I’m Like A Bird
Nelly burst onto the music scene in a big way thanks to her debut single “I’m Like A Bird”, which became an inescapable hit almost immediately. Her unique sound, combined with her thoughtful approach to crafting and performing pop music, not only made her a star in her home and native land, but internationally as well. The song remains synonymous with the early 2000s, and still transports listeners back to that time. Nelly would go on to win “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards for her work on the track.
Stand Out Lyric: And though my love is rare / And though my love is true / I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away
Turn Off The Light
While “I’m Like A Bird” was a launching pad for Furtado’s debut album Whoa, Nelly!, the LP was chock-full of great songs – including “Turn Off The Light”. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, marrying modern funk-infused dance and classical elements. The lyrics paint a complex picture of what it means to be a woman, a subject Nelly explores throughout the bulk of her catalogue. Her quick-spitting delivery is also a highlight, perhaps foreshadowing her foray into hip hop later on in her career.
Stand Out Lyric: I’m running, I’m running, catch up with me life / Where is love that I’m looking to find? / It’s all in me, can’t you see, why can’t you, why can’t you see it’s all in me?
…On The Radio (Remember The Days)
"S*** On The Radio" served as the final major international release from Nelly’s debut, and helped her nab a Juno win for “Songwriter Of The Year” in 2001. The fiery track hits back at any naysayers who criticized her for carving out her own mainstream success, becoming an anthem of sorts for staying true to who you are.
Stand Out Lyric: And remember the days when I was so eager to satisfy you? / And be less then I was just to prove I could walk beside you?
Powerless (Say What You Want)
Nelly released her sophomore album, Folklore, in 2003 – and while she’d never shied away from embracing various cultural sounds, paying homage to traditional genres was new territory. “Powerless” was far more acoustic-based than her previous singles, featuring elements of folk and even country, resulting in a beautiful sonic blend. Lyrically, she continued to tackle big topics often ignored in pop – including cultural appropriation and white-washing. The track took home “Single Of The Year” at the 2004 Juno Awards.
Stand Out Lyric: We take the culture and contort / Perhaps only to distort / What we are hidin’
“Try” is certainly one of more moving ballads Nelly’s ever recorded. Her passionate vocal performance accentuates the emotional hardship she outlines in the lyrics. Her ability to articulate the confusion and struggle that define the human experience remains a true testament to her talents.
Stand Out Lyric: And I have lived so many lives / Though I’m not old / And the more I see, the less I grow / The fewer the seeds, the more I sow
Promiscuous ft. Timbaland
In 2006, Furtado dropped her third album Loose. The collaborative effort with powerhouse producer Timbaland proved to be a Top 40 smash, peaking at #1 on the Billboard 200. In an interview with The Fader, Nelly points to Madonna’s Ray Of Light as a source of inspiration for the kind of concept record she wanted to make, and “Promiscuous” set the tone as the first single. A perfect fusion of dance pop and hip hop sensibilities, it was instant hit. Armed with cheeky lyrics and a brand new attitude, Nelly shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and would go onto win another Juno for “Single Of The Year”.
Stand Out Lyric: You expect me to just let you hit it / But will you still respect me if you get it?
Say It Right
While Nelly’s new look and sound may have alienated some fans of her earlier work, “Say It Right” was a bit of a throwback to her roots. The mysterious lyrics combined with an ethereal, Eurythmics-inspired backing track was the culmination of her past and her present. The single peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Stand Out Lyric: Say it right, say it all / You either got it, or you don't / You either stand, or you fall
Give It To Me - Timbaland ft. Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake
Timbaland enlisted his two go-to collaborators at the time – Furtado and Timberlake – for the first single off his 2007 album Shock Value. The club track had some serious swagger, and Nelly brought her signature sass to the opening verse.
Stand Out Lyric: I seen you try to switch it up, but girl you ain't that dope / I'm the Wonder Woman, let me go get my rope
Broken Strings - James Morrison ft. Nelly Furtado
Nelly’s duet with British singer-songwriter James Morrison is heartbreakingly beautiful. An ode to a relationship in disrepair, she delivers one of her strongest and most dynamic vocal on record.
Stand Out Lyric: Oh, what are we doing? / We are turning into dust / Playing house in the ruins of us
Manos al Aire
Nelly released her first full Spanish LP – Mi Plan – in 2009, with “Manos al Aire” serving as the lead single. The mid-tempo track features a strong Latin groove and an impassioned delivery that transcends any language barrier. It peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs, making Nelly the first North American artist to top the chart with an original Spanish recording. She would go on to win her first Latin Grammy for “Best Female Pop Vocal Album”.
Stand Out Lyric: No tengo armas para enfrentarte / Pongo mis manos, manos al aire