In a time when output frequency is imperative to maintaining relevance, few artists are making music that stands the test of time. Even when iconic naughties tunes resurface in the club, it's often for the sake of millennial-nostalgia and not because it really holds up in 2017. But show me one track from Nelly Furtado's Loose that wouldn't chart if it was released today and I'll show you the door.
While Furtado has been a pop mainstay since "I'm Like a Bird" in 2004, it was her 2006 Timbaland-produced record that catapulted her to stratospheric success. The album became the soundtrack to the '00s, playing LA's hot spots while Lauren Conrad confronted Brody Jenner on The Hills, dominating MTV with pop'n'b hits like "Promiscuous Girl" and "Say it Right." Whether she was aware or not, Nelly's low-rise jeans and slew of bangers were raising us. Now, after 10 years and a whole lot of living, Nelly Furtado is stripped down and back on top with new album The Ride – and we couldn't be more grateful.
We spoke to the original pop princess about her evolution, musical catharsis and how to avoid turning reptilian.
This is so surreal--I wrote an article listing you as one the artists I would love to see make a 2017 comeback and here you are!
That's hilarious. It's kind of funny because I guess it's been a minute. I was always working but over the past few years I wasn't doing as many projects, just kind of focusing on other things.
Well Loose was such a success when it came out and you had this enormous fame, I can imagine it's daunting to have to present yourself for consideration 10 years on.
Yeah, it's weird. It's been a while since I've done the whole "talk about myself for months on end"-thing. I always laugh that you become like a reptile after a while. Like, long enough on the road.
Reptilian like, we get a really thick skin. We're getting shuffled around so much, but poke us with a stick and we'll come back to life, you know? It's the repetition. I feel like a robot after a while. Which is the reason I actually don't tour a lot. I feel very...it's a weird thing. I just have to come home. I definitely have enjoyed some of my tours over the years, but all in all I was never built for non-stop touring. I admire other artists for their sea-legs--or their reptilian capabilities.
What's the metaphorical stick that brings you back to life?
Well, lights, camera, action, you know? [Laughs]. Get on top of the table and do your thing. Entertainers learn at a young age that you've got this talent that people like to watch and it can spread a lot of joy. I always came at it from a different perspective, I felt like a songwriter. Like, creating quietly. Don't get me wrong, I do have an extroverted side, I'll go big or go home when it comes to a night out. But there is another side of me that is really uncomfortable around large crowds.
I remember when Loose came out and you were really heavily scrutinized for being this "new, highly-sexualized Nelly." I'm curious how you dealt with that kind of pressure so young. It must have been incredibly grueling. Was that a huge part of growing the reptilian skin?
I mean, there's a side of entertainers too, we're very self-interested. There's a part of it that really fuels your ego, like "Yay, everyone is talking about me," but it's also really juvenile. I've outgrown that need to be the center of attention. The way the industry is designed, let's be honest, it's to stroke your ego. You can't get anymore egotistical then performing your songs on stage and have people cheer for you. The beast feeds itself. The industry feeds itself that type of Kool-Aid.
Oh, 100 percent.
The Loose period too, I mean, I was in my 20s. Half of me was like, "This is amazing! Everyone is talking about me!" And the other half was like,"Maybe you should slow down because this is unsustainable." Now, I slow down, I have to wake up everyday and think, How do I want my life to be? When you start to accept that you're not perfect and perhaps you can make mistakes and you need to conquer some of your fears. I'll always remember writing this album: I checked into this Dallas motel and I sat on the bed and just blankly stared at the TV and the Latin Grammy Awards were on. I was like, "What am I doing here?" It was that moment, no one was there for you. There was no audience, no one cheering me on, just knowing that you might write a song tomorrow that helps you understand your life.
Man, I can imagine for you sitting there watching other artists attend the Latin Grammys, how overwhelming the need would be to compare yourself.
Oh, in general you're just never satisfied. If you have a number one single, you're wondering why the next song you put out isn't number one. If you have an arena tour, you might not be happy because you're wondering why that one city didn't sell out.
It's a total treadmill, isn't it?
Yeah, you're never really on top. It's an illusion. Even people at the top of their game, they're still working so they can stay there. It comes down to ambition and drive.
What drives you now, versus what drove you 15 years ago?
That's a good question.
Because you could totally could have just have rest on your laurels, you know? Just tapped out.
Different type of ideas motivate me now. I still love music. I love collaborating with people.
The "working yourself out" via songwriting must be a big motivator as well. I know you went through a pretty heavy time personally last year--did you feel like you needed a new album as an excuse to write yourself through that period?
Totally, you just explained it perfectly, actually. It's like, "what else do I have?"
Does that mean, though, when you do get those songs out there and you have you have to play them over and over, does that dredge up old memories? How difficult is it to live through that all again? Or is it cathartic?
Most of my more emotional stuff, I don't even touch live. I just don't even want to. It's really weird, but when you play them you are also experiencing the emotion of the crowd. I have this song called "Try," and when I was playing it in Mexico City I was crying and the crowd was crying so we joked that it should be called "Cry."
This is so weird and niche and you're going to think I'm lying, but when Loose came out, my friends all were each designated a song from the album which was "us." So one friend got "Maneater" and one friend got "Promiscuous Girl" and I was given "All Good Things Come to an End."
They gave you the emo song?! You should ask for a reinstatement!
I honestly wish I got "Do It."
That's what I was going to say! I was literally about to say, "I think you should get 'Do it.'"
Nelly joined us in the PAPER Penthouse to play an unplugged set featuring her Loose hit "Say it Right" in addition to two jams off her new album.