Wil Marlow approves of Nelly Furtado's flirtation with hip hop...
For someone who's spent all day talking and having her photo taken, Nelly Furtado is showing no signs of flagging. Sitting in a west London studio, the 27-year-old singer looks every inch the star - make-up perfect from the shoot, not a hair out of place.
And yet this world famous performer is one of the most down-to-earth people you could meet. Her almost childlike enthusiasm is infectious - despite seven years of success and all the pressure that brings, she has yet to become jaded by the job.
"Today has just been photoshoots and interviews and blah, blah, blah," she laughs. "I'm still hyper. But ask me again in ten months."
It's been two and a half years since the release of Folklore, the follow-up to her worldwide smash hit debut album Whoa, Nelly!. While that first album established her as a global superstar, Folklore fared less well, only selling two million in comparison to its predecessor's five million sales.
Time for a change of tack, then. Nelly's boss, Interscope Records head honcho Jimmy Iovine, suggested she "fulfil the promise" she made to music fans during the brief time in 2001 when she worked with uber-producer Timbaland, famed for his work with Missy Elliot, Destiny's Child and Justin Timberlake.
"We did a version of Get Ur Freak On with Missy Elliot, and a remix of my song Turn Off The Light for the US hip hop market," she says.
"They did so well and became kind of cult classics. It was like we gave people this taste but we didn't fulfil that promise, until now. It's like, this is what it sounds like, this is Tim and Nelly together on a record."
The result is Loose, which takes Nelly away from her eclectic blend of pop, soul, hip-hop, and folk and into more straight-forward R&B territory. It's still like nothing else around, Nelly giving her unique spin to Timbaland's already innovative production.
First single Maneater for example sounds like Gnarls Barkley and Madonna coming to blows in a hot, sweaty club. But there's more straight-forward R&B here.
Possible next single Promiscuous is a flirty duet between Nelly and Timbaland, full of witty and suggestive repartee. It's an obvious attempt to court a more mainstream market.
"Promiscuous is so unlike what I've done in the past," agrees Nelly. "I'd go as far as saying it's almost generic. It's not generic because it still has art to it, but it's the most mainstream thing I've ever done."
So was there a sense you had to do something different after Folklore failed to do as well?
"I really felt like I had to exaggerate," she nods, side-stepping the question slightly. "If you don't exaggerate, people don't get it. But I had to have a mini battle with the record company because they thought it was too raw for "Nelly Furtado", quote unquote. They didn't want it to sound so edgy.
"But I always loved my demo tapes more than my finished albums. An essence is lost when you professionally mix and master everything. But really it's just about kids listening to it on a car deck or a little stereo at home. I wanted to get back to that idea.
"It's a really expensive record that sounds really cheap," she laughs.
Rumoured duets with Coldplay's Chris Martin and Justin Timberlake don't appear. Nelly says the track she did with Justin was never intended for her album, but may appear as a B-side to a future single of his. Her collaboration with Chris does appear - the album's closing track All Good Things (Come To An End) - but not with Chris on it.
"Tim likes to do things differently, he didn't want us to do a traditional duet, so he sampled Chris's voice," says Nelly.
"It was more like the ghost of Chris on the song. But it's not on the album because, I guess, the label or the management didn't like the fact it didn't sound like Chris, it's a little more raw."
Recorded in Miami, the tracks are interweaved with random chat between Nelly and Timbaland - "Thankfully some of the crazy things we said aren't on there," she laughs - and it sounds like they're having a whale of a time.
But surely the recording wasn't completely free of stress?
"You know what the strain was? Lack of sleep," says Nelly. "Tim works after midnight and I have a two-year-old daughter. So I would wake up about nine, spend the whole day at the beach, be at the studio by nine, work from midnight until five am, go to sleep and do it all again.
"I was sleep deprived but I think I was running on adrenaline. We were just so excited by what we were doing. The energy in the studio was really intense, everyone was really focused."
Nelly seems completely unfazed by the pressures of balancing a successful singing career with being mum to a demanding two-year-old. She gave birth to Nevis, her daughter with her boyfriend Jasper Gahunia, a DJ who is part of her tour entourage, in September 2003, just two months before Folklore was released.
"It was fine because when a baby's first born they're actually more portable," she laughs.
"So when I was nursing her we travelled the world. I was like a gypsy mom and I would breast-feed her in airports. It was very funny.
"Of course it's the most difficult thing I've ever had to tackle, it's insane. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. It makes me who I am, it's like an equaliser.
"I can go into any situation now and I'm equalised by the fact that there's this toddler at home who could throw a bowl of soup on me at any moment."
And so with motherhood and music under control, this whole-heartedly energetic woman wants to try her hand at acting.
She was due to make her acting debut in the film Nobody's Hero, about a young American soldier who returns from the Iraq War only to struggle to fit in back at home, but the start dates moved too much, eventually clashing with the recording of Loose.
"I prepared for it for like six months with my acting teacher," says Nelly. "I've always wanted to act, and from the beginning of my career I was offered things.
"But I was too scared to even try because I didn't want to be horrible at it. Learning has been hard, I've still only scratched the surface.