Nelly Furtado: Whoa, Nelly!

[23 October 2000]

By Ben Varkentine

Nelly Furtado is a 21-year-old first generation Canadian, the daughter of Portuguese parents, and sings in English, Portuguese, and Hindi, which goes a long way towards proving to my satisfaction that multilingual is not the same as multitalented.

She is one of those artists of whom the question of what her songs are about can be answered with: About four minutes. Furtado has nothing to say, no comment to make on our culture, no great and provocative or thoughtful and ruminative statement to make. Her lyrics sound like the result of too many years of creative writing classes and MTV and not enough actual life.

Dig these song titles: “Hey, Man!” “...on the Radio,” “Party’s Just Begun,” “I Will Make U Cry,” “My Love Grows Deeper (Everyday), and “I Feel You.” These are boring titles. These are boring songs. Her melodies don’t last for one day in your consciousness and her lyrics are in the main unmemorable, banal I-don’t-want-to-be-this-to-you-I-want-you-to-be-this-to-me-gosh-you-is-swell variations.

And as if they knew the songs stunk, Furtado and co-producers Track & Field (Gerald Eaton and Brian West) have crammed them with strings, bird sounds, snatches of radio transmissions, wind effects, the pop! of old records, electronic squeals, bleeps, bops, and chattering synth. I’m a sucker for a good gimmicky production—I like the Art of Noise, for crying out loud-but when you go so completely over the top with such insubstantial material, it’s a sign of something. This kind of production is like trying desperately to wrap the empress in new clothes, without realizing that the more you put on, the more skin we can see.

Speaking of which: I’d be stumped, frankly, as to how this woman got a record deal, were it not for the back cover photograph of the artist stretched on the ground, eyes closed blissfully and arms above her head, pulling her too-short T-shirt up to expose Nelly’s belly. Okay: Question asked, question answered. Furtado—your basic brown-haired blue-eyed babe in blue jeans—is awfully pretty, and if her music is not exactly notable, neither are it drunken ramblings (actually, in some cases, that would be preferable). One supposes that is enough for some record companies: A good-looking person who is not a complete incompetent in the studio, well lordy, lordy, Jeb, let’s watch the cash roll in.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get to listen to a great number of fantastic women musical artists in the past 15-odd years, from those in otherwise mostly male acts like Jo Callis of the Human League and Alannah Currie of Thompson Twins, to all-girl bands like the Go-Go’s to solo artists like Tara MacLean. Listening to these women’s work has been most rewarding throughout my life. Apparently, there’s a tax you have to pay, and this year that tax is named Nelly Furtado.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/furtadonelly-whoa/