Country-pop Now : an analysis of voice and timbre in the music of Shania Twain

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2020-06-29

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Dudley, Dalton Chandler

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Abstract

Much discussion in country music scholarship today addresses concerns of authenticity in a musical genre whose commercial development throughout the twentieth century was characterized by stylistic hybridization. Bill Malone and Jocelyn R. Neal point to particular worries that arose starting in the 1950s when country musicians began blending what listeners at the time considered a traditional country sound with stylings of popular music being played on the radio. Joli Jenson likewise details this blending in her work on the subject, which became known as the “Nashville Sound” of the 1950s and 60s. In the ensuing decades, country musicians continued to incorporate instrumentation and production techniques from different styles which further developed sub-genres of country music. Such techniques—while well-documented in research on pop and rock music—remain under- studied in country music research. In this paper I focus on the sub-genre of country-pop and its contextualization within the larger genre of country music following Eric Drott’s conceptualization of genre and its inherent multiplicities. Specifically, I look at the musical career of Canadian singer/songwriter Shania Twain, and the impact of her productional choices on country-pop music from the 1990s onward. By focusing in on aspects of vocal timbre and studio production specifically, this research works to further analytical discussion on the voice by pinpointing intersections of studies in music theory, musicology, gender, feminism, and technology. My analysis of the audible shift in Twain’s vocal production from two singles— “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed,” and “Life’s About to Get Good,”—off of her 2017 album Now points at ways Twain and her co-producers manipulate and interact with her sound that align with Asaf Peres’s description of sonic density in twenty-first century pop music. These choices act concurrently with Twain’s gender presentation and postfeminine stance, marketing her within the ever-evolving sub-genre of country music that is country-pop.

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