Shania Twain Calls for an 'All-Inclusive Country Music' as She Accepts Equal Play Award at 2023 CMT Awards

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Shania Twain released her sixth studio album Queen of Me earlier this year and is embarking on a tour later this month

Jason Kempin/Getty Shania Twain
Jason Kempin/Getty Shania Twain

Shania Twain is using her moment in the spotlight to call on the country music industry to be more inclusive.

At Sunday's CMT Music Awards at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas, the singer-songwriter accepted the Equal Play Award, which recognizes artists who are vocal advocates for elevating diverse and underrepresented voices in country music.

Twain was introduced by rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who praised the star for "shatter[ing] ceilings and redefin[ing]... country music and beyond."

"I just met her and that's my new bestie," the rapper said. "She's been an outspoken ally against every hate of all kind… gender gaps, ageism, impacting inequalities against the LGBTQ+ community and more. She's an inspiration to me and millions of others."

Twain started her acceptance speech with a reference to her 1997 hit "Man! I Feel Like a Woman," and said that when she wrote the now-classic, she "had no idea at the time that it would become an undercurrent of a decades-long career."

"It's amazing how just one statement can empower so many. And 'Man! I Feel Like a Woman' has been adopted by an array of fantastic communities all around the world and become such a genuine path of power, which brings me so much joy," she said. "Thank you to CMT for pushing the Equal Play agenda and always supporting me."

CBS Shania Twain
CBS Shania Twain

The singer then reminded the audience that she won her first-ever award, the CMT Rising Star award, at the show in 1993, giving the CMTs "a very special place in [her] heart."

Twain continued with a promise to "continue to champion the many outstanding country artists that are not currently played… streamed, toured or awarded at the level they deserve."

"I believe in an all-inclusive country music," she said. "This is a genre of music with a rich history that raised and nurtured my own songwriting and performance and recording career from childhood. Currently, the industry standard does a real disservice to this."

The star then called on the country music industry to "close the gap and provide an equal workspace for all talent," before shouting out the many rising stars she's bringing with her on her Queen of Me tour this year, including Lily Rose, Lindsay Ell, Hailey Whitters, BRELAND, Robyn Ottolini, Mickey Guyton and others.

"My hope is this opportunity and spotlight impresses you much and lights up the careers of these very talented people on their journey," she finished. "I will continue to do my best as a trailblazer. Together, let's ensure all our fellow artists get equal play regardless of gender, age or race."

Twain told PEOPLE on the red carpet earlier in the night that while she doesn't necessarily "consider [her]self a trailblazer," she wants to be "on that path of inclusion" and she wants to "speak for it and represent it."

Renee Dominguez/FilmMagic Shania Twain
Renee Dominguez/FilmMagic Shania Twain

Among those that she's excited about when it comes to new talent is the vocal group The BoykinZ, whom Twain said she recently met on The Kelly Clarkson Show.

"I invited them to do a little a cappella piece with me tonight, just as part of my exchange of supporting upcoming young female artists, people that might, in this day and age, be excluded," she said.

The star also teased her upcoming Queen of Me tour, saying that while she originally only wanted to play about three new songs, she's bumped that number up to "probably seven" based on the positive reaction her latest album has received.

Twain, 57, is the third-ever recipient of the Equal Play Award, which recognizes an artist who is a vocal advocate for elevating diverse and underrepresented voices in country music. Previous winners include Jennifer Nettles and Linda Martell.

Check out PEOPLE's full CMT Awards coverage to get the latest news on country's big night.

Aside from her award, the "You're Still the One" singer also took the stage for a memorable performance.

The "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" performer is coming off a busy year as she released her sixth studio album Queen of Me in February.

Related:Alanis Morissette, Gwen Stefani and Shania Twain Join 2023 CMT Awards Performance Lineup

In December, Twain spoke to PEOPLE about reclaiming her throne and the highs and lows of her career in honor of her sixth studio album.

"It's like a renaissance period for me. To be experiencing it as a relevant artist still, that's rewarding," Twain said at the time. "I feel a renewed confidence. I don't have anything to prove anymore, and I feel freedom in that."

RELATED VIDEO: Kelsea Ballerini Says She Feels a 'Duty to Challenge Everything' as a Woman in Country Music

Since then, the country star appeared on an episode of the YouTube series Chicken Shop Date, where she spoke about the meaning behind the title of her album.

"Queen of Me means I am my own boss. I drive my own bus," she said, to which host Amelia Dimoldenberg asked to clarify whether or not she actually drives her own tour bus.

"Well, I have — I can drive a bus," explained Twain, who's embarking on a major world tour in April. "I don't drive my own tour bus. I could drive my [bus]. I can drive a lot of things. But what I really mean is that I take charge of myself. I take responsibility for myself."

The 2023 CMT Music Awards will air live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 2, and is also available to stream live and on-demand on Paramount+.

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