Country music star Shania Twain spent her early career fighting to gain respect and creative control within a male-dominated industry before she went on to become one of its best-selling artists of all time.
The progress she feels was being made through the years in which she garnered widespread popularity has since stuttered and even gone backward, Twain said.
“The music industry going back 20 years ago, 30 years ago, was primarily more dominated by men,” she told CNBC’s Tania Bryer in an interview.
“You know, male executives, most of the studio musicians were men, most of the managers were men, it was just more male-dominated in every sense. So being taken seriously as a woman was a challenge.”
She recalled bracing herself to enter rooms with her female manager, and experiencing sexism and challenges that male artists weren’t coming up against. She also had to deal with criticism over her creative decisions and being “too sexy” for the genre.
“Those were all challenges in my way, but I just, you know, I persevered, and I had to be relentless,” Twain, who has sold more than 85 million albums and been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, said.
Steps forward, steps back
“As I went along, I could see the progress,” Twain said. “First of all the genre and my fans, my music was appealing to a very broad audience, very open-minded fans. They were embracing my way of making my music and my way of visualizing my music through photography and videos.”
“But I feel that since then, the industry has regressed, I feel it’s more difficult for women to find space, to find room. It’s sad to see it but it’s very true.”
Twain said this is shown by fewer new female artists emerging in country music than there once were, while the charts are typically dominated by men — or women collaborating with men.
Shania Twain attends The BRIT Awards 2023 at The O2 Arena on February 11, 2023 in London, England.
Samir Hussein | Wireimage | Getty Images
“So that is definitely not, you know, an even playing ground, nowhere near it,” Twain said.
A SongData report found that an average of 18.5% of songs played by country radios between 2000 and 2018 were by women. “Total annual spins” for male artists in radio’s year-end reports increased from 5.8 million in 2000 to 10.3 million in 2018 for male artists; as spins for women fell from 2.8 million to 1.1 million over the same period.
“I don’t know the reason,” Twain told CNBC. “There is no real reason that’s for sure, there’s no legitimate reason.”
“I can’t really put my finger on why they’re making it so difficult for women, or you know why they’re not giving them that space. They’re certainly good enough, it’s just not an even playing ground right now.”
It comes amid a wider discussion about the proportion of top-billing female artists.
The U.K.’s Glastonbury festival, which sells more than 200,000 tickets each year, recently announced three male headliners for 2023. Organizers attributed it to scheduling restraints.
But the best thing about being a woman for Twain’s musical career? Telling her own story.
“It’s always been very important for me to self-express, and since I’m a woman a lot of my perspectives do come directly from a female perspective,” she said.
“I am a fairly outspoken person so a lot of my lyrics are quite statement orientated … they’re quite bold and conversational.”
“So it’s really just always been important for me to be able to express myself and my point of view and to inspire. So the fact that it does inspire a lot of women and just people in general makes me happy.”
As she prepares to tour her new album “Queen Of Me,” it’s also the prerogative to have a little fun.
“It’s been overwhelming, very positive, and gets me very excited and feeling supported by fans, you know, to get out there and meet them all in concert,” she said.
“The fun thing about touring is that you go to everyone’s hometowns, and you get to celebrate the music together and sing along.”
“So I’m just looking forward to having a lot of fun. And the new music always brings something really fresh and new for all of us,” Twain said.