The Regeneration of Nelly Furtado: Empowered, Liberated and Bossed Up
Story // Jeanette Diaz
Photos + Edit// Hope Glassel
Creative Direction + Styling // Phil Gomez
Makeup // Deney Adam
Hair // Isaac Davidson
Cover Art // Pearl Zhang
Location // Yindee Studio
Twenty-three years ago, Nelly Furtado broke into the music scene with her first hit “I’m Like A Bird,” followed by her most well-known success with her third studio album Loose. Now, she’s gearing up for her biggest chapter yet. Once like a bird, the latest moment marks a phoenix-like era, building something grander, more fierce and more striking than ever before. Ready to spread her wings again, Nelly Furtado is ready to take flight into her most fiery and brilliant era yet.
A few days prior to speaking with the Maneater of the naughty aughties, I found myself tucked away at a backyard party located deep in the heart of East Los Angeles on a Saturday night unaware I would be witnessing a kismet testament to Furtados’ unique and rather timeless legacy. In an environment decorated by oscillating rainbow lights and the eccentric throwback hits of the early 2000s, the music came to a rapid halt as the DJ transitioned into one of the most recognizable lyrical intros of the last decades. “Am I throwing you off?” blared through the speakers, as previously stationary bodies rushed the dance-floor as they found themselves uninhibited, awakened and all-consumed nearly seventeen years post-release by the spellbinding rhythm of Nelly Furtado’s famed hit “Promiscuous Girl.”
At the turn of Y2K, Nelly Kim Furtado broke onto the scene at the age of 22 and received critical acclaim with her debut album Whoa! Nelly, which included her soulful, melodic folk-pop hit “I’m Like a Bird.” Nominated for four GRAMMYs and winning one, it was clear she was destined to take over the music world from the very start. Following with her second album Folklore and a handful of single collaborations with the generations hottest artists, which easily solidified her crown in crossovers and collaborations without contestation. Yet, it was her ground and record breaking album Loose released in 2006 that catapulted Nelly Furtado into a legendary pop icon.
After the release of her fifth studio album The Spirit Indestructible in 2012, Furtado stepped back from the spotlight to focus on her personal life, raising her daughter and explored other creative ventures away from the public eye, but returned in 2017 to surprise awaiting fans with the release of her sixth studio album The Ride. A heavy departure from her previous sound that showcased a more alternative and introspective side of Furtado’s abilities that received positive critic reviews for its experimental, risk-taking nature and reflection of Furtado’s own journey during her time away from the limelight. However gaining less attention commercially, it would become the last body of work the artist would come to release. That is until her surprising comeback announcement earlier this year.
LOOK, LARUICCI. GOLD BRA TOP, JOHN MANGRU. EARRINGS, STYLIST OWN.
Despite her hiatus, her legacy was one that would live on far beyond the break. Rooted in fearlessness, versatility and the ability to transcend musical borders, it was her avant guard and explorative music that generated and exciting new sound for the genre at a time when commercial radio pop drove down a narrow highway. As she likes to put it, it was her love for worldly music, and the prismatic nuances they presented, that allowed for her music to metamorphosize into the iconic catalog it still is to this day. “I love musical worlds. Every continent, every country has their own musical world. We always focus on the western with pop music, but there’s so much more going on everywhere.”
Thankfully so. In a musical era laced with an ongoing race for pop princess reign, it was Furtado’s refreshingly diverse sound often characterized by infectious melodies, introspective lyricism and a mesmerizing vocal ability, that breathed new life into the pop mainstream. With shapeshifting ability to maleate sound across genres, languages and cultural borders, she navigated through soundscapes like pop, folk and Latin influences to the later incorporations of r&b, trip hop and electronic dance music with a natural fluidity that allowed her to reach mass audiences on a global scale with ease.
