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I Almost Went Blind During My First Date with Nelly Furtado

Kathy Iandoli

Kathy Iandoli

Shot in the eye with a mysterious substance… What can I say? It was an evening of firsts.

The Jane Hotel leans against the West Side Highway in New York's West Village, and somehow manages to be a dust receptacle for all of the debris that flies off car tires just a few feet away. It boasts the kind of old-timey decor ideal for horror films and themed birthday parties—artfully distressed, vintage objets d'art are de rigueur; the only occupants of the hotel beds have nondescript European accents with children in tiny hats. This is where Nelly Furtado and I agree to meet for our first date. I've known Nelly for years, although a random lunch last year sealed our fate as potential Noisey first date material when we both ordered the exact same meal (sautéed kale with dried black olives and a side of escarole soup).

This date was supposed to be epic, considering it was her first date since becoming single last summer (she married in 2008), but we didn't delve too deeply into that single status because who the hell discusses exes on their first date? So here we were, reunited on a stormy evening in the midst of her promo run for her newly released sixth studio album The Ride. The project is a nod to the rollercoaster ride known as the life of Nelly Furtado, and in speaking with her it's clear she's always collecting unique experiences. We were supposed to grab a drink and some appetizers at The Jane's Café Gitane, only there is no longer a Café Gitane (unbeknownst to us). We then both wanted tea, but they didn't have that either, so we pulled a gangster move and ordered from Seamless. We decided to wait in the dusty upstairs quarters that were once RuPaul's bedroom—back when they allowed boarders—later converted into a bar. The liquor bottles bore yellowing labels, and the wine had turned to balsamic vinaigrette. You could write your name with your finger on the bar top.

We're both severely allergic to dust. Nelly starts sneezing; I'm developing hives. We open the door to the rooftop, and the monsoon-like rain sprays us. I back up and attempt to sit on a sofa, but it has a broken leg. "Kathy, look out!" Nelly shouts, and I jump up before the sofa collapses. Basically Nelly Furtado saved my life… right before she almost blinded me.

After almost requiring an EPI pen and medical assistance, we head back downstairs to wait for Seamless, and post up at the only bar left at The Jane. A few patrons stare at my date, obvious fans, though the biggest fan of all walked right up to her. It was a cockroach the size of a Yorkshire Terrier, and as soon as Nelly eyes it she starts screaming at the top of her lungs. Her makeup artist pulls a spray bottle from her rolling luggage and begins wildly spraying the air, shooting me right in the eyes. The burn was so intense that I began coming up with names for my Seeing Eye Dog. I learned the bottle contained only sage and rose water, which I plan to carry as substitute teargas from now on. Need I remind you, this was all before we even started our date. Luckily I regain my sight in time for our food order, and we move to a large open room with a fireplace to begin our actual date. We did talk about one ex—a rapper who broke her heart—along with the time she gifted St. Vincent a giant cutout of her head. Potential blindness aside, Nelly Furtado is the best date ever.

Noisey: So now that you're in New York so much—like two weekends a month—do you consider yourself a New Yorker yet?
Nelly Furtado: Eh. No, not yet, but it's starting to feel more like home. I was here for a couple snow days, so I've officially gotten sad in New York because of the weather. So yeah, I'm starting to feel a little more familiar with the city. It is starting to feel like a home away from home.

Where's the other home?
I mostly live in Toronto.

I just visited Toronto for the first time. The needle thing, I called it the Drake needle because that's where he did his Views album cover. I can't tell you how offended people were!
The CN Tower! Who'd you say it to?

A Canadian.
I can't believe you said that!

It was so innocent, but it was like the equivalent of calling the White House "Obama's house" to a Republican.
Yeah! That's so funny. "Drake lives there! That's Drake's house, the CN Tower!"

Now that your schedule is completely insane, do you have any downtime?
I mean, yeah. I love downtime. I love to catch up with friends and make music. I like going shopping. I particularly enjoy going vintage shopping. I try to get out and see things. I just went to go see a play that my teacher put on in Toronto. She's a playwright.

Oh, because you were taking playwriting classes, right? Are you still doing that?
No, I did that last year. I'm not doing it currently because I'm too busy right now to get to class every week.

So which friend are you in your friend group? The mom, the reasonable one, the wild one?
I can be like the mom to everybody apparently. I'll make everybody's plates and put food on peoples' plates and stuff, but there's a side to me that's really fun and extreme. I'm either like full-on or totally nothing. For instance, even if I don't go out all the time, if I do choose to go out, I'm likely to stay out really late because I don't want the night to end. It's never over, you know? I just keep going and keep going, late, late, late! I've always been like that since I was a kid. But then other times, I just want to do something really quiet and chill. So, I don't know. But I think I definitely make my friends laugh—I'm kind of a goofball. I like to laugh with my friends, and it's usually super silly.

