In 2006, Nelly Furtado released her third album, Loose. Alongside Beyoncé's B’Day, Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, and big country debuts by Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, it went on to become one of the best-selling records of that year as well a career-defining album for the Canadian musician. Singles like “Promiscuous” and “Maneater” significantly altered Furtado's public narrative; until then she'd been known as a kind of heartfelt singer-songwriter, but began to be talked about in the hyperbolic, often patronizing tone reserved for pop stars who invoke their sexuality. But Loose was hinged on her magic chemistry with producer Timbaland, and set them both up as even more versatile artists than fans had previously understood. Ten years later, on the cusp of Furtado’s sixth album, The Ride, she gave The FADER the stories behind the making of the singularly compelling Loose.
Before Loose, I remember being like, "Okay, I want to do a pop album." I wanted to prove to myself that I could be more streamlined. My first album Whoa, Nelly! — I feel like it took 18 months to record. [Producers] Track & Field and I were in the studio every day. Pro Tools kept crashing. So I had lots of time to come up with interesting rhythms and melodies. It was really fun when I tried to play the stuff live, but I always thought it made more sense in a club environment. Then I did Folklore in 2003, and that was more of a fleshed-out, live band sound.
I used Madonna's Ray of Light as a template for Loose: she was smooth but sexy, universal, epic, iconic! Before I'd even stepped in a room with Timbaland, I already knew the name of the album would be Loose. It was actually Jimmy Iovine from my label, Interscope, that was like, "I think you and Timbaland should get together again!" Jimmy was always really stuck on my "Get Ur Freak On" remix with Missy Elliot from 2000. Putting that out was important, and it did really well; it was the official remix to a super iconic song. I’m pretty much rapping; it's totally me and Tim coming together and creating some kind of electricity. That was my first 'street’ hit, it was my first urban hit — nobody had heard "I’m Like a Bird" because it was on pop radio. This was before Instagram; people who only listened to urban radio were like, "Nelly Furtado's a really cool Jamaican boy! I wanna hear more from him!" [Laughs]
Timbaland also did a really successful remix of "Turn Off the Lights,” from my first album. He loved my song "Baby Girl," and ended up sampling my vocal percussion to create a whole new song for Ms. Jade. We had a rapport going. I think Jimmy felt like we had never created magic together that wasn't remixes.
So flash-forward: it's like 2004 or 2005, and he's like, "Tim's in Miami, you can go and start working on it." I had already worked in Miami on my little pre-Loose demo tapes with Scott Storch and Pharrell, and I had also worked with Nellee Hooper in England. So I went back to Miami, checked myself into this apartment-style hotel called The Sagamore with my cousin, who was helping me take care of my 20-month-old daughter. Potty-training by day, recording "Promiscuous" by night!
“Potty-training by day, recording ‘Promiscuous’ by night!”
I hadn't seen Tim in five years, maybe, and I walk into The Hit Factory in Miami and him and I just had that same chemistry again. He was working with Danja Hands at the time, making some really cool stuff. The first beat we played was what would eventually become "Maneater.” We were playing the music so loud that the large speaker on top of the console started to smoke, and then a flame came out of the speaker. It was on fire! [Laughs] It was a really cool omen, you know? But we were actually scared, like, Are we conjuring the devil or something?! What's going on? We didn't pull that song up for a couple weeks.
I think we recorded the entire album in, like, maximum six weeks — with touch-ups after, mixing over that Christmas, or whatever. It was a super inspired time, and it was a cool time for Timbaland too because he was about to get in the studio with Justin Timberlake to record FutureSex/LoveSounds in Virginia. Loose kind of dovetailed into that record, in terms of the vibe.
I was personally totally obsessed with electro-rock. I loved Bloc Party and Death from Above . These were young people making rock and alternative that was also steeped in the rhythmic knowledge of a world with hip-hop in it. Tim and I were both listening to this stuff; I really wanted it to have that kind of energy. So we were doing this like a garage band, writing and recording as we went, and sometimes mixing and doing vocals. It wasn't the traditional, we're gonna do a bunch of demos and then I'm gonna re-sing everything. It was very-real time. This thing was really unorthodox in terms of how it sounded; it didn't have that extra sheen that a lot of pop records had at the time. The distortion, the weird shit, we left it all on there.
And I think Miami at the time was peaking, in a way. It was a very happy time in my life. Tim was working out of Miami, Pharrell, Scott Storch, the whole Cash Money crew was all there. I remember Lil Wayne came to drop a remix verse on "Maneater.” We never put that out – I think it's available now. Everybody knows this, but Lil Wayne doesn't write anything down, he just comes and kind of channels it. At one point, his guys had a whole skate ramp in the parking lot at The Hit Factory — they had really moved in.
