Why Shania Twain is Interesting Pick for Songwriters Hall of Fame

The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame announced their 2022 class last week, with Shania Twain, Steve Wariner, Hillary Lindsey, Gary Nicholson, and David Malloy all being named 2022 inductees. With Shania leading the way, this is the first time since 2009 that the Nashville institution has picked two women in its inductee class. The class will be formally induced in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala on Sunday, October 30th at Music City Center.

“Thank you to Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame for this honor. It feels really good to be among so many of my songwriting idols and for my own songwriting to be celebrated. Ironically I was at home in Switzerland writing when this was announced!” Twain said. “It’s been a while since a woman has been inducted into this, so it’s pretty awesome to see not just me, but Hillary Lindsey included too.”

That last part of Shania’s statement is not exactly true. Amy Grant was inducted in 2021, Bobbie Gentry in 2020, Sharon Vaughn in 2019, K.T. Oslin in 2018, and so on. Saying “it’s been a while since a woman has been inducted” overshadows those women, and Twain was not the only one to do this. The NPR affiliate in Nashville, WPLN also said, “In some recent years, there have been no women inducted. And, in 2018, no women were even nominated for induction.”

But again, K.T. Oslin was inducted in 2018, so that probably would be important to note. Over the last 10 years, eight women have been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Sure, two women at once is a rare feat for anything in Nashville, and country music specifically, and deserves to be celebrated. But let’s not erase the legacies of the women that have been inducted in recent years, which also include Beth Nielson Chapman, Rosanne Cash, Gretchen Peters, and Mary Chapin Carpenter since 2012.

Though the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame announcement usually comes and goes annually in the regular rhythms of Music City, this year feels different, especially with Shania Twain being inducted. It poses a few questions, and could have implications on other Halls of Fame who will be seriously considering Shania for induction in the coming years.

Shania Twain is one of those entertainers who you think of as a performer first, not a songwriter. The Canadian-born artist became an international superstar after crossing over into the pop world from country, and became one of the biggest stars in all of music in the mid 90s and into the early 2000s, culminating in her 2002 album Up!, which included two versions—one pop, and one country.

Some love to give Garth Brooks credit for the rabid popification of country music in the 90s, but it was Shania Twain who was significantly more responsible, specifically through Up!. Though Twain left a significant impact on country, the height of her career only consists of four albums released in a nine year span. And aside from her debut self-titled album, virtually every song Shania Twain released in that time period was co-written by her. Writing her first song at 10, some might be surprised how prolific of a songwriter Shania was, including penning all of her biggest hits, and all the songs on her 2nd, 3rd, and 4th albums. However, all of these Shania Twain songs were also co-written with her husband and producer at the time, Robert “Mutt” Lange.

So this begs the question, if you’re going to induct Shania Twain, do you have to induct “Mutt” Lange too since their songwriting credits are literally the same? Of course, the couple divorced in 2008 after 14 years of marriage, and after Mutt started having an affair with Shania’s assistant. Who deserves more or less of the credit for Shania Twain’s songs depends on who you speak to, though it’s safe to assume Shania was more involved on the writing side, with Mutt more worried about the production and arrangement side.

But Shania is also being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame as a songwriter/artist, not just a songwriter. That’s right, the Songwriter Hall of Fame makes this distinction so that artists who also write songs don’t get overlooked. That’s how Beth Nielson Chapman, Rosanne Cash, Gretchen Peters, and Mary Chapin Carpenter all got in recently. Pure songwriters also get inducted, but in a different category.

What makes this all especially interesting is how it could affect the biggest hall of fame located in Nashville—the Country Music Hall of Fame. First, wouldn’t it be great if like the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame had a mechanism to induct songwriters who were also known as performers? The Country Hall of Fame does have a songwriter category that rotates in every three years, but it almost always goes to a behind-the-scenes professional writer who is specifically not a performer. The point of the category is to make sure these pure songwriters don’t go unrecognized.

However, under this current Country Hall of Fame induction regime, there really isn’t an avenue for performer/songwriters like Rosanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, Guy Clark, or Billy Joe Shaver to get in. Their only avenue in would be as performers, since their songwriting credits for others would not be strong enough to get in exclusively as songwriters. This is a blind spot within the Country Music Hall of Fame’s system.

But perhaps most importantly, Shania Twain’s induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame feels like it could be a preview for the Country Music Hall of Fame in the coming years. Shania Twain was already considered a front runner in the Hall of Fame’s “Modern Era” category. Each year, only two performers are inducted, one in the Modern Era, and one in the Veteran’s Era. Often what precludes artists from being considered from the Hall of Fame is not being right there in Nashville to lobby the members of the CMA’s secret selection committee for induction. Being originally from Canada, and now living in Switzerland, that traditionally would have someone like Shania Twain on the outside looking in.

None of these inductions happen without a bit of lobbying and arm twisting behind-the-scenes. What Shania Twain being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame means is that she is now actively trying to rack up these kind of accolades. With the type of commercial success Shania had (over 100 million records sold, including two Diamond Certified albums and one Double Diamond Certified album), she immediately rockets to the top of consideration for the Country Music Hall of Fame, if she shows interest in wanting the distinction, and is willing to participate in the induction process.

Currently, Tanya Tucker is thought to be the front runner for induction in the Veterans Era for the Country Music Hall of Fame. At this point, it’s fair to think of Shania Twain as a front runner for the Modern Era, with Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride also thought to be in strong contention, and perhaps Clint Black also in the mix. So yes, it could be that the Country Music Hall of Fame also inducts two women in 2023.

Another name that has been rumored to be moving up in Country Music Hall of Fame consideration in recent years is Steve Wariner. That fact that he’s being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame with Shania is probably a good sign for his Country Music Hall of Fame prospects too.

This might be too much “inside baseball” talk for some. But these are the reasons Shania Twain’s pick for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame doesn’t just feel like another perfunctory rhythm in Music City. It signals that she is ready to get off the sidelines and to start receiving big career accolades. And with her resume, she may receive them all before she is done.

© 2022 Saving Country Music
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