I want to talk about you giving Annie Clark your head.
That's a good story! So I went to Japan on tour, and it was called the Summer Sonic Music Festival. We shared a stage—like we played the same stage—and afterwards, I got to meet [Annie]. She was really nice, and she came by my dressing room to say hello. My room was full of shoes and jewelry and clothes and I thought, "This is the most anti-rockstar dressing room ever, and here I am with my idol rockstar babe, Annie Clark!" I was so nervous. She ended up saying that I looked really nice in this cardboard cutout of my head that was in my dressing room that we had kind of lugged around since Tokyo. We got it in Singapore or something from the record label, and it was in our kit. It was funny. So she goes, "You look really beautiful in that photo!" and then naturally, I said, "Thank you! Would you like it? You can take it!" And I gave her a cardboard cutout of my head. And she looked at me—she's so polite with those Southern manners—and she's like, "Yeah, sure. Really? Sure, thanks!" Inside she's probably like, "Oh my God." But at least she didn't forget me!

She also kept your head for quite some time!
Well, she said she did, yeah. The next time I talked to her about it, she was like, "Yeah, it's kind of weird! I feel like the last time I was in my storage room, I saw your head!" [Laughs.] Oh my God, so embarrassing! It was just nerves! I just was like on weird, starstruck nerves. I can be a real fangirl when it comes to certain people. Sometimes hits you when you least expect it.

Who was another artist/celebrity that you fanned out for?
One time I was in a movie theater in Florida, and I realized I was standing right behind Michael Moore, the director, in the popcorn line. I turned around and I introduced myself and I said, "Hi, I'm Nelly! I'm a singer. It's nice to meet you!" I think I said I'm from Canada and he's like, "Oh, let's sing 'O, Canada' together! I love Canada!" And then we sang "O, Canada" in the popcorn line together. Then I got an autograph for my brother.

What's a crazy thing that a fan has done when they've run up on you?
One time in Mexico City, a fan climbed a couple stories up onto the roof so that they could knock on my dressing room door, but the cool thing is they weren't creepy, they were just really sweet! He was like, "Hello, can I please have a photo!" and I was like, "Sure!" and I took the photo and then he just took off.

He could've fallen! Didn't you have a story of you falling once?
I did fall off stage! It was one of my first tours in the US and we were in New Orleans. I had never been to New Orleans, and I didn't see any of the city because I was sick all day inside, and I mustered enough energy to get on stage that night for the show because the show must go on! I already was delivering what I felt was a very sub-par performance; my voice was not there 100 percent. And at that moment in the most quiet section of "I'm Like A Bird," I tripped over my guitar player's monitor, went forward, and I kind of did a full flip about seven feet down and crashed in between the gate and the audience. There was a mark of like chainlinks on my back in a bruise the next week. Because I already felt so horrible about the show and then I fell, the first thing I said was, "It only gets better from here, folks!" I think my band thought I died because they were like, "She was there and now she's not! Oh my God! She fell off the stage and hit her head!" But I was fine.

So it's safe to say in that instance that you were not like a bird and you didn't fly away?
Nope, couldn't fly! It was just a thud, a somersault thud. Like, it was the craziest fall.

So you're not one of those people who does extreme sports?
Eh, not really. I'm so not interested in bungee jumping, not interested in sky-diving, not interested in any of that because, I don't know. I'm not scared to try certain things, though. Like, I did zip-lining this summer. The heights were pretty high, and I felt fine about it. I went to Quebec to do that. I don't know. Extremes? No, I'm probably more comfortable with reading a book or going to watch a play. I guess I take in life in a kind of different way or at a different pace. I did do a 10K last year! I just signed up one day. All my decisions are usually spontaneous. I'm like, "I think I need to sign up for a 10K!" and I literally signed up for a 10

K that was six months away. Then I quickly found a 5K that was three months away so that I could train for the 10K. Then after that, I'm like, "Eh, I don't know if I want to keep running right now. I'm gonna try something else."

Being married, do you still go on dates with your husband? Well, I'm actually single now, since July. But in regard to dates, I think spontaneity can be really romantic.

What's a fun date for Nelly Furtado?
I think going to a concert is a fun date. It depends on what concert. Maybe if it's like a show or something. Maybe if we go out and walk around and just have a fun day and let the day take you where it takes you. Anything with spontaneity I think is fun. I'm very dreamy and I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm gonna sound like a such a dork but I love that movie with Ethan Hawke, Before Sunrise. Oh my God, I watched all three! I love this concept of how space and time can stop sometimes, because I think it's true—there's something about humans and space and time and connections. I think you can feel really connected to somebody you just met. Before Sunrise really eloquently showcases that there are soul connections between people that you can't understand, and I don't think they're meant to be understood.

