HAS SHANIA HAD ENOUGH?
Shania Twain -- country music's biggest female star -- is singing two wildly different tunes these days.
On the one hand, the global superstar surrounds herself with the trappings of fame, including a lavish castle in Switzerland where she lives with husband-producer "Mutt" Lange and their son, Eja.
But on the other, Shania makes a shocking declaration -- that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, she now maintains that stardom is becoming more of a burden than a benefit.
"Being famous isn't all that great, or anything to aspire to personally," reveals Shania, who released her latest album, Up!, last November. "If I could do what I do without being famous, that would be my choice. Ideally, I would have become a backup singer and have other stars singing my songs."
Those are shocking words from a woman who, by most standards, truly has it all: international fame, wealth beyond belief and, most important, a loving family.
But now she seems to be saying that she's had enough.
Certainly she's already accomplished enough to fulfill a lifetime of dreams. She remains one of the few women with two albums that have sold more than 10 million copies -- The Woman In Me and Come On Over. If Up! continues its breakneck pace, Shania would become the only female -- in any field of music with three 10-million-sellers.
She also stands to rake in several million from her upcoming tour, scheduled to kick off later this year. Shania's concert extravaganza will literally cross the globe, from the United States to Australia and Asia -- and the box-office dollars are sure to be astronomical.
Yet in one of her songs from Up!, titled "Ka-Ching," Shania takes a swipe at our culture's obsession with celebrities and the quest for material goods. "I think it's a pretty fair observation of how commercial society has become, all over the world," she declares.
On top of that, Shania confesses to a bit of envy for her husband, a famous record producer equally notorious for his reclusiveness. Because few photos of him exist, Mutt can venture out in public and never be recognized.
"My husband is very fortunate," admits Shania. "He's been able to be so successful without having to be in the limelight. I totally relate.
"If I could be wealthy and successful without being a star," she adds, "I'd be satisfied. I'm not going to be somebody who wants to hold on to my fame for the rest of my life."
So, is she contradicting herself -- of merely feeling the double-edged sword of stardom? Shania insists the latter comes closer to the truth.
Her need to withdraw started as early as three years ago when she and Mutt made their decision to move to the posh village of Tour-de-Peilz, at the base of the Swiss Alps. They did so for a couple of vital reasons: to escape the onslaught of media attention and to start a family.
So far, she's hit the bull's-eye on both counts. The remote village where she lives affords her the perfect hideaway from the spotlight. And her dreams of family came true when Eja was born in August 2001.
"I was having a hard time finding peace and solitude," confesses Shania. "But here in Switzerland, I can completely step out of celebrity life. I can go grocery shopping and do my other daily things with pretty much complete privacy."
Shania goes to great lengths to protect that privacy. She reportedly asked her record label not to promote her albums in nearby Geneva -- fearing it would lead to her being recognized as the superstar that she is, rather than as the easygoing Swiss miss all her neighbors know simply as Eilleen (her birth name). Shania has also insisted that her records not be played on the jukeboxes in the local clubs.
It appears that she would rather be known as a good mom than as a huge star. And there's no doubt that little Eja is the light of her life.
"What is so incredible is how his personality matches ours," notes Shania. "Eja is a very calm kid, he doesn't have much of a crazy personality. He's a lot like us, we don't jump up and down about things too much. He's not that excitable."
Shania pauses, then stretches on a living room chair and smiles. She reflects on her love for her husband, whom she married in 1995 -- and declares that romance is sweeter than ever!
"It's become such a special relationship," she notes excitedly. "I don't even know how to put it into words, but every day we both count our blessings. We are such a great pair in every way -- as husband and wife, as friends, as musical partners. We are each other's inspiration and we just live for each other."
Shania makes it clear that she does indeed live for -- but not through -- her family. "It has never been my interest to use my family to get exposure," she maintains. "I want people to know me through my music, that's why I put my emotions and personality into my songs. My family is not my connection with the public."
And that's no idle talk. Shania has never allowed photographs of Eja to be published; she shuns many photo opportunities herself and discourages the public from taking snapshots of her family.
"Think about it," explains Shania. "If people started taking photos of your children, right out of the blue, you would be quite suspicious and uncomfortable with that. I don't think I'm any different from any other parent in that regard."
As a parent, Shania is more hands-on than might be expected. She spends her free time playing with Eja, teaching him to speak French -- the family lives in a French-speaking part of Switzerland -- and preparing his meals.
"We are very good eaters," reveals Shania, with an understated smile. "Mutt and I are strict vegetarians and we don't eat anything that's been processed or packaged. The only things I give Eja are fruits and vegetables, and he loves them."
Shania is certainly the best advertisement for her lifestyle. At 37, she still looks model-thin, even in a pair of baggy jogging pants. And her apples every day definitely keep doctors away. "I haven't had a cold or the flu in seven years," she declares proudly.
But she's starting to play down what she calls "the glamour thing," just one more measure of her disaffection with stardom.
"If you notice in my video for 'Up!' I'm not doing the belly-button look," she points out. "Of course," she adds with a laugh, "I still have a belly button. But I'm dressed very casually, very relaxed in the video -- not this head-to-toe glamour image that I had for a while.
"It's just what I feel like now," she smiles. "I'm very happy with myself, and with who I am as a person. That's something money cannot buy."