Nelly Furtado has a perspective that’s rare for the music industry: she’s been a young pop star who has emerged from the belly of the beast, not just unscathed but in full control of her artistic and business output.
“We don’t realize the limitations we’ve put on women in the music business. I signed a record deal at age 20,” she told Jezebel, “So I’ve been through every kind of form of strange self-reflection and strange dissonance of seeing your face photoshopped on a poster or just having to fight for what you want. Women in this business do have to fight a little harder for what we want, and are constantly reinventing themselves through assertiveness, really. I feel like a wise old woman, because I’ve been doing this now for almost two decades. I feel like I’ve seen it all. I’m lucky that now I get to go, How can I make this really fun for me now?”
Known for songs like “I’m Like a Bird” and “Promiscuous,” in 2009 Furtado started her own record label, Nelstar Entertainment, but it hasn’t been until her latest album, The Ride (out today), that she felt she assumed full control over her own career. Five years since The Spirit Indestructible, she has created a lovely, wide-open record that mirrors the space she seemed to gain by expanding her artistic outlook and cutting out the middlemen. Recorded in Dallas with producer John Congleton, it’s full of nourishing, hopeful, sweet sentiments on minimalist, efficient pop songs. Especially in songs like “Phoenix” and “Live,” you can hear the looseness of it all, like a burden unmoored.
In January, Furtado came to the Jezebel offices to discuss her flourishing artistry, which not only resulted in collaborations with musicians like Dev Hynes and St. Vincent but had her creating soundscapes for an installation by the artist Sheinina Lolita Raj and doing her own song installation at MOMA’s PS 1. (After our visit, she also wrote a wonderful op-ed for Jezebel.)
“A lot of [the time between albums] was self-indulgent, really. I went back to school, I took a playwriting class, I worked at my friend’s vinyl shop, I took sewing lessons, I was busy raising my daughter who’s now 13,” she told us. “The other cool thing that happened was that I let go emotionally of some long term ties—business ties and emotional ties—that I think in essence was really breaking into a new paradigm... I found myself really stripped of the accoutrements and excess of this pop touring career that I had for over a decade.”
That Furado was able to untether herself from this pop world—the music industry construct that in general can be so oppressive to young women—is all the more reason to celebrate, and very obviously part of what she feels is a creative zenith with a new artistic community. “That theme of art and community has threaded through everything I’ve been doing lately, and it’s super rewarding and making me super happy because it’s real, and it’s quiet,” she said.
In the video above, Furtado further discusses the creative process of making The Ride, and using emotional turmoil to pick herself up and write music that she considers the best of her career.