It’s the eve of the video shoot for ”Powerless,” Nelly Furtado’s first single in two years, and the Canadian-Portuguese pop star has a few wardrobe questions. ”And that’s when I put on the umbrella and the extra raincoat?” she asks the room. Then: ”Does that mean I’m wearing the same outfit in the cardboard room and the fish market?” And finally: ”Can I just wear jeans?”
Furtado, 24, hair still wet from the frigid rain outside, sits wide-eyed at a conference table in downtown Toronto’s Park Hyatt hotel, minutes away from her current home. Dozens of extras’ head shots, glossy clippings of sartorial possibilities, and Polaroids of potential locations lie spread out in front of her. Furtado’s manager, her hair/makeup artist, her stylist, and various production people, in a circle around her, chime in with answers to her questions.
The video, cooked up by new-jack director Bryan Barber (the creative mind behind OutKast’s head-trippy ”Hey Ya!” video), kicks off with a two-day shoot at the crack of dawn tomorrow and looks to be a rather quirky confection involving multiple traditional Portuguese dance troupes, bikes, coordinated rainwear, and plenty of fish. Oh, and Furtado will have to learn how to sing part of ”Powerless” backward — overnight. But judging from her clothing questions, she has other concerns, namely the proper outfitting and presentation of her bulging body: On Sept. 20, Nelly Furtado gave birth to her first child, daughter Nevis, and, yes, she’s a bit rounder.
Last May, before she started to show, Furtado submitted to a marathon photo shoot (14 costume changes in two days), which generated enough images for a year’s worth of promotion for her new album, ”Folklore.” While that ploy (the preemptive thinking of DreamWorks, her label) may have worked to disguise her expanding waistline, there’s no covering up her musical growth. The tone of this sophomore effort is markedly different from that of her feisty, birdlike, beboppin’ debut, ”Whoa, Nelly!,” and no one — not even Nelly Furtado — knows if it will fly with her fans.
Although it took a grueling effort by Furtado and DreamWorks in 2000 to get her first single, the naive, wistful ”I’m Like a Bird,” onto radio, the song eventually took off, pushing ”Whoa, Nelly!” multiplatinum and winning Furtado a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2002. But that song, pristine and accessible as it was, barely hinted at Furtado’s genre-tripping, try-anything attitude at the time.
”It’s always strange when you have this monster single that doesn’t sound too much like anything else on your record,” she says, sipping a fruit smoothie in her manager’s office two days before the video shoot. ”Because some people may get a different idea of who you are without digging deeper into the record.” Above her head, the walls are covered with gold and silver plaques marking the single’s and album’s many sales jumps — 40,000 to 200,000 to 600,000 units sold. Apparently, somebody dug it.