Beyond the music, it became her deeply accessible lyricism that explored humanely relatable themes around personal growth, empowerment and self-discovery that extended her reach. Adamantly fierce and tenaciously authentic, her trailblazing efforts were backed by a masterful maneuvering of the avant-garde. Her ability to push boundaries ultimately paved the way for a new era of alternative pop music that incorporated the art of experimentation starting in the early 2000s.
Now, after taking time off and centering the well-being of herself, her family and her artistry under her own terms, she feels more ready than ever to return center stage. “I’ve changed as a person. I’ve worked on detachment and my personhood a lot. I’m just a stronger person.” With impact and influence that extends far beyond her active years, and on the heels of dropping her to-be latest anticipated seventh studio album, we spoke with the pop icon about music as a tool of liberation, the importance of cultivating community care and finding the key to longevity and success in authenticity.
CORSET, JOHN MANGRU. DRESS, LEAK YOUR SEX TAPE. JEWELRY, ISSHI. RING, ALEXIS BITTAR.
A very gen z heavy sentence to put together, but we have to acknowledge and thank platforms like Tik Tok in aiding the pop diva’s return. “I’m just leaning into my career. The resurgence of popularity in my music and just seeing the longevity over the years is really encouraging and really motivating.” Not only has her catalog has not only found a second life, but to her surprise, has also provided a strong encouragement for her career return with her musics’ revival in the form of a multitude of variations and remixes has allowed Furtado’s pop music to remain a staple, even to newer audiences through the anomaly of audio virality.
“I’d be on TikTok and hear ‘Say It Right’ remixed 2000 times!” And although quantified via a phone app, the phenomenon did not fully hit until this past New Years when she performed her first live show since her return in Australia. She accounts the surprise it took on her when a new audience was reciting her songs along with her. “I walked out and it’s basically 20 year olds in the audience, and they’re singing all the words to the songs and it blew my mind. Like how do all these people know my songs? I knew they were popular on TikTok, but now I’m looking at it, and it was trippy and cool and exciting.”
Although readjusting to the limelight, she repeatedly mentions her indebtedness for it all. “I’m feeling so good. I’m feeling so full of joy and gratitude for what I do,” the star shares as we begin our zoom call. Even behind the digital screen, there is a gleeful warmness that radiates from the artist. Ecstatic at the topic of new music, while still keeping an air of mystery around what will be her seventh studio album, she proclaims the newest project is “like the album I’ve always wanted to make. I’ve gotten more intentional about my music this time around.”
Offering a taste of what’s to come, we discuss her latest single “Eat Your Man,” a pulse-racing collaboration created alongside Australian producer Dom Dolla and her first release in six years. The track exhibits a deliciously electronic-driven dance party, while her lyrics amusingly allude to her past hits with references to prior singles like “I’m Like A Bird” and “Maneater.” She also reintroduces her confidence inducing music that once again shifts the power dynamic towards women and places their empowerment in the driver seat.
Meeting at Beyond the Valley Festival in Australia where they both performed, the iconic link collaboration and guidance received from the producer was a warm invitation to return back to her underground musical roots indicative of her sacred, formative years in Toronto. “I was making underground dance and trip hop records before I signed my record deal, so for me it’s totally authentic. When I got in with Dom Dolla, it felt like he woke up something inside of me that I had forgotten about.” She mentions before going on to elaborate the producers encouragement to have her move away from sounding like an Oxford dictionary and return to the primal instincts of club music. “I forgot how liberating it is to just sing and enjoy the sound of your own voice. When you’re in the studio, you just really try to aim for that energy of enjoyment and escape and fun and sexiness and those things that make you feel that liberation in the music.”
GLOVES, REN HAIXI. EARRINGS, LARUICCI. RING, GAUDESS, NECKLACE,BETSEY JOHNSON.
While the album sonically remains a mystery on our end as well, there’s a lot of takeaways we were able to make during our conversation – starting with her current state of self-assuredness and confidence is only paving way for her best music yet.“I finally started to believe my own hype,” she laughs. “I’ve been in the studio very diligently for about a year now. A lot of late nights till seven in the morning, a lot of collaboration, whatever it takes.” While studio time can become an all consuming case of stress and rather cumbersome path to creative burnout, Furtado’s has learned how to allow her process to strike a balance to it all. And it comes from her recognition that she can, but will never choose to do it alone.
