- Shania Twain: Up and Away. The Unauthorized Biography
Despite the sixty-five million recordings sold and her dominant position in the global music market for the past ten years, Shania Twain has yet to receive recognition from scholars. She has not yet been the main subject of a single doctoral dissertation or an article in a refereed journal. The neglect is not due to a lack of cogent issues; indeed, the neglect itself could be a promising subject for investigation.
Twain's life and career present an abundance of potentially interesting research topics. Performativity and identity issues abound - e.g., how does the image of Shania Twain as projected in media sources and her song lyrics relate to the 'real' Eilleen Edwards? (Shania Twain is her stage name, with an assumed first name and the surname from her Ojibwe stepfather, who also adopted her; Eilleen Edwards is her birth name.) Other potential topics for study might include an analysis of how the gender images implicit in her song lyrics compare to those explicitly portrayed in her music videos; an examination of country and pop influences in her music and how this is reflected in her reception as a 'rebel' or 'mainstream' artist within different musical communities; a comparison of the role that Canadian allegiances, influences, and contexts (e.g., Anne Murray, the Canadian Country Music Association, the CRTC) have played in her career versus US ones (e.g., Dolly Parton, the Country Music Association, CMT); and the artistic, economic, and demographic implications of her ongoing and carefully crafted exploitation of market segmentation (her albums Come on Over and Up! were released in three different versions to appeal to different musical communities). None of these matters is broached in the book under review here.
Jim Brown's most recent contribution to the Twain literature (earlier books about Twain by him appeared in 2000 and 2003) is one of at least ten book-length biographies of the famous Canadian singer/songwriter to have been published since 1997. Brown has interviewed Twain once (though not for this book) and is knowledgeable about the country music scene in general, and Canadian popular music in particular (he seems to have been professionally active in the music trade in Vancouver). Unfortunately, though, there is little reason to recommend this book. It is not terribly well written, and has been cobbled together from dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, websites, and a few of the earlier biographies. Brown has little of interest to add to the general picture that has been in circulation for at least eight years; the only merit is that he updates the story to the conclusion of Twain's Up! world tour in the summer of 2004.
Twain's career moves so fast that Brown's biography was out of date by the time it hit the bookstores. After this book went to press, Twain released [End Page 412] a greatest hits CD, was the subject of an hour-long CTV documentary, and purchased a large sheep farm in New Zealand with the intention of living there for part of the year - all before the end of 2004. A made-for-TV biopic is also in the works: it was filmed in Northern Ontario in the autumn of 2004.
The movie about Twain's rise to fame is based on the biography by the British author Robin Eggar (Headline 2001). Eggar's book is also an 'unauthorized biography' (a phrase that now seems to be used more as a marketing ploy than as an admission of lack of co-operation from the biographical subject), but it is much better researched than Brown's. Eggar interviewed dozens of people who were close to Twain at every stage of her life, and he also had much more access to Twain herself; as a result, he is able to provide many more details about her life and career. In the absence of any more reputable, scholarly sources of information about Twain, Eggar's remains the best-informed and most searching portrait to date. [End Page...