Talk about hot. During Nelly Furtado's first day of recording her latest album Loose, a speaker spontaneously combusted, bursting into flames and sending Furtado and her producer Timbaland fleeing for safety.
Since then, the temperature has continued to rise for the Canadian pop star. Loose, which made its debut at number one when it was released in June of last year, has subsequently gone platinum or gold in 28 countries, making Furtado the biggest-selling female recording artist of the last 12 months. Four singles have hit number one worldwide, and Furtado won five Juno awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys), a Brit Award and a Grammy nomination. She had Princes William and Harry dancing in their seats during her rollicking performance at the Concert for Diana in early July, while Loose continues to sell about 100,000 copies a week globally. And earlier this summer she got engaged to Demacio "Demo" Castellon, a sound engineer she met while recording the album. No surprise she's loving every moment.
"With my first album, I didn't take the time to enjoy the success," says Furtado, whose freshman effort in 2000, Whoa, Nelly, sold almost five million copies and was followed in 2003 with Folklore. "The third time around, I'm not taking it for granted. I'm enjoying myself more and I finally feel comfortable on stage 100 percent of the time. Before, I had a love-hate relationship with performing," she continues. "Now, I love it."
Furtado had plenty of opportunity to perform this year. In addition to touring Europe and the U.S., she was a frequent presence at myriad award shows, both on stage and on the red carpet. For Furtado, the two are closely intertwined. "The red carpet is almost like when you go out on stage and perform, because you never know what the audience is going to be like and what's going to capture people's attention," she says. "You want to be comfortable, but not too comfortable, because then you're not taking a risk."
While some stars may profess not to pay attention to the cadre of red-carpet fashion critics, Furtado approaches it with eyes wide open. "The red carpet is a tool," she says. "It's where you go to launch a new project or album or look. You can't show up in a potato sack." No danger of that for Furtado, who's worn Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavalli and Versace, among others, and also champions Canadian designers such as Greta Constantine, Izzy Camilleri and Arthur Mendonca.On the beauty front, she's shown herself to be equally as chameleon-like and fearless. She has a face that makeup artists swoon over, sometimes opting for a strong, smoky eye, sometimes an attentiongrabbing red lip, sometimes a bright wash of color on her cheeks and lips; on the hair front, she's not afraid to experiment either. This year alone, her hair has been straight, curly, long, short, up, down, with and without bangs and, most recently, she decided to lighten her color, too.
When asked if she was game for wearing the dramatic fall makeup looks seen here, Furtado jumped at the opportunity. "For me, the more creative, the more artistic, the better," she says. Still, she's aware of perception versus reality in the music business, and works hard to keep the focus on who she is, rather than what she looks like. "When you're a singer and you're singing someone's favorite song, they don't want to be staring at your eyeliner," says Furtado. "They want to look at your eyes, your expressions, your emotions. The way I keep my job fun is by trying new looks and styles, but you don't want to alienate the audience, either," she continues. "Most fans don't necessarily connect with that kind of high style—they think it looks crazy. You're always walking the line between looking fresh and interesting and maintaining a familiarity."
Most of Furtado's fans would be able to relate to her daily routine, honed during months of rigorous travel. "I've learned what I need for maximum effect and minimal effort," she says. That includes cream blush by Bobbi Brown or Stila, skin care by Guinot and, most recently, ProActiv's anti-acne line. "It's like a guerilla attack on acne," she laughs.
Though Furtado recently wrapped up her U.S. tour, she shows no signs of slowing down. There's talk of creating a band with Timbaland, who's currently working with Madonna, and she's also interested in recording an album in Spanish or Portuguese (her family emigrated to Canada from Portugal). Loose will be rereleased in October, with additional tracks and some Spanish songs, and Furtado also hopes to release a live performance DVD and album. "Music has been my whole life," says the 28-year-old, who started writing music at age three, playing instruments at seven and recording professionally at 16. "God was nice and decided to give me this one talent so I wouldn't end up in the street," she laughingly adds.That doesn't seem likely. Though Furtado has many of the trappings that come with the territory, she doesn't have the ego. "Every year, Giorgio Armani sends me a birthday present with a telegram. I keep them all, in case one day I have nothing to do with this business and I'm living in a tent; I can pull them all out and say, 'One day long ago, Giorgio Armani wanted me to wear his sunglasses and dresses.'"
If Furtado seems extraordinarily grounded for a pop superstar, that's because she is. "I come from simple, humble, working class roots," she says. "I work really hard and that keeps me grounded. It's grounding to be a mother and to have my family around me." She pauses for a moment. "Recently my aunt taught me how to make some traditional Portuguese soups. I try to do as many normal things as I can and all the other stuff, that's fantastic and wonderful, but I take it with a grain of salt and treat it with whimsy."
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