Nelly Furtado keeps it unreal and scores a hit

Next to her dreary fellow bestselling artists, Nelly Furtado shows that authenticity is one of the most overrated virtues in pop.

Nelly Furtado waves goodbye to credibility and hello to global success. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/EPA

Reading the list of the world's bestselling albums since the turn of the millennium is not a terribly edifying experience. Judging by global sales figures, what really gets the human race going is thick-necked nu metal (Linkin Park), scented-candle easy-listening (Norah Jones), runny r'n'b slow jams (Usher), mortgage rock (Coldplay) and orthodontically perfect teen pop of such a powerfully disinfectant stripe that you would be better off clipping the CD to the rim of a lavatory than actually listening to it (the soundtrack to High School Musical).

So it is hard not to be slightly buoyed by the unexpected news that the worldwide bestselling album by a female artist of the last 12 months has been Nelly Furtado's Loose, an unequivocally fantastic album. As anyone who has heard his recent solo work can tell you, urban producer Tim "Timbaland" Mosley's genius functions intermittently, but on a good day, he is almost uniquely capable of balancing ineffable pop nous with an intuitive avant-garde sensibility. Furtado clearly got him on a good day.

Quite aside from its quality, there is another way in which Loose differs from previous global bestsellers. Leaving aside High School Musical - which is not really an album so much as part of a masterful exercise in cross-media branding - all the rest are big on earnest authenticity, be it in the form of Linkin Park's loudly expressed angst or Norah Jones's much-vaunted jazz chops.

There is something utterly craven and inauthentic about Loose. Furtado started life as a hippy popstrel, peddling kooky pop-rock. When her second album flopped, she went for a pragmatic sex-kitten makeover. Out went the soul-searching lyrics of the "I've got a skeleton that's deeper than any closet" variety, in came songs called Promiscuous: "I can see you with nothing on,/ feeling on me before you get it on."

Furtado doesn't sound as if she means that when she sings it - she sounds a bit dull-eyed, as if there might be someone in the room with her, with a gun in one hand and a print-out of her last album's sales figures in the other. But listen to Promiscuous - and indeed the rest of Loose, in all its insincere, artificial glory - next to any of its dreary fellow global bestsellers and one thing becomes clear: authenticity is one of the most overrated virtues in rock and pop.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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