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By Brandon Voss
Nelly Furtado wants to hear all about the guys who grooved, the go-gos who grinded and the drag queens who lip-synched to her music at Gay Pride this summer. Because, much to her disappointment, the 27-year-old Portuguese-Canadian singer has been far too busy promoting her latest album, “Loose,” to make any Pride appearances herself. Even so, she’s thrilled to know she was there in spirit; “Promiscuous,” the disc’s steamy lead single, has been the unofficial anthem of Pride parties and parades across the country-making Furtado our unofficial queen.
“I will gladly take that throne this year,” she says. “It’s a good throne to be sitting on. My gay audience has expanded threefold just in the last six months since my new songs have been on the Internet. It’s crazy. Now I’ve got to do a song just for my gay audience. Shout out! This one’s for my gays!” And what would be the title of this queer tribute? “Just, ‘Happiness.'”
The feeling’s certainly mutual when it comes to “Loose,” a sultry collection of hip-hop party anthems and R&B slow jams that even flirts with reggaeton and ’80s synth-pop. Though she claims the major theme of “individuality and living your life without borders” runs through all of her albums, Furtado’s third album is quite a departure from her multiplatinum 2000 debut “Whoa, Nelly!” – which yielded the Grammy-winning “I’m Like a Bird” – and “Folklore,” her 2003 follow-up.
“I’m not faithful to one musical style,” Furtado says. “I’m a musically promiscuous girl. It’s important to reinvent myself because life changes every day, and as a human being, I hope to constantly evolve. On this new album, I chose to focus on urban and hip-hop – my first musical love – because I hadn’t officially given my fans that yet. I just hinted at it, so it’s something I wanted to fully embrace as an experiment.” The experimentation has certainly paid off: Both the album and its lead single have shot to the top of the Billboard charts.
Much of this success can be attributed to superstar producer Timbaland, who also duets with Furtado on “Promiscuous.” Previously, the pair most notably collaborated when Furtado spiced up a 2001 remix of Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On.” “It’s almost like we made a musical promise to people on a couple of tracks, so this new album is like a fulfillment of that promise,” Furtado says.
The duo still gets freaky on “Loose.” While she’s not surprised “Promiscuous” has connected with the gay community – “It’s fun, flirty and unabashedly, unapologetically sexy,” she explains – Furtado’s not worried about catching flack from conservatives. “I encourage safe, healthy, responsible promiscuity, but I’m not trying to promote anything. That word could’ve been changed to ‘sexy’ or ‘mysterious.’ It’s just about that anticipation of checking people out.”
Yet neither the steamy track nor its accompanying video featuring Justin Timberlake is indicative of typical night clubbing with Furtado. “At the end of the day, it’s a fantasy for me, too, because I’m a mom – my daughter Nevis is going to be turning three – and I don’t get a chance to go out that much. But sometimes I do like to go out and let off steam so I have some balance in my life.” She also promises to visit more gay clubs with her dancers while on tour.
Motherhood may have mellowed her lifestyle – “I don’t take things too seriously anymore,” she says – but childbirth has only intensified her sexy look and sound. “I’m appreciating my body for the first time and realizing, Oh, that’s what these hips are for! All of a sudden you realize what a wonderful machine your body is. The sexiness has just evolved out of that organically, and I think that’s why people are responding to it positively. They can see it comes from within and that it’s not something I’m putting on.”
This vibe is perhaps most evident in the album’s pulsating, tribal-sounding second single, “Maneater,” which is so hot that it literally set a speaker on fire in the recording studio. “In the video we encouraged the dancers to dance as though they were by themselves dancing in their underwear in front of a mirror. I’m sure every gay person can relate to that. Well, maybe not all of them, but the ones dancing at the Pride parades!”
While Furtado has “discovered how lovely it is to be vulnerable,” she’ll admit that some male suitors might describe her as a maneater herself. “I grew up with a lot of strong women. I don’t really have role models-I have icons in my family. It’s easy to become a maneater because you become so strong you don’t really need a man.”
Whoa, Nelly! “Okay, yes, everybody needs a man,” she concedes with a laugh. “Especially a hot alpha-male! That’s my new thing.”
The queen wears her crown so well.