“I believe in community,” she affirms. “I took a community approach with these new records.” We go on to discuss her creative method which she animatedly refers to as “studio parties.” From creation to consumption, it feels like the connecting essence of her music revolves around as many people having as much fun as possible at all times. “I invited a lot of people to party with me in the studio. We’re jamming, we’re making music, we’re having a good time, the high energy is flowing, and there’s no rules really. I just wanna make the best pop music that I can possibly make. It’s been really, really fun.”
Furtado is no stranger to collaboration, with one of the most widespread and ongoing resumes that may challenge the length of a CVS receipt. There’s little to nothing that will stop her from pursuing what ultimately feels right. “I’ve never been a person to be overly self-conscious about what I like, I just go with my heart. If I like it, if I like it – I’m gonna do it or sing it and I’m gonna be proud of it.”
From Latin ballads with Colombian pop king Juanes or Mexican songstress Julieta Venegas, to hip hop leaning features with legendary band The Roots or famed troupe Jurassic 5, and even snagging a children’s soundtrack song alongside Sir Elton John to name a very short, but impressive list – there really isn’t an avenue or artist Furtado can not only work aside but elevate with her eclectic versatility. Sharing an interesting anecdote, she reveals “sometimes I will purposely bring people in who I think won’t get along because I think it’s exciting to create tension in a room and show that with our humanity, we can conquer any tension.” With her music serving as an extension of her personhood, she likes to relate her creative methods back to her core essence as a person. “We can always find things more similar about people than we can find differences. We can find something good, even the most hateful person.”
With one single out, that can be added to her accolades of instant hits, we became curious about who else was receiving exclusive invitations to the recording parties and lending a hand in shaping this next era of pop dance floor domination. “I went on a trip to Colombia with Lido Pimienta and Li Samuet from Bomba Estereo,” she begins with near zero hesitation. As she begins to delve into the magic her friendship with two powerhouse female Latin musicians has allowed her to tap into, she highlights the divine junction of finding such a dynamic with women who also navigate the world of motherhood. “They’re my besties, they’re my heart – I love them. They’re so strong, powerful and have taught me so much about really leaning in. I’m so blessed, it changed my life meeting those women.”
While hinting at both working collaborations with Li and Lido on her latest project, there is a tender exchange on the dominating female power that has come to surround her as of late. “We have this triangle of rock and roll mommies. We lean on each other for strength because we need each other. We’ve created a community of mothers who rock out.” In an industry that all too often seeks to pin women against one another – her deep appreciation and sincerity for her personal support network coupled with the professional power of collaboration over competition is a heartwarming conversation on the magic she absorbs through comm(unity). “My current community that surrounds me lately, whether it’s artists, musicians, dancers, whoever – I can just say that I am really happy.”
EARRINGS, RACHEL MULHERIN. NECKLACE, LEAK YOUR SEX TAPE. BRACELETS, CHANEL (@NEWYORKVINTAGEINC). BRA TOP, TROY DYLAN ALLEN. PINK SKIRT, REN HAIXI. PURPLE SKIRT, DAIRU REN.
While highlighting the glows in her life, her gratitude comes in knowing she has a strong support system to help her through gloomier days. In a recent interview with FAULT Magazine, Furtado shared mention of her adult diagnosis of ADHD. Discussing the adamant work she has done in understanding its scope, she also feels the importance of her vulnerability in sharing her story as a way to help others become more educated on the matter. “I’ve worked so hard in the last couple years about understanding ADHD,” she shares. “I’m passionate about it and I have a lot to say. I think that there’s a lot of work to do,” she relays sharing concerns on some misconceptions that still continue to exist surrounding it. s the conversation around mental health has become more open in recent years, the high scrutiny of celebrity culture still makes it a phenomenal feat for the artist to share her own journey so honestly. While something so private isn’t owed publicly, Furtado gleams at the opportunity to discuss what it has meant for her to be open, and in return receive such gracious responses. “I’ve been getting a lot of messages from people that are thanking me for talking about adult ADHD. Therapists included, letting me know I’ve been helping their patients by openly talking about it. It’s kind of blowing my mind.”
