When it comes to flirting with musical styles, Nelly Furtado has been a promiscuous girl since her 2000 debut, Whoa, Nelly! Filling the gap between last year’s Spanish-language record, Mi Plan, and the upcoming release of her fifth original album, Lifestyle, the Portuguese-Canadian Grammy winner now celebrates a decade of sonic exploration on The Best of Nelly Furtado, which drops November 16 on Geffen Records. As she continues to foster her longstanding connection to gay fans, Furtado, 31, explains how “Night Is Young,” her latest single and one of three new songs on the compilation, was inspired by her gay best friend.
By Brandon Voss
OutLooks: Greatest hits CDs sometimes come out near the end of an artist’s career, but your new single, “Night Is Young,” seems to send a message that you’ve only begun to entertain us. Does it feel like you’re just getting starting?
Nelly Furtado: Yeah, it’s definitely more of a celebration than a moratorium. I’ve learned a whole lot through all my musical experiences and collaborations over the last 10 years, and I’m going into the next decade with a new awareness of what I love about making music. My Spanish album reinvigorated my connection with the fans, who were so enthusiastic, so it made me fall in love with the business all over again. It also felt like I broke up with English for a couple years, so it’s almost like I’ve gotten back together with an ex-boyfriend — and it’s better the second time around!
Musically speaking, where does your passion lie today?
I’ve experimented with all kinds of things, but now I’m comfortable in my own skin, so I’m not afraid to show my true colors — good, bad, and ugly. I never would’ve put out “Night Is Young” in 2001 because I would’ve said, “This song’s not cool because it’s way too catchy.” Now I’m like, “Yeah, this song is catchy! Let’s put it out!”
“Night Is Young” was co-produced by Salaam Remi and Staybent Krunk-A-Delic. Was it your goal to write a nightlife party anthem?
“Night Is Young” is less about going out to the clubs and more about going out into the world, but it translates so well to a dance floor. “Night Is Young” is actually about my gay best friend, a very successful modern dancer and choreographer, and it came out of a conversation we had. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and we felt like we had the whole world ahead of us. We were reflecting on our achievements, our struggles — it was really inspiring. He heard the song for the first time when he came by the video shoot. He said, “Finally, a song about me! It’s a total gay anthem.”
Did you include gay folks in the video?
Are you kidding? We had all kinds of crazy-awesome dancers. The song is about being yourself and feeling good in your skin. I recently performed at a PFLAG event, and it felt so great to sing that song there.
When did you first become aware of your gay following?
When I was touring with Whoa, Nelly! Whenever I would play “Shit on the Radio,” I’d see young gay couples holding each other, crying, and just getting very emotional. It hit me that they gravitated to the themes in my music of individuality, identity, and self-expression, so that actually helped define me as a musician. My gay audience has always been a huge inspiration to me. My music is all about letting your flag wave high and proud, no matter what that flag is.
In response to the recent rash of gay teen suicides, what’s your message for the young men and women dealing with antigay bullying?
Nothing makes me more brokenhearted than seeing people who feel they can’t be themselves. It’s such a crime. God, it’s so hard and horrible to be a teenager, and the virtual way young people communicate nowadays makes them feel even more disconnected. My advice is to reach out and find somebody you can relate to, because human interaction can heal those wounds. Growing up in a small town, I felt like an alien with dreams, goals, and no idea how to make it all happen, but finding a kinship with other musicians got me through it. It’s important to know that you’re not alone.
As a mother, how do you instill values of unbiased love and acceptance in your daughter, Nevis?
You have to start from day one and be vigilant. You have to shield your child from negativity and correct when people say things that are incorrect. You have to normalize the reality of the world, because we all come from the same place, and we’re all in this together. I’m proud to live in Canada, a country that supports gay marriage, because I can speak openly about it to my child. I don’t mean to brag, because I wish it were everybody’s scenario.
At seven, she understands what it means to be gay?
Yeah, for sure. Children shouldn’t be raised in a bubble. There’s nothing wrong with it, so why wouldn’t I treat it as normal?
Your Twitter followers can read about other artists who inspire you, like Robyn, Rufus Wainwright, and Adam Lambert. Has your daughter turned you on to any teen pop stars like Justin Bieber?
She’s been exposed to lots of different styles since she was a baby, so she’s into some cool stuff. I play her Janelle Monáe in the car and she really loves it. She hasn’t seen the movie, but she also loves the Twilight soundtrack. She does like a few Justin Bieber songs, because, you know, he actually makes pretty good music.
You’ve caught Bieber fever?
I have found myself swooning over a few of his songs — when no one’s looking!
OutLooks, December 2010 issue.