How Nelly Furtado Fell In Love With Music Again

How Nelly Furtado Fell In Love With Music Again

By Joan SummersMay 23, 2024

Nelly Furtado is back in the studio, although her impact on music never left.

The chart-topping Canadian icon, whose 2006 album Loose set the bar alongside producer Timbaland, plans to release her next album later this year. First, though, she’s on the eve of dropping “Love Bites” with Tove Lo and SG Lewis. There are other projects and performances in the works, but her publicist steps in before she can spill the details. She laughs and tells us: “I mean, it's coming out soon!”

In the meantime, I’ve spun this next single a dozen times at this point, slipping back into Furtado’s signature vocal inflection, her command of the song’s rhythm and groove. On why she’s so drawn to club music, and the sounds of this next project, she says: “I really felt like DJs brought me back here, because all these DJs started remixing all kinds of music from my catalog, and I kept hearing these remixes, and I started going out and hearing my old music at house parties or before concerts, or at arenas and things.” That energy, she says, motivated her to get back to doing what she loved most. “It just hit me, like, people just want to have a good time. If I can do that, then I should go make more of that stuff, you know?”

She says the song came to be with Tove Lo and SG Lewis after her collab with Dom Dolla in 2023, after which she spent time touring the festival circuit with him. She interjects, here, and says “I love that you say Tove Lo,” her mouth rounding around “toovay-loo,” a pronunciation made infamous by RuPaul last year. But back to the single. After meeting up with SG at Beyond the Valley Festival, they met up in the studio, and “had this song that needed a chorus. She brought us the chorus, and all these catchy things, because she’s Tove Lo. “She's really special and her voice blew me away in the studio. She sounds like an actual angel.

Throughout our conversation, we also touched on her raver days, her kid's Portishead listening habits, that reunion with Timbaland last year, Taylor Swift at the VMAs and so much more.

You've been putting out club music now for so long, and your sounds feel intertwined with what my memories of being at parties and dancing felt like for a long time. What draws you to making dance music, and music that people want to get down to?

It started by growing up in a small town. I grew up in Victoria, BC, Vancouver Island. My first real touch and taste of dance music was my very close friend, my band friend, in junior high. Name's Matthew Johnson, ended up being a techno DJ, moving to Berlin and doing his own career. When we were like kids, like seventeen or eighteen years old, I just hung out at his house, and he would play the craziest, tubular, bass heavy music. Like just jam, and I think that's when I really got a taste. I moved to Toronto, my sister already lived there, and the '90s Rave culture was really amazing when I got there. I was that kid, an 18 years old, in my raver pants, just going to these parties with a water bottle and dancing for eight hours straight, and at night just making music. I had a trip hop group, and it's funny, my daughter played Portishead in the car the other day, and I was like, you realize that was my idol right?

Wow, Portishead, that's cool music for a teenager to be listening to. It's interesting to think about going back to that time now because I go on TikTok, and I see these younger kids partying and getting down to the songs we were also getting down to. This new generation has really rediscovered your discography. What does it feel like to watch that happen in real-time?

Amazing. Like, honestly, this year, this Halloween, there were people who dressed up as Dom Dolla and myself at Lollapalooza. I was like, whoa! That's when it hit me. I have a whole new generation of people discovering my music and it just feels really good. Because it's so authentic for me. I've kind of fallen in love with music again? So it's very trippy meeting young fans, it's this very real, multigenerational reach of the music. It makes me feel proud that we were able to create something that's lasted over a few decades. And it's inspiring, because it makes you want to make more, quite frankly, and get in the studio and try your best. And that's what I've been doing.

I'm also just hearing that sound comeback with younger artists, going back to the late 2000s. You reunited with Timbaland last year, for “Keep Going Up" with Justin Timberlake. When you got back into the studio after all this time, was there any hesitation? Like, "Oh my gosh, like, we set the bar so high for ourselves?" Or was it totally natural?

