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MUSIC: Shania Twain

Madonna. Whitney. Mariah. Janet. Just when the burgeoning borders of divadom had seemed to reach their limits, in snuck another pop princess. Like fellow Canadian imports Alanis and Celine, Shania Twain has conquered a kingdom of her own, flooding airwaves and dominating sales charts in the process. Her crossover hit "Still the One" lingers on radio and VH1, and her current world tour, which lands in Chapel Hill this Saturday, continues to gain momentum.

As with her diva compatriots, the battle to the summit of pop was not an easy one. Growing up in rural Ontario, far from the bright lights of the Grande Ole Opry, Twain overcame poverty and the struggles of her parents' tragic auto deaths. Her initial record contract delivered little success; her self-titled 1993 debut registered as barely a blip on the Billboard radar.

But the winding trail to divadom turned sharply. Teaming with rock producer and future husband Mutt Lange, Shania defied the Nashville standard, creating a sexy Southern sound unique among her contemporaries. Her 1995 incendiary sophomore set, The Woman in Me, rocked the world of country and turned Nashville on its head. The album's first single, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" paired sass and style in a new rock-country format that challenged industry formulas. Follow-up hits "Any Man of Mine" and "You Win My Love" made clear that country's King Garth had met his match. Selling twelve million copies worldwide, The Woman in Me became the most successful female country album of all time.

Despite this success, Twain's critics labeled her a studio creation. Without a tour to validate her talent, she faced a legitimacy problem of near Milli-Vanillic proportions. As controversy brewed, Twain prepared for her third album, Come On Over, and staged a world tour to accompany the release and quiet her opposition.

As it had before, Twain's sound evolved, this time incorporating pop elements and more radio-friendly tracks. The results are power ballad singles like "Still the One" and the current "From this Moment." Perched atop the Billboard list of country's best-selling albums and a top-ten staple on the broader Hot 200, Come On Over has cemented Twain's commercial success. Her tour has played to sell-out crowds across the country, and radio and television continue to promote her singles.

By appealing to the broader pop audience, Shania Twain has effected a successful format crossover of nearly unrivaled proportions. Along the way, she's proved her talent, changed country and given her fellow wail queens something new to cry about.

Shania Twain will be coming to the Dean Smith Center on Saturday. For more information, see calendar, p. 11.


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