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Nelly Furtado: the essentials

Del Cowie

Nelly Furtado burst on to the music scene in 2000 with her hit single "I'm Like a Bird" from her album Whoa Nelly. It's still one of her best-known songs, but there has been much more to Furtado's career. On every one of her albums, Furtado has experimented with sound, often coming up with a sonic stew completely different from that of her preceding record. From Portugese fado, to hip-hop and R&B and straight-ahead pop, Furtado has touched on it all since she was discovered at the all-woman talent showcase, Honey Jam, back in 1997.

For The Ride, Furtado's new album (out March 31), the Victoria, British Columbia-born, Toronto-based singer changes it up again, channelling lo-fi indie for her latest sonic excursion.

Given the eclectic nature of her musical career we've compiled some of Furtado's best moments from her entertainingly varied catalogue.

'I'm Like a Bird'

While Furtado had been making music with trip-hop outfit Nelstar and had released some solo material, too, for all intents and purposes this is the global hit song that kicked off everything. In hindsight, the lyric "I'm like a bird/I'll only fly away" is not only the catchy chorus hook, but also an indicator of Furtado's propensity to change musical styles.

'On the Radio'

"On the Radio" is one of Furtado's most visually arresting videos, matching her onstage charisma with one of her catchiest songs. B-girl crew Shebang make an appearance alongside Furtado in the clip. Watch out for cameos from Swollen Members (whom she would later collaborate with on their song "Breathe") who pass the mic near the end of the song.

'Turn Off the Light'

Another single off Furtado's debut, Whoa Nelly, "Turn Off the Light" exhibited Furtado's penchant for blending elements of hip-hop and dancehall. This is probably why the song lends itself so seamlessly to the Timbaland remix, which would not be the first time Furtado's music connects with the superproducer.

Missy Elliott feat. Nelly Furtado, 'Get ur Freak On (remix)'

While "Get ur Freak On" is a trademark Missy Elliott song, it's noticable that Elliott hands the first half of this Timbaland-produced track entirely over to Furtado. The song's hit status and the remix's placement on the Tomb Raider soundtrack underline Furtado's reputation as a sterling collaborator.

Jurassic 5 feat. Nelly Furtado, 'Thin Line'

Furtado continued her association with hip-hop by appearing on the Roots' song "Sacrifice," but her collaboration with throwback hip-hop crew Jurassic 5 gave her an even more prominent role. The song, which begins with Furtado's distinctive laugh, is written from the male perspective of being stuck in the "friend zone." Jurassic 5 enlisted Furtado to articulate the female point of view on the song, which is laid down over a sample of Minnie Riperton's "Les Fleur."

'Island of Wonder'

A testament to Furtado's versatility, her sophomore album Folklore found her exploring her Portugese heritage and language explicitly in her music. On "Island of Wonder," she connects with Brazilian musican Caetano Veloso, for whom Furtado is currently writing a stage play, and she says it was a dream come true. "With 'Islands of Wonder,' I’m writing a song about the Atlantean wonderland, which is commonly known as the Azores Islands, which is where my parents are from," Furtado told CBC Music. "I invited [Veloso] to do vocals similar to what he did on his album Araçá Azul, which is where he really explores Brazilian vocal percussion and this style of singing that is very unique. He went above and beyond, like the cerebral artist he is, and decided to sing the song with a Portuguese accent rather than a Brazilian one because I’m Portuguese."


The big hit from her 2006 album, Loose, "Promiscuous" was the song that made Furtado's association with Timbaland official. The kaleidoscopic video was directed by Toronto's Director X (who also helmed her "Big Hoops" video) and also featured Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. Notably, when performing the song in recent years, Furtado has changed the title from "Promiscuous" to "Mysterious."

'Say it Right'

Another one of the many Timbaland collaborations on Loose, "Say it Right" boasted one of the superproducers' best uses of his vocal tics married to a straight ahead pop song. The intuitive chemistry of Furtado and Timbaland's collaboration is also evident in the song's video.

'Manos Al Aire'

In following up Loose, Furtado's sound took another turn on the all-Spanish language album Mi Plan. The project's first single, "Manos Al Aire," topped the Billboard Hot Latin singles chart and she made history as the first North American artist to do so with a song that was not translated, but originally written in Spanish.

'Big Hoops'

Nelly Furtado's 2012 album, The Spirit Indestructible, is an underrated entry in her catalogue and lead single "Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)" features Furtado's sly songcraft at work: she slips in references to '90s hip-hop and R&B songs and the video clip directed by Director X connects the song title to First Nations hoop dancing.

Blood Orange feat. Nelly Furtado, 'Hadron Collider'

After a long hiatus, Furtado re-emerged last year with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange fame for this limited cassette recording. While Furtado did not end up working with Hynes on her latest project, The Ride, the creative direction towards indie pop was hinted at in this atmospheric collaboration.

Follow Del Cowie @vibesandstuff on Twitter.