Nelly Furtado: Loose woman

The singer Nelly Furtado used to talk earnestly about artistic credibility. Now she's more concerned with letting 'the sexiness just pour out', she tells Alexia Loundras

"You know what?" asks Nelly Furtado. "You can't take life so seriously." Furtado's chirpy, 100mph voice is at odds with the the 27-year-old Canadian singer's strikingly elegant looks, but she has a reasons to be happy. Her third album, Loose, is ensconced in the Top 30 and poised to be a global smash. The first UK single, "Maneater", is a ferocious pop beast that shot to the top of the UK charts, giving Furtado her first No 1 hit. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, "Promiscuous" - a heaving, rapping duet with Timbaland - has yielded her biggest US hit.

Helmed largely by Timbaland, who is Missy Elliott's producer of choice, Furtado's album is adorned by rhythms that gyrate their way through edgy pop-R&B. It's a heady, sexed-up, world away from the primary-coloured innocence of her multi-million-selling 2001 debut, Whoa, Nelly! and its pastoral and serious 2003 follow-up, Folklore.

After the success of her debut, with its Grammy-winning breakthrough hit, "I'm Like a Bird", Furtado was desperate to prove she was more than a pop puppet, especially as rumours that she was stepping-out with a pre-Paltrow Chris Martin made her tabloid fodder. Jaded with what she felt was a shallow music industry, she responded with an album that eschewed its predecessor's carefree, mainstream pop in favour of more mature singer-songwriter-accented numbers; grown-up explorations of her Portuguese roots (her parents are working-class Portuguese immigrants from the Azores who moved to Canada before she was born) and defiant assertions of her identity.

"It was a very serious album," admits Furtado now, with a big grin. "It was like that person at a party who sits down next to you and tries to get you into deep conversations when all you feel like doing is chilling with your Martini." Whereas Whoa, Nelly! sold more than seven million copies worldwide,Folklore struggled to sell a quarter of that.

"I thought it would have sold a lot more than it did," reflects Furtado, before trying to blame the dissolution of her previous label - Dreamworks - for the record's poor US sales. But she has no regrets. "That album was something intimate that I had to do for myself," she continues. "When I started making music I dreamed of being like Ani DiFranco; I wanted to have my own label, and be all independent. So when my first album was so straight-down-the-middle pop, I felt pressured to be unique on the second album. I wanted to cement myself as somebody with range."

When we last spoke, around the release of Folklore, Furtado - in her typical, machine-gun-syllabled way - eulogised about the life-changing power of true love and gushed earnestly about her desire for artistic credibility and recognition. But now she couldn't seem less concerned with what anyone else thinks of her. She rattles off her replies - sometimes so flippantly you can't help but question her sincerity.

The birth two-and-a-half years ago of Nevis, Furtado's daughter with her former boyfriend Lil Jaz, the DJ in her band, was the catalyst for change. Becoming a mother shifted her perspective. "When you have a child, all of a sudden you're really accountable," she says. "You're responsible for somebody's life. I guess that's why I have such a casual attitude to everything else."

"It made me tally up all I had going for me," she continues, "and it forced me to smarten up and not be so cheeky. I thought: 'You know what? Stop being a diva. You've got a good job here, why not own it a bit more?'" Furtado ceased resisting the return to pop. "I'd already proven I could write songs," says Furtado brightly, "now I wanted to do something people could shake their booty to."

Loose achieves exactly that. There are some mid-tempo numbers, like the sweeping "All Good Things (Come to an End)" - penned with and originally featuring Chris Martin (his label requested his vocals be taken off). But essentially Loose is an exhilarating and exhilarated release of energy. From the Spanish-language "No Hay Igual" to the sultry groove of "Say It Right", Furtado's songs crackle with intensity. It's as sexually charged as the summer nightclubs it will no doubt soundtrack. With Loose Furtado has abandoned her inhibitions. "I'm a lot more comfortable with myself now," she says. "I was pregnant for nine months and breast-feeding for two years. My body was completely hijacked; for all the best reasons, but for that time it wasn't mine. So once that was all over," she sighs, reliving the relief, "I got to rediscover my body. I had all these new curves and I loved them!" Furtado flourished recording the album in the sultry heat of Miami. "I felt really sexy there," says Furtado. "A lot of the people are Latin, and I'm Latin. I could be the Portuguese-Canadian girl and let go of my inhibitions - the sexiness just poured out of me."

She acknowledges her new image won't hurt her record sales but argues that she's the driving force behind it. "I'd still never wear a bikini in a music video because I just don't do that," she says. "In photo-shoots, if I like something I'll wear it. If I don't, I won't. Since having Nevis, I've become much more assertive and direct with people; if I don't like something, I say so."

'Loose' is out now on Polydor

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