Nelly Furtado knows all too well that when you type her name into Google, the first thing it suggests is “Nelly Furtado Gangnam Style.”
“I’ve heard,” she says with a laugh over the phone. Shortly after the Korean viral hit appeared, a video of Furtado performing the song in concert surfaced online.
“I don’t know how it happened. Well, I know how it happened.”
The Canadian pop star was on tour in Singapore when the craze was beginning, and a cab driver tipped her off to the video.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is like the new ‘Party Rock Anthem,’’ and we had played ‘Party Rock’ in our set,” says Furtado. “We were about to play Summer Sonic in Tokyo and we’re like, ‘Let’s play ‘Gangnam Style’ instead of ‘Party Rock Anthem.’’ So we learnt all the choreography and it was great fun. I’m happy to hear Korean on the radio because I’ve been putting Portuguese in my pop songs for a decade now. I’m happy to hear an international language being embraced by the North American pop scene.”
Furtado is about to head out on her first Canadian tour in six years, but she hasn’t exactly been taking time off. During that time, she released two albums: a greatest hits package and a Spanish-language album, Mi Plan. The latter earned her a Latin Grammy Award, an honour she considers the highlight of her career.
“It just reminded me that there are other musical worlds out there that I can pursue in the future,” she says. “And it’s not so narrow as to just be about North American pop music. I can really go down any lane I want to in my career. There will always be an audience somewhere, and there will always be people who are truly passionate about music.”
The tour in support of Furtado’s latest album, The Spirit Indestructible, begins on Jan. 8 in her hometown of Victoria, B.C.
“It’s not my first time starting a tour in Victoria. It always feels good,” she says. “Especially because I got a lot of songs that are about my hometown on this album. I’ve got songs that reference places we used to spend time growing up, so I’m excited.
One of those songs is “Parking Lot,” a party tune about a particular 7-Eleven parking lot in Victoria. If you want to make a pilgrimage, it’s this one.
“Back before there was texting you’d just have to meet in the parking lot to find out where the party was,” she explains. “Then you’d go meet in the next parking lot when that party got broken up.”
Furtado’s image has changed with her music over the course of her career, from the earthy, acoustic nature girl from her 2000 debut, Whoa, Nelly!, to the more aggressive and adultLoose. Furtado says those images came about naturally, and the same goes for her current incarnation.
“When I was recording Loose in Miami, I spent most of the day in a bathing suit before I got to the studio, so I think the image was already being formulated while I was making the music. Same with The Spirit Indestructable, I think I re-embraced my inner B-girl, and also my inner singer-songwriter. I think the themes are more cohesive on the album.”
“Within each song, I stay on topic more,” she continues. “My lyrics are less cryptic. I complete the theme more on each individual song, I would say, than in the past, where I have songs that I don’t even know what they’re about. Like ‘Say it Right,’ I wrote the lyrics and I can’t tell you in a soundbite what it’s about. But I wrote a song called ‘Bucket List’ on this new album and I can be, ‘This is what it’s about. It’s about — you wrote a bucket list and you put love at the bottom of your list.’”
As for her live show, fans can expect plenty of positive energy and crowd involvement, and the possibility of a certain Korean hit.
“Welllllll, you know what? I’m open-minded. A little ‘Gangnam Style’ never hurt anybody.”