Standing on the chilly streets of Toronto with clouds of condensation billowing from her mouth, Nelly Furtado looked like a member of a cultural carnival as she and director Bryan Barber worked on the video for her new single, "Powerless (Say What You Want)."
Swarming around the singer were Portuguese dancers in short skirts, a diverse assembly of people on bicycles and a bumblebee directing traffic. "We've got a bunch of crazy images, and I'm jamming them all together," said Furtado, who scored a Grammy-winning hit in 2000 with "I'm Like a Bird" and whose second album, Folklore, comes out November 25. "The video is full of color, just like the new album," she said. "I'm all about mixing and mashing cultures together."
Furtado chose to shoot in her home country instead of a warmer city because she wanted to illustrate the ethnic diversity of Toronto, a city where Chinese, Portuguese and Italian communities exist just blocks from one another. "Canada is very free and open," she said. "You're free to express your culture a little bit more [than in the U.S.], and I grew up respecting my culture a lot."
"Powerless (Say What You Want)" is representative of the musical eclecticism and experimentation on Folklore (see "Nelly Furtado Digs Deeper Into Her Roots On Folklore "). The song starts with clattering Indian percussion and a funky hip-hop beat and is later embellished with a dizzying Middle Eastern melody, twangy banjos and pop vocals.
" 'Powerless' is the kind of song where the first time you hear it all you really get is the breakbeat and the vibe, and it's a very happy, uplifting song," Furtado said. "But if you look into the lyrics, you'll find they're a little heavier and more insightful [than the music would suggest]."
The track begins with commentary about the homogenization of pop culture and how society's ideals are built around an Anglo-Saxon framework: "Paint my face in your magazines/ Make it look whiter than it seems/ Paint me over with your dreams/ Shove away my ethnicity."
"I noticed that when I turned on the TV, I didn't really see anybody that looked like me," said Furtado, who was born in Victoria, British Columbia, but is of Portuguese decent. "So it's really important for me to keep that realness in me and always remember where I came from, while at the same time always entertaining people. I like music to be inclusive."
The rest of "Powerless (Say What You Want)" is about rising above limitations, making the most of opportunity and above all, gaining strength through the things that are truly important. "Power is really the opposite of freedom," Furtado said. "If you're free you don't really care about your ego and yourself. You don't care what people think of you or what your image is. So real power comes from not caring about power and just letting yourself be free."
The first line of the single's chorus, " 'Cause this life is too short to live it just for you," is perhaps the most representative of Furtado's current mind frame. During her time away from the spotlight, she wrote songs and recorded an album, but she also fell in love and, less than two months ago, she had a baby. Of course, that means trips to the trailer every two hours to feed the infant, but the rewards far outweigh the drawbacks.
"It's good to have balance in life, and that's one thing that's really helped me," Furtado said. "I was pregnant the whole time we did the record, and it was really grounding. The music came so easily because when you have a really stable home life, music and anything creative is like an afterthought and it just flows."