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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Billboard Magazine (August 2009)



NELLY FURTADO BUILDS ON HER GLOBAL STRENGTH WITH HER FIRST SPANISH-LANGUAGE ALBUM - 2009/07/30

Nelly Furtado’s first Spanish-language album is a mixture of design and circumstance

WORLD RECORD
NELLY FURTADO BUILDS ON HER GLOBAL STRENGTH WITH HER FIRST SPANISH-LANGUAGE ALBUM
BY LEILA COBO PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK LIDELL
Nelly Furtado’s first Spanish-language album is a mixture of design and circumstance, as so many grand plans often are. There she was in the studio with her friend, guitarist James Bryan, attempting to help write the lyrics for a song titled “My Plan.” But nothing worked. She tried writing the lyrics in Portuguese, but that didn’t work either. And then, Alex Cuba—a Cuban-Canadian singer/songwriter whose album Furtado had recently heard and liked—stopped by the studio to say hello. Why not try the song in Spanish, he suggested. Then he had a go at the lyrics.
“And I really liked it,” Furtado recalls. “So we started really organically writing songs—me, him and James.”

“My Plan” evolved into “Mi Plan,” Furtado’s first full-length Spanish-language album, due Sept. 15 as a joint venture between Furtado’s own label, Nellstar, and Universal Music Latin America. “Mi Plan” will be released simultaneously in all of Universal’s 77 territories around the world and may be the most ambitious Spanishlanguage release by a mainstream star.

While it’s common for Latin crossover artists like Enrique Iglesias and Shakira to release albums in Spanish, these always have included at least one English version of a single for mainstream radio. Even Christina Aguilera’s “Mi Reflejo,” her 2000 Spanish-language album, consisted mainly of translations of English-language hits—and she has a Latin surname.

For Furtado, who has recorded Spanish collaborations but who isn’t Latin in the strictest sense of the word, recording solely in that language is a gutsy move. “To me, music is a language in itself,” Furtado says. “I know it sounds cliché, but that’s what my experience has been around the world. I think some people, no matter what, are not going to like it because it’s not the language they speak. But some of the people who listen to music in a different kind of way, they’ll like it.”

Given Furtado’s global success, however, a Spanish-language album may be a good bet. “Mi Plan” comes in the wake of Furtado’s 2006 album “Loose,” which sold more than 2 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and more than 10 million copies worldwide, according to Universal. The IFPI ranked it at No. 13 on its list of top-selling albums for 2006 and 2007. Its hit single, “Promiscuous,” was the fourth-best-selling online track in the world in 2006, according to IFPI numbers, ahead of hits like Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” (which “Promiscuous” also bested in the United States, according to SoundScan) and the Fray’s “How to Save a Life.” Such a sales performance is pretty hard to follow. Doing so in another language has rarely been attempted. But while Furtado is treading unknown waters with a full Spanish-language release, she has already tested the Latin market with a handful of collaborations. Most notable among them is “Tu Fotografía,” which she recorded with Juanes for his 2002 album “Un Día Normal.” The song peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart in 2003 and also topped charts in several Latin American countries.

Beyond Latin America, her star appeal is so big that the first single from the new album, “Manos Al Aire,” is already climbing the European radio charts, this week hitting Nos. 3 and 8 in Germany and Italy, respectively. This week it debuts at No. 43 on Hot Latin Songs.

“It’s a very interesting project because it follows the philosophy we’ve been espousing for a while now: That increasingly, language is less of a barrier [in marketing music],” says Jesús López, chairman of Universal Music Latin America/Iberian Peninsula, whose roster includes Iglesias and Juanes. “Fans follow their idols, independently of the language the artist performs in.” López cites French artist Florent Pagny as an example. The singer/songwriter this year released an all-Spanish language album, “C’est Comme Ça,” which reached No. 1 on France’s sales chart and is still in the top 10. Pagny had never recorded an entire album in Spanish, but he’s linked to the culture through his marriage to an Argentine woman. And Pagny doesn’t have Furtado’s global name, which has allowed for a worldwide release with high sales expectations. Hopes are particularly strong for Germany, where Furtado sold 1 million copies of her past album; for Italy, where the single “Manos Al Aire” already hit No. 1 on iTunes Italy; and for Spain, the natural market for a Spanish-language album.

The biggest challenge might be inside the United States, perhaps the one market where crossover artists are worked in separate ways given mainstream radio’s reluctance to play Spanish-language music. Still, Universal is planning to effectively straddle both worlds and aiming for media exposure in both languages.

Universal Music Latino president Walter Kolm says that in the mainstream market, the focus will be prime-time TV and major support from MTV on all its channels. Although the songs are in Spanish, the videos will include English subtitles of what Furtado calls her own interpretations of the lyrics rather than direct translations. Universal Music Latino will also target mainstream radio down the line with the same Spanishlanguage singles, although several remixes by well-known DJs (DJ Tiësto and Robbie Rivera have already done remixes of “Manos Al Aire”) will be worked on the club and dance circuit. As far as the U.S. Latin market is concerned, Universal is aiming for a No. 1 radio hit and will implement an aggressive online and viral campaign. It includes an iTunes countdown, where four Furtado singles will be released and promoted on the online store prior to the full album’s release.

However, Kolm says, the biggest challenge in promoting a singer/songwriter who isn’t purely Latin is communicating the album’s authenticity. “We have to be very clear in conveying to the audience and the media that this album isn’t a bunch of songs translated to Spanish, but that it was thought, created and executed entirely in Spanish,” he says.

AUGUST 1, 2009 www.billboard.biz

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