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#RSFlashback: 15 Years Ago, Nelly Furtado Hit Number One With ‘Say It Right’

… And then the pop star left us wondering what went wrong

Amit Vaidya Feb 23, 2022

Nelly Furtado in Germany in 2017. Photo: Sven Mandel, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Nelly Furtado’s third album Loose released in the summer of 2006, reaching Number One on the Billboard Album charts after the singer already had claimed her first Number One single with “Promiscuous” featuring producer Timbaland. The album proved to be a blockbuster spawning numerous hits including “Say It Right” – arguably the strongest song from the album.

For many, Furtado’s sexier image presented at the time of the album seemed manufactured. Others simply felt how could the same artist who gave us the girl-next-door and the fresh romantic vibes of “I’m Like A Bird” change so dramatically. Of course, “Say It Right” proved to be the ultimate culmination of the Furtado of her earlier years with the glammed-up 2.0 version she unleashed with the back-to-back hits of “Maneater” and “Promiscuous.”

By all accounts, the Furtado and Timbaland chemistry was eaten up by the global audience. In many ways, Furtado and Justin Timberlake became the two leading names attached to the super-producer and with Furtado’s Loose and Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds becoming massive records, it seemed like both artists would embark on similar career paths.

Of course, that didn’t really happen. While Timberlake continued to shine and pretty easily was able to combat any and all controversies while riding high on successful collaborations within the multiple genres, winning Grammys along the way, Furtado’s career stalled.

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After exhausting nearly half the Loose album, Furtado took a longer than expected break, and when she returned, despite another solid album with “The Spirit Indestructible” in 2012, the musical landscape had changed so much as artists like Rihanna and Kesha now ruled the airwaves and fan favorites like Britney Spears managed relevancy by just continuing to be present. Furtado was seemingly shut out.

Furtado received a lot of criticism for her first single “Big Hoops (Bigger The Better),” where critics felt the singer was trying desperately to mimic Rihanna’s stylistic delivery. While not using the words “appropriation” at the time, there seemed to be a mounting perception that Furtado’s transformation from Loose onwards lacked some level of authenticity.

The main criticism stemmed from the lyrics – a space where Furtado had previously flourished. Remaining fans were left wondering what exactly happened. While the singer at least managed to fuse melancholy into Timbaland’s productions in the Loose era, here, even the productions were viewed subpar. The single failed to even crack the Hot 100 chart, though ironically the song got its respect much later than originally it should have received. The song was interpolated by Rain Radio and DJ Craig Norman last year and “Talk About” became a Top 10 hit. The song prominently features Furtado’s voice but bizarrely enough, she does not receive billing credit on the track, only a songwriter’s credit.

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As for “Say It Right,” it felt like the ultimate peak of Furtado’s fame. The single perfectly captured the singer-songwriter’s fight with the Top 40 lady she so visually looked like and the production screamed. It was that one moment where the lyrics even if not her strongest didn’t matter because the song the magic she and Timbaland created for one moment kept us all moving and grooving no matter where in the world.

The song ended up landing Furtado her last Grammy nomination. She would lose to Amy Winehouse for “Rehab.” In the 15 years that have passed, the song has continued to be a shining example of a collaboration done right. It has been covered by artists as diverse as the Bloc Party, Angus and Julia Stone and, more recently, Tame Impala.

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