After becoming a global icon and one of the world's best-selling singers of all-time, Shania Twain had to utter the scariest five words a vocalist would ever hear: "I may never sing again."
The queen of country pop contracted Lyme's disease, which crippled her most prized instrument — her voice — and she thought her singing career was over.
"It can kill you. And if it doesn't kill you, it can give you a seriously degenerated quality of life for the rest of your life," she said in a recent interview.
It didn't kill Twain, but the process of finding her voice again was gruesome and trying: "I had sound like a dying cow for a long time before I was able to really make any sounds that were pleasing at all."
But Twain, who has persevered since her career launched in 1993, was ready to do the work to rebuild her voice, and life. She trained with coaches and worked extensively on her vocals, comparing the experience to an athlete recovering from a major injury.
Twain tested out her voice in various ways in the 17 years in between her last album, 2002's "Up!," and her newest effort, "Now": She sang duets with Lionel Richie and Michael Buble for their own albums; she completed a residency in Las Vegas; and launched a successful U.S. tour, reconnecting with the fans that helped her sell more than 90 million albums worldwide.
"I feel triumphant," Twain said, who will release her new album on Sept. 29. "I just feel like I've climbed this huge mountain and I made it to the top. ...And, you know, coming from a time when I really thought I would never record an album again, that I would never tour again, that I would never sing professionally again."
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"And now here I am with a whole album," she continued, "it's like a small miracle really for me personally."
"Now" is probably Twain's most personal album to date. She wrote all 16 songs alone — a rarity in today's music world — and she spilled her feelings and emotions in the songs, even crying and breaking down in the studio throughout the process. Though she is one of the most celebrated musicians in history and she's found a lifetime success in performing, her life hasn't been easy.
Twain, who had a rough childhood in Canada, grew up poor and around abuse. Her parents died in a car crash and she took on the role of caring for her three younger siblings. She moved to Nashville, but the country star with pop flavor had trouble settling into the new town. She eventually married producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, and they co-wrote some of her most successful songs, but they later divorced.
Cindy Mabe, president of Universal Music Group Nashville, said the new album is a reflection of Twain's entire life and it marks the first time the singer has opened up so much in her music.
"This is more raw, more vulnerable and more real than you have ever known this person to be," Mabe said. "She actually lets you in to what's happening in her life and ... this is about her really framing her life and kind of understanding where she is and how she fits into things and then sharing it with world. This is the most brave record that she's ever made."
In the near two decades in between albums, Twain was busy raising her son and got married again. But she still wrote songs, collecting poems, lyrics and melodies over the years. She spent two years creating "Now" and worked with four producers on the project: Ron Aniello (Bruce Springsteen), Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran), Jacquire King (Kings of Leon) and Matthew Koma (Zedd, Carly Rae Jepsen).
Twain said she picked those collaborators because they respected her decision to write each song by herself, something she hadn't done since before recording with Lange.
"I was motivated by the challenge of carrying the risk or the weight of doing it without any guidance or any influence, any feedback. That to me was the ultimate test of independence," she said.
The album's lead single, the fun and breezy "Life's About to Get Good," captures Twain's energy perfectly: She's happy, and ready for the next chapter of her life and musical career. The song peaked at No. 33 on Billboard's Hot country songs chart, and despite having an album that sold more than 20 million units in the U.S. and two others sell more than 10 million each, Twain and her label aren't feeling pressure.
"Am I pleased where the first single went? Not really, but I'm just about exposing this record. So with all the other things that we have dropping I'm pleased," Mabe said. "We have made noise and ...I feel good about where we're going with this record and that it will be exposed."
"The industry has changed so much now. ...It's like comparing apples and oranges now," Twain said of selling albums today compared to the 1990s and early 2000s. "It's just different and the tallying is coming from such a broad spectrum, so I'm not feeling that pressure just because it just doesn't even exist anymore. The pressure for me is really more, 'Will I write music that relates to my fans? Will they relate to what I have to say?'"
"I'm different now. I think differently now. I've evolved. That's why I call the album 'Now,'" she said. "This is me now."