We shift the conversation, to discuss another facet of personal identity and her feelings around re-entering the music scene at a time where Latine & Latin language music is finding itself increasingly dominating the global music stage. While hailing from a Portuguese-Canadian background, Furtado has never been one to shy away from being transparent around her heritage. “I was on stage singing in Portuguese before I’d even performed in English,” she shares. Routinely having released music in both languages, it was her Spanish language tracks that seemed to make more of a memorable imprint on her catalog. “I just feel like my musical soul is super Iberian. it’s just there, it’s a part of me, and there is a comfort there and latin languages just flow out of me.”
If there’s one thing to note about Nelly throughout this conversation, is that she, and the languages she grew up speaking, find nothing but beauty in being imperfectly authentic. After all, it is the very key trait she accredits to all of her success. “I just try not to second guess it, but I’m intentional. I never want to feel like I am faking anything,” she continues, “so that’s why I leaned into making a Spanish language pop album, because I didn’t want to make people think I was faking anything. I’m Portuguese, and everyone knows this.”
Would that be something she’s bringing into the next phase of her career? “I’m so happy you asked me because never mind all the songs I did in English — I have a bunch coming in Spanish too! I feel like I have a whole other album’s worth already recorded.” And of course, we couldn’t leave out her native Portuguese-speaking fans. A particular Brazilian artist becomes a topic of discussion. “I noticed Anitta follows me on Instagram,” she shares. “I gotta ask her to do a Brazilian remix!” Although from two separate countries of origin, Furtado relates to her artistry as another contemporary successful female musician in the pop space who sings in both Spanish and Portuguese. A novelty when considering the Spanish-language dominated umbrella of Latin language music. “Anitta, if you’re reading this, come on!” – a co-sign we are absolutely happy to endorse.
While hitting the overarching theme of female advocacy – there was no way we could miss the opportunity to talk about the cultural reset that was “Promiscuous Girl,” especially for female identifying fans who grew up in a very niched generation. The top charting, and frankly most recognizable, hit released at a prime moment of a sexual redefinition amongst young pop divas of the 2000s. An era marked by a consumer based hyper-sexualization of female stars, music began to feel more like the marketable oversimplification of selling sexiness than it did provide much sexual autonomy to both artist and fans alike. Then came Furtado and Timberlands’ subversive single that lauded the reclamation of female sexuality and autonomy that moved away from the common narrative and perspective of the male consumer gaze. Essentially, it was a perfect setting to become the blueprint for bad bitch energy before we had a household phrase for it.
“God, I’m so glad you hear that in the music!,” she mentions before she begins to highlight her coming-to-age musical library that inspired her top-charting single, and album overall. She discloses, “there were a lot of very empowered female vocalists and groundbreaking feminists, like Salt-N-Peppa and TLC, who were toying the line with their image and embracing of their masculine and feminine sides. Then somehow, they put that into the music. That energy is what inspired promiscuous. Nobody’s more powerful than the other, they’re both standing eye to eye, as equals.”
Before moving on, she has to give a heavy shoutout to “founding mother” Janet Jackson, and her album Janet for providing the most inspiration for her career’s most well known production (to date). “She was so empowered and so in control, you could tell it was authentic. She was feeling sexually liberated, confident, in her energy and empowered. That definitely was a blueprint for me when I made the [Loose] album. Shout out Janet Jackson. I love you.”
DRESS + ARM SLEEVE, REN HAIXI. EARRINGS, LARUICCI. RING, GAUDESS, NECKLACE,BETSEY JOHNSON. SHOES, LES PETITS JOUEURS.
