Not sure if you know who Nelly Furtado is. The B.C. native is a huge star here in Canada. She won a Grammy in 2009 for her biggest hit, “Fly Like A Bird,” and released a lot of other successful music.
Then, she dropped out of the music scene, taking a break for the past five years.
Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? 🙂
I read this really interesting profile of Nelly today and had to share parts of it for obvious reasons.
Gave me insight into possibly some of the things David’s had to deal with. Huge early success (he was much younger even than Nelly when she first came on the scene), feelings of self-doubt, “walking away from ‘a long-term business relationship’ … somebody who was a father figure to me” … and eventually feeling “numb” … although she uses different words to describe that.
I’ve been struggling to understand why David would go underground at precisely the time when he should be building up excitement for his new music… I don’t blame him, or anything, I have the utmost respect for him to want to find the balance that works for him… I just want to understand, you know?
So this article helped me do that a little, and that’s why I’m sharing excerpts from it.
Let me know what you think.
Three years ago, Nelly Furtado was just a woman named Kim in a playwriting class at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.
“Only the teacher knew my other life as a singer,” says the award-winning singer/songwriter, whose sixth album, The Ride, marks her long-awaited return to pop. “My name was just Kim, which is my middle name.”
And no one recognized her?
Furtado shakes her head. “No, not until the end. I had a couple of really good friends by the end – and they were, like, ‘We didn’t know it was you!’”
Today, Furtado’s long dark hair has been shorn in a pixie cut. She appears shy, rarely making eye contact, turning her small hands over in her lap. She speaks about her music in a meek, awkward way, as if it’s a new boyfriend whose affection she remains unsure of. There’s little of the bold confidence one might expect from one of Canada’s greatest singing talents.
The artist who has sold more than 40 million records worldwide has been struggling with an existential crisis, questioning what her life was about and what she wanted next. “I was in search of personal autonomy,” she says. “It was about me finding a more simplified version of myself.”
Sounds as if it’s a premature midlife crisis by most standards. Furtado is young – 38 years old. But it’s understandable. Everything in her life has been accelerated.
“I had a very fast-paced life since I was about 21, professionally and personally,” she offers, referring to when her debut album, Whoa, Nelly!, with its chart-topping folk pop single, I’m Like a Bird, catapulted her to worldwide fame and a Grammy.
“I was a mother by the time I was 25. I owned my own home by the age of 22, 23.” Every three years, she put out a new album. “I had to put on the brakes.”
“I don’t always see myself clearly,” she says of her family’s help during that period of darkness. “Other people see you. They might remind me that being an entertainer, being a singer, is very positive to do and spend your time doing. Sometimes, you need reminders.”
Really? She doubted her talent?
“My singing teacher, who works with all kinds of people, told me every singer hates their voice,” she says flatly, turning to look at me with turquoise eyes beneath a thick fringe of false eyelashes.
She hates her voice?
“I don’t hate my voice,” she shoots back. “I don’t think I have a particularly remarkable instrument. I think I’m lucky because I write songs and sing. That helps. Of course, you can sit there all day and criticize yourself and feel less adequate as an entertainer.”
The playwriting class at U of T was all part of a creative odyssey Furtado embarked upon, sending herself out into the world, not as a global celebrity, but as a flâneuse at the mercy of inspiration, beauty, creative terror. She took pottery classes at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, worked in a friend’s record store and thrust herself into creative challenges.
There’s a sense about Furtado of satisfied exhaustion, of having finally found her way back to be in an interview again, in a small room, in a comfy chair, talking about the magic of what she may have begun to doubt. Throughout the conversation, she makes segues to describe some of the songs on the new album, talking about them and their genesis as if they were places she visited on her odyssey.
There was that place where “you’re not feeling anything any more, and you know something’s wrong.” It was the genesis of Flatline.
Another time, she had a profound realization about her whole life. “[The song] Tap Dancing was written because I had a meeting, and someone said, ‘Why are you tap dancing? You don’t need to tap dance. You are who you are. Period.’
And then I realized that I had been tap dancing throughout my entire personal and professional life.”
And by that she means?
“I mean performing for others.”
To prove what she can do?
“Yeah,” she responds thoughtfully. “Seeking some kind of validation. Or seeking to entertain people rather than seeking stillness and quiet.”
Last summer, driving around in her car, she would sing what came into her mind; what she was feeling. “Then I would throw it out the window,” she says. “It wasn’t for recording purposes. It helps when you’re going through emotional turmoil, because you can sing yourself to peace. It is my form of meditation.”
This is one of my favourites of her songs… a duet she recorded with James Morrison.
Fun fact: Mike Krompass actually toured with Nelly back in the day. 🙂