You know, what it felt like? It felt like coming home a little bit, because Tim and I, there's something... I don't know! When Tim and I are in a room together, it's almost like we really see each other. It's like a creative mirror, where we see the freak in the other one, you know? I mean that in the best way, and can just relax, and just be ourselves in this really cool way that probably we can't be with anybody else except each other. You know? And so when I saw him in Miami, and we worked on “Keep Going Up” together, it did feel that good. It did feel that magical. And then also for me, it was a bit like a healing experience, because that just came out of a FaceTime call. My social media manager was like, you should call Tim to celebrate 17 years of Loose, and I called him, and it turned into this two-hour, human-to-human real conversation, where he said thank you. And I thanked him, and he told me he thought my Dom Dolla song was awesome, and that I sounded good on it. It sounds so wild, but I feel like my heart opened in that conversation. Something magical happened within, and then he and I got together in the studio, and I felt the support. It just felt like we had each other's backs, because actions speak louder than words. Putting together a song, pulling it out of the air, putting it out two weeks later. That doesn't happen every day.

You presented Taylor Swift with an award at the VMAs last year, and it was interesting seeing her reaction to you, and then the internet ran with it, like, “Taylor is fangirling over Nelly!” It reminded me of an interview you had done, where you said Drake was one of the people who told you to get back in the studio. You’re an important artist to people. In the years since your last album, did you not always recognize that about your legacy or your art? Was that something you always had in the back of your mind, and then now was the time to make music?

Not at all. It just happened all of a sudden. My music started trending on TikTok again, I didn’t even have a TikTok account. My daughter, who was a teen at the time, taught me how to use it. Then it just started swelling, more songs trended, and other offshoots and I would especially say remixes. I really felt like DJs brought me back here, because all these DJs started remixing all kinds of music from my catalog, and I kept hearing these remixes, and I started going out and hearing my old music at house parties or before concerts, or at arenas and things. It just kind of hit me, like, people just want to have a good time. If I can do that, then I should go make more of that stuff, you know? So we can keep the party going. I find social media so helpful to me personally because I’m a very community-minded artist. I love collaborating, the average person doesn’t know I have a song with Michael Bublé, The Game and Andrea Bocelli.

That Andrea Bocelli song is really good, by the way.

People don’t know! But it’s really me, social media is very me, TikTok, and reaching out to DJs directly on Instagram and things like that. It flows with my natural personality that I just feel like I’m having a really good time right now, making this new album.

I’ve interviewed a lot of artists recently, who have revisited their old catalogs, or come back to the industry after some time away, partly because of TikTok blowing up their discographies. There's always this lingering thing in the industry, where people say “This woman is coming back to the industry after taking time off to be a mom,” or like, “She's having her renaissance!” I never feel like men get that applied to men. No one looks at the most famous musicians who are men and say, “He took time off to raise his kids!”

Yeah, we're just kind of living our lives, aren't we? We're just out here raising our families. But it's like, we have passions too. And that's kind of my message this time. I just turned 45, but I love my job more than ever, and people. It's authentic for me. I mean that when I say that this is giving me life. Like when I go to work, and I'm rehearsing with my band, or mastering our album — we're sequencing it, we're doing album packaging — it's like this is really meaningful for me, you know? So, I'm glad people are excited. I feel a lot of support and love and positive energy. I will say that from the beginning, since I first walked out on that stage with Drake at the OVO Fest, I've just felt nothing but love, to be honest.

I know we're short on time. So I'm gonna ask one fan girl question. I loved this interview you did, as a retrospective on Loose in The Fader, I think back in 2016? You talked about Ray of Light being one of the albums you used as a template for Loose, which I’ve always loved. I'm just wondering if there are any albums or artists that inspired you to get back into the studio this time?

Honestly, I learned so much from Dom Dolla. I learned so much from following my little DJ bestie around and doing Lollapalooza and Coachella, and being around him and clubs, playing raves with him. The DJs are so on the pulse of community, and the heart and the crux of what music is all about, playing for crowds, starting the sounds with live shows, starting the buzz with a live show. That inspired me, to be one hundred percent honest. Also badass women out there, doing their thing, and just living in their truth. I love Shygirl, stuff like that. Oh my god, Flo Milli who I got to meet on tour, and we hung out in the studio, and there's a certain type of positive energy and vibe that I really, really fuck with. It doesn't matter like the pedigree, or the resume, nothing like that. Just like the vibe.

Photography: Bertrand