Shania Twain’s new documentary “Not Just A Girl” digs into a rich archive of video footage to tell the story of the Timmins, Ont. native’s rise from hopeful bar singer to global superstar.
Along the way, the full-length film sheds light on the many struggles and triumphs that colour her nearly 40-year career.
“Not Just a Girl” was produced with the participation of her record label and premiered Tuesday on Netflix. Twain issued a new song named after the documentary on streaming services to coincide with the release.
Alongside interviews with Lionel Richie, Avril Lavigne and Orville Peck, Twain shares memories of her past.
Here are six highlights from “Not Just a Girl”:
BAR STORIES: Twain recalls how many of her earliest childhood gigs happened after last call at small-town Ontario watering holes. “It was crazy, I had school in the morning,” she says. “There weren’t any other kids singing in bars, period. And it was not the norm.” Twain says she kept 100 songs in her repertoire to take requests. Those spots served as a training ground for her first TV performances, which included CBC’s “The Tommy Hunter Show” under her birth name, Eilleen Twain.
TWAIN’s FIRST MANAGER: Twain gives credit to Canadian country singer Mary Bailey for helping her find her footing in the music scene. The two met when an 11-year-old Twain opened for Bailey’s concert in Sudbury. “(Her) guitar was larger than she was, actually,” Bailey remembers. “I was in the wings and went, ‘Oh my, I can’t believe this.’” Their professional relationship would strengthen in the years that followed, after Twain’s parents died in a car accident, leaving the young artist to care for her two brothers at 22. Bailey would remain Twain’s manager until the mid-1990s.
‘LIBERATING’ HERSELF: Twain credits the music video for her 1993 debut single “What Made You Say That” as a personal turning point. Unlike many country videos of the time, it portrayed the singer as flirty with a shirtless man, and even sensual and independent. “Women didn’t really show their midriff that much,” Bailey points out. Twain finds another way to put it: “I was a disruption to the image of country music, absolutely.”
GOING GLOBAL: After her breakout 1995 album “The Woman in Me” made her a household name in country music, Twain decided her next would need to up the ante. She switched management companies, hiring Jon Landau, known for his work with Bruce Springsteen. He recalls their first meeting: “She wanted to cross over to pop, she wanted to be an international superstar and she wanted to be an absolutely top touring artist. Those three goals, clear as a bell, first time I talked to her.” The partnership led to “Come On Over,” an album that Landau says he knew instantly was a smash. “To my ear, and I’m pretty good at this, every song was a hit,” he says. “It was simple as that.”
DOWNSIDE OF ‘UP!’: Twain reflects on the dark times that befell her in the early 2000s as she wrapped a massive tour for “Up!,” her chart-topping fourth album. “I was out horseback riding and I was bit by a tick,” she says of the pivotal moment that led to having Lyme disease. “Before I was diagnosed, I was on stage very dizzy, I was losing my balance. I was afraid I was going to fall off … I was having these millisecond blackouts, regularly, like every minute or every 30 seconds.” Twain says in the years that followed, she struggled with how the illness affected her vocal cords: “I thought I’d lost my voice forever. I thought that was it; I would never sing again.”
TWAIN’S HEARTBREAK: As she faced a crisis with her voice, Twain divorced her husband and longtime producer Robert (Mutt) Lange, who had left her for another woman. Twain doesn’t acknowledge that Lange’s affair was with her best friend, nor does he appear in the film to offer his perspective. “Now I’m at a whole other low and I just don’t see any point in going on with a music career,” Twain says she remembers feeling. “When I lost Mutt, I was thinking the grief of that was similarly intense to losing my parents. It was like death… a permanent end to so many facets of my life.” Twain later reminds herself that she’s a survivor who continues to perform live and is planning a sixth studio album.