As we wrap this discussion over self-autonomy, community support and the importance of staying true to yourself at all costs, these attributes along with a Janet Jackson mention naturally segway to discussing Nelly Furtado’s significance as our celebrated PRIDE cover as an iconic pillar and figure for the LGBTQIA+ community.
In reflecting on the special relationship between her career and the queer community, she calls upon one of her earliest, endearing stage memories. “I remember the first time I saw a young queer couple in the front row of my show just being so happy, in tears, and in love. I was singing my song ‘On The Radio’ from my first album. That song is about letting go and celebrating who you are authentically, and who you want to be in this world regardless of naysayers and negative energy.” A song she is grateful has been received so warmly and has carried significance within her queer audiences. “My LGBTQIA+ audience has been with me from the beginning. I’m still here, and we are still out here, together! I feel super grateful for that allyship and it’s still just the beginning,” she states before exclaiming “there’s more sweating to be done!”
And if we’ve learned anything – Mrs. Furtado is no liar. A few weeks after our initial conversation, we meet again, this time in person up on the rooftop setting of the Public Hotel in New York City. Glittering city skyline lights decorated Aroma 360 x LadyGunn’s joint soiree Night of One Thousand Nelly’s in the vibrant city that never sleeps. Celebrating the intersection of PRIDE and Furtado’s contribution to queer community, the night included a roster of divine DJs to some of the most dazzling drag performance renditions of Furtado’s cherished catalog all night long. The night would also mark her first return to New York City after six years, since headlining the Pride Island Festival and Montreal’s PRIDE celebration shortly before, the same year. “It’s the best. I just feel at home. For me, PRIDE is a part of and represents so much of who I am.”
After the guest of honor of the night made her grand entrance in the most stunning pink latex ensemble, a fated meet cute allowed us to chat the stunning vision of a queen that is Robin Rose Quartz, who set the tone for not only the evening, but a perfect synopsis behind Furtado’s PRIDE cover. Enamored with the presence of the “unsung pop icon” in the room, they shared “as queer people, we look towards the artists who are looking at us and exist outside of the grain and the mainstream. The work that Nelly Furtado has done for us, and for the queer community as a whole, is so monumental. They have made us feel seen, accepted, and loved. To be able come to a place where we can just dance, exist as ourselves and live unapologetically, is everything to us. We owe that so much to Nelly Furtado.”
With reciprocated admiration and her impact palpable decades from the start, the inimitable idol spent the night opening herself to greeting and taking photos with fans, catching up with friends and artists in attendance and enjoying the experience of firsthand reactions to a mixture of older and new music in her repertoire being played all night long. While the night centered around her, it ultimately was her charismatic and community bent tendencies that ensured the night was a memorable one for all who came out.
If her career started with the immortal words of “I’m Like A Bird,” – this latest chapter definitely marks her phoenix era. Furtado has only proven to become bolder, stronger and more confident with every regeneration. “At the end of the day, all you leave behind when you’re gone is your legacy and the art you made or created,” she begins her closing remarks. “I’m an artist. It’s what I do. I shut down, rebuild and then explode again. But this explosion is unlike any other I’ve had. I’m very much coming into my own. I feel more like myself than I’ve ever felt in my whole life. I feel very empowered, very liberated and feeling very in love with my job. I love making music, and I’ve just taken it to the next level. I’m bossing up a bit!”
With trailblazing timeless talent, an ever-evolving artistic vision and a personal mantra of authenticity at all costs – Nelly Furtado’s resurgence is a reminder of the impact she has had on pop music and the influence she will continue to make in this new era. Nelly Furtado’s comeback is a testament to the enduring power of an established artist, while reminding us all that authentic artistic vision can withstand the test of time. And that sometimes, it just takes a little break to come back stronger than ever.
“It’s take no prisoners. I’m here to do my best work. I’m here to work my hardest and give a hundred percent, a hundred and ten percent. Because that’s what people deserve. That’s what the fans deserve. I didn’t come to play. I came to do my best.”