Popular music is supposed to be outsized, gigantic, awesome, exciting and, yes, larger than life. It exists to take us away from our everyday world and create a fantasy realm where everybody dances more, loves harder, has more sex and, on bad days, feels more pain than we do. Perhaps no single pop performer working today has a better appreciation for the over-the-top function of pop music than Shania Twain does.
Check out the song titles on Up!, her latest album. Nineteen songs, ten exclamation points: "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!," "What a Way to Wanna Be!," "I'm Not In the Mood (To Say No)!," -- and, the best, "Waiter! Bring Me Water!" Twain is no wallflower. She's used to being in the spotlight, and what she has to say needs to be said with exclamatory exuberance!
Many hip, fashionable types look down upon Shania Twain, and some have even gone so far as to hold her up as the poster child for the ruination of contemporary country music. This in a world that has Toby Keith rocketing to the top of the Billboard charts? Twain may not have the poetic heart of Hank Williams or the working-class ethics of Merle Haggard, but she speaks to the aspirations of her audience pretty nicely. Twain lives out the fantasies of country music fans: She's wealthy, she wears all sorts of crazy clothes, and she sings of perfect love and the rights of women to equality in relationships. She does all this while blending the melodic concision of ABBA with the formidable pop/metal formulas of Def Leppard (courtesy of her producer/husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange).
Twain knows enough to realize that her songs don't need fiddles and pedal steel guitar. Up! was released in a package with two discs -- one with twang and one without -- and the hooks are so huge that you don't even realize which version you've got in your CD player if you're not paying close attention. Country music has long been a battleground between rural roots conservatism and urban mainstream values. Twain obviously sides with the latter camp, but she does it with such a gigantic blast of energy, fervor and ambition that the only way to avoid loving her is to avoid hearing her music entirely.