Shania Twain Sings Through the Pain at the BB&T Center

There was a moment about a third of the way into Shania Twain's Friday-night concert at the BB&T Center when the reigning queen of pop country climbed a set of stairs to the top of the stage and jumped into the arms of one of her dancers as the final beat of "That Don't Impress Me Much" hit. She was wearing a double-slit leopard-print gown that winked at the now-iconic hooded-bare-midriff look she wore in the music video for the song. But instead of playing up the vamp of the moment, she laughed and whooped into the microphone when the song ended. "This is the first time I got the timing right! I'm so proud of myself," she said. "I did it!" Throughout her life, Twain has learned the hard way that she needs to root for herself before the applause comes in.

At 52 years old, after devastating heartbreak, the career-threatening loss of her voice, and a decade-long hiatus from touring, Shania Twain is once again leading an arena tour production that rivals those that pop divas half her age have perfected, and it's damn impressive to behold. Twain is the first to acknowledge the challenges of the feat. "I'm not a dancer," she admits at one moment during the show. Later, as she runs back onto the stage after taking selfies with fans on the floor, she worries whether she might be slowing the show.

Twain has battled insecurity for years, particularly after a public betrayal and subsequent divorce from her husband and collaborator Mutt Lange. The pair co-wrote all of Twain's music during the height of her career, from her second album, 1995's The Woman in Me, through to their split in 2008. When Twain lost Lange, she lost not only her husband but also her primary creative partner and, subsequently, her voice, which weakened in part because of the period of psychological trauma that ensued.
Twain knows that despite her triumphant return to the stage and remarriage, it's impossible to separate her music from those personal struggles, and she doesn't try to. Floating above the audience on a seat made of a bumper-stickered guitar case, she sang one of the power ballads she and Lange wrote together, "You're Still the One," repurposing the song into a statement of devotion to her fans, who have stuck with her throughout her 25-year career.

Still, it's surprising Twain can sing ballads such as "From This Moment On," a heartfelt love song she wrote for a man who began an affair with her best friend 15 years into their marriage. Even more surprising, these are the moments when she's at her best during the show. As she hit the song's crescendo Friday night, one of her backup dancers clapped excitedly behind a curtain and then sang along with closed eyes and outstretched arms.

But it wasn't all a "pity party," a term Twain used to introduce the song "Poor Me," off her latest album, Now, her first in 15 years. Twain took the time to acknowledge her past struggles, but she basked in her career highlights with a career-spanning set including "Any Man of Mine" and "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" from The Woman in Me, "I'm Gonna Getcha Good" from 2002's Up!, and others from Come On Over through to her 2017 comeback album, Now. During one transition and costume change, her silhouette danced along to a retrospective of her early music videos.
And though the pain of her past experiences was raw at times, Twain also leaned into the glamorous bombshell role she occupied throughout her career. She rocked sequined fire-engine-red thigh-high boots, bejeweled bodysuits, and a top hat and cape while she teased "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" dozens of songs before she finally performed it during the encore.

With her back-up dancers clad in front-knotted plaid crop tops, short shorts, and cowboy boots, Twain also embraced the tongue-in-cheek camp that earned her the ire of country purists and ushered in the modern wave of pop country. Other artists would surely stay as far away as possible from visual reminders of the past criticisms they faced, but for Twain, the past is a necessary part of telling the story.