The Three Best Music Videos of All Time Are All By Shania Twain
As a socially avoidant and sun-fearing teenager, I spent many summer days on my parents’ couch watching daytime talk shows, sitcom reruns and music video countdown shows. I became something of a connoisseur of the latter and have since come to consider music videos a minor art form in themselves. Enter: Shania Twain.
Not only is the Canadian pop country songstress a preternaturally good performer and, nowadays, severely underrated by the public at large, she is also the driving force behind three of the greatest music videos of all time (according to me).
Description: In this video, Shania portrays a woman facing infidelity with surprising aplomb, singing with a small, knowing smile: “Is she the one that you’ve been missing baby?” Wearing a slinky red dress, Shania enters a country diner packed with men in cowboy hats and Levis. She proceeds to flirtatiously wander around, sliding a finger down the chest of a man with a ten-gallon hat, leaning seductively over an older gentleman’s plate of fried eggs, and twirling—a common theme across all her videos—in between tables. Shania appears to be invisible, and the men do not react to her seductive techniques. She causes mischief throughout the diner, overfilling a coffee cup, lying across a crowded table like she’s in a Titian painting, flicking a man’s menu and rolling her eyes. The men continue talking, not seeing her at all. Eventually, she walks out of the diner and onto a country road, twirling all the way.
Why This is The Best Video: First of all, the title of this song is a perfect example of the poetry of country music euphemisms. Second of all, the sheer amount of twirling. What does a twirl denote? A carefree attitude even in the face of adversity, a sense of whimsy, the optimal way to show off an amazing outfit. These are not innocent, little-girl twirls. Shania Twain twirls with purpose and feminine gravitas. In this video, Shania Twain is the best parts of our mothers: beautiful, kind, talented, all-knowing, benevolent.
Highlights: Note the exceptionally mustachioed diner cook wiping cigarette ash of off a piece of bacon, Shania’s fluffy bangs (countdown to when these come back into style), the guy who looks like Conan O’Brien at 2:15, followed immediately by a guy who looks like Nick Jonas at 2:16, the ways this music video makes you feel things about middle America, the country music sing-song melancholy, the sense you get that Shania Twain understands our troubles, knows them well, but encourages us to laugh them away anyway.
Description: Shania Twain is shockingly good at wearing denim. Also, she has a very beautiful, very symmetrical face. This video highlights both of these facts. We see Shania herding cattle, hosing down her horse, jumping in her pickup truck and heading back to the horse’s stable where she takes a bath and puts on another slinky dress. Her bathroom and bedroom appear to be inside of the stable. From there, it’s all just twirling in a grassy field.
Why It’s The Best: As any true fan would know, this is Shania’s true quasi-feminist anthem, and not the trite, literal, alt-country chart-topper “Man I Feel Like A Woman” (although “If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask,” is a close second, and “Honey, I’m Home” is of course third.) The first line says it all: “Any man of mine better be proud of me, even when I’m ugly he still better love me.”
He better love me, he better be proud of me. These are the demands that it is acceptable to make while still living in the confines of the traditional family model that country music upholds. Within this framework, it is acceptable for women to demand things of men: love, pride, unquestioning support, even a “squeezin’, pleasin’” good time. This traditionalist view happily accepts a double-standard (“I can be late for a date that’s fine, but he better be on time”) because it acknowledges different roles for men and women. But nonetheless, the song describes a woman making demands of men unapologetically, regardless of her flaws both physical and domestic. Shania is claiming what is owed to her, but doing it sweetly, through song.
Highlights: Note Shania’s cropped denim vest and her “controversial bare midriff,” the Las Meninas style mirror-play in the bedroom/stable scene, that golden hour lighting, and, my personal favorite, the fact that the video’s titular “man” is nowhere to be found.
Description: A man and woman frolic on a beach under a pink-tinted sky. Not much else happens. They tumble around in the sand, Shania rhythmically pops out her hip while dancing in a silhouette. Later they wear different, more denim-centric outfits and frolic some more; her hunky co-star tosses her about playfully and looks at her with doting affection.
Why It’s The Best: This is the simplest, but most visually arresting of all three videos. This video, like all the videos on this list, predates the Y2K-era aesthetic fascination with pseudo-futuristic dreamscapes (notable examples: the Backstreet Boys “Larger Than Life” video, Britney Spears’ “Stronger,” and Shania’s own “I’m Gonna Getcha Good”). “What Made You Say That” offers a more naturalistic, nostalgic, moody, and literally rose-colored version of the world. Using only lighting and one hunky dude, it invites us to imagine a time when it was acceptable to say things like “Have you been listening to your heart?” in a song. This is pop music impressionism, the music video equivalent of Monet’s Water Lilies.
Shania, in true pop music form, uses her hunky co-star as a prop in her Malibu Barbie colour palette fantasy. This is what we really need men for, she suggests; to frolick with, to pick us up, to give us something to nuzzle up against, to look at us longingly from below and extend a desirous hand towards our hip while we laugh away their advances.
[Side note: There’s a strong parallel between this video and the Tim Erem directed video for Rihanna’s “Work,” which shares a strikingly similar mood, colour palette, and dynamic between video co-stars. Watch them at the same time side by side, it’s a trip!]
Highlights: The subtle grazing of her hunky co-star’s nipple, a truly great bell-bottomed and cropped bell-sleeved ensemble, the aggressive nineties details like the lyrics appearing on screen “Saved By the Bell” theme song style, and that awful Baby Sitter’s Club movie flowered bucket hat.
The format of music videos—usually composed of short clips, loosely plotted, mood-driven rather than story-driven, short films, and usually with dancing—can offer a layer of surrealism to a pop song. Add to that the soft agony that permeates each Shania Twain song, the performance skills of the artist herself, and the heyday of late nineties fashion, and the combination makes for an endlessly rewatchable video, the greatest of all time.