a potential radio hit. Artistic expression is fine and good, but only if it's commercially viable.
"We only write songs that we think are worthy of being hits, of being on the radio," Twain says. "We work very hard to make every song like that."
To reach every demographic, they often record two versions of the same song, one country-flavored, maybe with fiddles or steel guitars, and the other pop-oriented.
Her music has become a staple on country, pop and adult contemporary stations. Her latest single, "Party for Two," one of three new songs on the greatest hits album, went to country radio as a duet with country newcomer Billy Currington and to pop radio as a duet with Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath (search).
"It just keeps us in the pattern of my career so far, going all the way back to 'That Don't Impress Me Much' and 'Man, I Feel Like a Woman,'" she said. "If you've got that kind of versatility, why not have fun with it? We have that diverse fan base, and it's great to be able to explore that."
Twain, who grew up poor in Ontario, Canada, almost always speaks in the plural when discussing her career, a nod to Lange's involvement.
A South Africa native, Lange had produced top-selling albums by Def Leppard, AC/DC, Foreigner, the Cars and Bryan Adams before he and Twain crossed paths.
After seeing a video she made for her self-titled debut album (the lowest seller of her career by far) he traveled to Nashville to meet her. They married in 1993, and he has been her collaborator and partner ever since. Together, they co-write all of her songs.
Early on, the relationship raised questions about her talent, fueled in part by her decision not to tour in support of her second album, "The Woman in Me" (she says now that she didn't have enough hits at that point to do a full show).
While Twain credits their relationship with helping her career, she dismisses suggestions that he is a puppeteer behind her success. She says she comes up with most of the song ideas and many of the lyrics and melodies, while he takes the lead on arrangements and production.
"He on his own has never had this kind of success. And me on my own, I doubt very much I would have had this kind of success. First of all, would I even have found anyone who had so much faith in me? Part of why I think I flourished is because he believed so much in me. He loved my voice; he loved my songwriting. He was my biggest fan."
As for the critics, she says she was ready for them. She had been writing songs and performing since she was a child and was confident in her abilities.
And today, she says, most of the doubters have gone away.
"There's so much consistency in the music, so much consistency in everything," she says. "You can't really duplicate that if it's not really you."