It was an exciting place to be. Forget the club, you wanted to be at The Hit Factory. There was a really weird work schedule. I personally would be hanging out at the beach, in the pool with my daughter, working on my suntan, and then I would head to the studio at like, 8 p.m.. Tim would get there at 8:30, 9. We'd work, and then by 1 a.m. I'd be really tired, because I was getting up with my daughter on her schedule around 7 a.m., so I'd go to this little room and crash on the couch for like an hour. Tim and his friends would go to the club, listen to the music, study what people are dancing to. He'd come back at 4 a.m., and we might work for another hour or three, then I'd go home.
The studio had an edge to it at the time. That's where Tim was at: leave, go to the club, come back, then basically live and die in the studio. He was coming off of two years where he’d parked his bus in the parking lot of The Hit Factory and lived on the bus. He had put his time in, so he was ready to pop off again. And I think he was feeling really good about himself; he was working out twice a day! I think he was getting ready for phase two. Although he has that Midas touch and he's really talented, he also put in the work. And I’m there as a new mom trying to make it work.
One night, we're dancing and having a good time, but it was 4 a.m. Tim looked at me like, "Ahh, you're tired, you're not gonna make anything good tonight." And I was like, "Yeah, I am! Whatever! Put a vocal effect on!" The way I like to work is to put the microphone inside the mix room, so you can hear your voice coming back through the speakers in the room, right on top of the track. It's very immediately rewarding. We had been watching Pink Floyd's The Wall on mute the whole night, and I started singing the opening lines of "Say It Right.” Tim immediately started building on the beat and we just jammed it out. That was a product of him being like, "You ain't gonna do shit tonight!"
The MTV Awards were in Miami that year. I ran into Chris Martin who I hadn't seen since we were playing the U.K. festival circuit back during my first album. We're talking, catching up. Timbaland was obsessed with Coldplay at the time and so I'm like, "I'm working with Timbaland, and he loves you guys!" and Chris is like, "Really? Oh my god! Timbaland, who produced ‘Dust Your Shoulders Off?’ 'Dust Your Shoulders Off' is like, my favorite song ever and I'd love to work with Timbaland!" This was funny too, because it was right before Chris became friends with Jay Z.
So Chris gets to the studio the next night, and he was sort of jamming on his acoustic guitar, and Timbaland is literally calling him Coldplay, not Chris. He's like, "Coldplay, hey, check this out, Coldplay!" And I'm dying watching these two total geniuses working together. Eventually I'm like, "Ahh shit, I have to go soon. Why do all good jams come to an end?" And then Chris started singing, "Why do all good things come to an end?" We were originally going to keep his voice on it, but with his band or his label he couldn't, but that’s how Chris Martin from Coldplay co-wrote "All Good Things (Come To An End).”
I remember writing “Promiscuous” with Attitude and saying that all I wanted was to incorporate Steve Nash, because we both grew up in Victoria, B.C., and he’d won MVP two years in a row. Then everybody thought we were dating, which was not the case! I remember being a bit shy to put it out. That was probably the content, the fact that it's called "Promiscuous.” I hadn't done anything wrong but women are always judged. I've since changed my mind about that. By the time "Promiscuous" came out, I was super happy. I always felt like the male and female voices were equals. It was created in that tradition of a TLC or a Salt-N-Pepa song, where the women are assertive and just like, "I'm okay with my sexuality." I remember talking to Tim backstage at the Teen Choice Awards, like, "I really want to pull out condoms when we go out." We didn't go into it lightheartedly, you know? I guess the times have changed.
“It’s good to be proud of what you do, and I think Tim and I really did create something new. I’m proud we were able to celebrate our chemistry on such a large level. I’m happy people like seeing us together.”
I found it funny, the big media attention, like, "Oh my god, she's so sexualized!" I didn't agree. It's not like I was pole dancing or naked; I felt like my image was still pretty vanilla. My version was almost pathetic in comparison. Mine was the nun version, like, "Ooh, she took off her habit!" I don't even know what I did. I put more waves in my hair? Maybe I have a tighter dress on? My butt was bigger, because I just had a baby. It’s weird; you become politicized.
Over time, I've come to realize how special Loose is to a lot of people. It's good to be proud of what you do, and I think Tim and I really did create something new. I'm proud we were able to celebrate our chemistry on such a large level. I'm happy people like seeing us together. It's kind of funny, after Loose went down it was the classic thing where him and I started fighting. Tim felt that I wasn't grateful, then we got into this crazy argument because we had some legal stuff that we didn't agree on. When he got married [in 2008], I was away and couldn't come. All these little things led to a slow deterioration of our relationship.
Now we're great; we're friends again. We saw each other at the VH1 Awards this summer. I brought Dev Hynes with me and introduced them. Dev was super giddy, because he's a huge Timbaland fan. But before that, when Timbaland was working on Magna Carta with Jay Z in New York, I came by. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and we hadn't really hugged it out, or made peace with each other. I would never tell anybody this even three years ago, but because it's in retrospect, I figure it's nice to share these stories because they're real. We're humans, it's a real relationship. People ask every day when we’re going to make music. People are obsessed with him, and they loved us together on Loose. I do believe that we might make music together again.