So concerts and dreamscapes.
And nature. Like a hike or something. It's fun to have social activity but not too much, because if you're never alone with your date, nothing happens.

Do you remember your first date as a kid?
I was 14, and it was with the coolest rapper in the city, Kiley Hendriks. He went on to be in Swollen Members as K-Prevail.

You met him at a food court, right?
Yes! I feel like we met in a food court, and then he asked me to rap on his album but I sang, I didn't rap. It was a weird mathematical equation like, "You can sing on my album if you write a rap for me." I was like write a rap? Am I a ghostwriter? So I went home and wrote a rap, and came back the next day and rapped it in front of McDonald's with all his friends. I was really cool and everybody liked it and instead of moving forward with this abstract recording that was happening, he said, "You wanna go out to get something to eat tomorrow?" So he took me to some little spot after school, and we had sweet potato fries. That was my first time having sweet potato fries, so I thought he was the coolest person in the whole universe. And he smelled like patchouli. He was the cool hippie rapper, and I was so enamored.

That's the cutest story! Do you remember the rap?
Not at all. I gotta find those old books.

Were you the type to write poems for guys you liked?
Oh yeah! Because then Kiley broke my heart. He just stopped talking to me a couple dates later, and I guess we weren't going out anymore and I was so broken-hearted. He was like my first puppy love heartbreak. I wrote like 20 songs about him in my bedroom. He helped birth the R&B singer in me! He really did. I was just like, "Well fine!" I was mad about it, and I had so much to say about it… in my bedroom, by myself. I so clearly remember writing all these songs. It was my first heartbreak, and I was 14 and I loved R&B and hip-hop: It was the perfect breeding ground for practicing songwriting.

Honestly, his legacy is not going to be Swollen Members anymore. It's going to be birthing the R&B singer in you.
Well, I would have never started writing raps if it wasn't for him. Then later on in life, I probably would have never been able to convincingly do any urban or rap tracks ever.

Oh my God, Prevail caused all of this!
He really did! He was a big part of my life! [Laughs.]

Do you think you would ever write another rap again?
Yeah, for sure. I've experimented with it before. I've always been obsessed and interested in what rappers are doing. I find rappers in their daily lives are always rapping and always putting together words in a poetic way. Sometimes when they just say normal things, it sounds like they're rapping or singing and I find that fascinating. It's really cool the way words can be weaved together. I've been writing songs with Hodgy from Odd Future and when we work and stuff, I'm always just really fascinated by the way he puts things together.

Besides rap, you can also sing in Hindi, right? That clip of you singing "Kabhi Kabhie" is awesome.
Oh yeah, I learned as a child to sing two Hindi songs because my friend's father asked me to sing at this cultural event because they didn't have a singer to sing these two songs. [My dad taught] me to sing them phonetically, and I knew the meaning too. He'd write it all out phonetically for me and he'd show me the words. It was a beautiful thing to have that kind of education. I was really lucky growing up in Victoria. I made a lot of friends with different kids whose parents are also from other countries like mine, who were from Portugal. So we bonded in that—in our differences.

Is there anything on your checklist that you're like, "I've gotta do this!"
Definitely. I mean, when I did this MoMA PS1 thing, being really around the energy of art and performance art and installations and things like that, I don't know! Lately I've been really inspired by artists like everyone from Samantha McCurdy who did the artwork for my album to Alex Katz, who I collaborated with on the Art Basel piece, and then Ryan McNamara, the performance artist who gave me this great vehicle to try this songwriting experiment at PS1. Recently, I met Signe Pierce who calls herself a reality artist and she's incredible and she's a photographer. She had a show at Art Basel as well. I'm just heading into a direction where I want to explore questions in any way I can—whether that's in a play or in a song or another exploration of some kind. I'm not sure, but I just have to follow that creative muse and see where it takes me. As I mature I'm getting more confident in my artistry and getting more confident in my ideas, like where my brain's at; where my head's at. I'm more confident and more outwardly displaying it through more artistic mediums—like the thoughts I have in my mind. I think it's just from spending more time with artistic people in a visual performance art realm. It's really opening my mind up, and it's kind of exciting for me. We'll see where it takes me.

Since her date with Nelly Furtado, Kathy Iandoli has stocked up on rose water and sage. Follow her on Twitter.

Nelly Furtado shot at the Jane Hotel byRebecca Miller.