Nelly Furtado builds on her global strength with her first spanish language album

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 “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. While Furtado’s Spanish fluency is probably at 50%-60%, her move to record in that language isn’t capricious. Given her Portuguese ancestry and her fluency in that language, Spanish was a natural extension, and she listened to Latin music in her teens. Now married to Cuban-American producer Demacio “Demo” Castellon, Furtado recorded “Fotografía” with Juanes and later reciprocated, inviting Juanes to collaborate on the “Loose” album track “Te Busqué,” which was recorded in Spanish and bilingual versions.
She also recorded “Slippery Sidewalks” with experimental tango ensemble Bajofondo Tango Club. The song was included on the group’s 2008 album “Mar Azul” and later remixed in Spanish as “Baldosas Mojadas.” Furtado also collaborated with Calle 13 for a remix of “No Hay Igual” that was included in the international version of “Loose” and a remix of Wisin & Yandel’s “Sexy Movimiento.” While neither of these tracks gained traction at U.S. Latin radio, they did broaden Furtado’s Latin audience in other countries. More importantly, given the success of “Te Busqué” in many Latin markets, Interscope began asking for other translated songs. Furtado turned in “En Manos De Dios” (a translation of “In God’s Hands”) and “Todo Lo Bueno Tiene Un Final” (a translation of “All Good Things Come to an End”). Both tracks were sent to radio, and Interscope pushed Furtado for a Spanish album to capitalize on the success. “I started to try, but I didn’t want to do it,” Furtado says.
“I’m not the biggest fan of translations in general. So basically, I put it on hold.” But along the way, Furtado also met Andrés Recio, who formerly worked with Juanes’ management company. Recio, who now works with Furtado and is executive producer and A&R rep of “Mi Plan” introduced her to one of his clients, producer Julio Reyes. Reyes, in turn, had worked with Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. With Reyes, Furtado penned “Toma De Mí,” her first fullfledged Spanish-language song. Reyes sent it to Lopez, who recorded it for the soundtrack to the 2007 film “El Cantante” and used the song for the film’s end credits. That changed Furtado’s perspective. “When I wrote the song with Julio, I had no idea anyone was going to like it,” Furtado says. “And then Jennifer liked it and that gave me a little confidence and I said, ‘Good, I can express myself.’ ” On Oct. 21, 2008, Furtado entered the studio with Cuba and Bryan and began writing for her new album. She eventually wrote 24 Spanish-language tracks with different co-writers and whittled her the list to 12, including collaborations with Josh Groban, Julieta Venegas, Alejandro Fernández, Juan Luis Guerra and Spain’s Concha Buika and La Mala Rodríguez.

The resulting album is full of whimsy, moving from dance to pop to folk, and harks back to Furtado’s 2000 debut album, “Whoa, Nelly!,” in its many textures and colors. Although “Manos Al Aire” is an uptempo dance track, overall the album has an organic, more acoustic feel, and on tracks like “Bajo Otra Luz,” the feeling is one of easy comradeship. Instead of releasing “Mi Plan” with Interscope, Furtado recorded the album under her own label, Nellstar, and struck a one-off joint venture deal with Universal Music Latin America, to which Furtado delivers all the creative aspects—including the album, videos and artwork—and Universal markets, promotes and distributes the album. (Furtado is still signed solely to Interscope for her English releases.) The album’s global launch is coordinated by Universal Music Latin America’s offices in Miami and Universal Music Group International’s offices in London. “We make the videos, the album; we control the artwork and we deliver this to Universal, and together we market the album,” says Furtado’s manager, Chris Smith. “The important thing we control is the entire creative direction of who she wants to be and her image. In order to obtain such control, Nelly had to put her money where her mouth is.

” The decision to go with Universal’s Latin arm hinged on the company’s expertise, Smith says. “Universal Latin already had the machine [in place]. I didn’t want to create a machine for this project. I wanted to be part of a machine.” Universal has long released English- and Spanish-language artists. Enrique Iglesias, for example, releases his Englishlanguage albums through Interscope and his Spanish albums through Universal Music Latin America. All releases are global and marketed in each region by the appropriate company. In the United States, for example, Universal Music Latino always releases and works Universal’s Spanish-language releases, regardless of the label they originate from. Conversely, Universal Music Group International helped coordinate the release and promotion of Juanes’ Spanish-language albums in Europe and Asia.

Smith stresses that “Mi Plan” will be worked around the world with the same impetus as if it were any other Furtado album. “We’re looking at Nelly Furtado, the brand, being released globally in markets that already understand who Nelly is,” says Smith, who isn’t unduly concerned about the language issue. After all, he notes, Furtado singing in English sold strongly in markets that aren’t English-speaking, but where fans connected melodically with the music. Naturally, Spanish isn’t as universal a language as English.

As a result, the marketing and promotion of “Mi Plan” demands an extra level of outreach targeting Spanish-speaking communities and media in each country. In some cases, Smith says, the company will hire “local experts that will make sure we cover the appropriate radio and publications that are available in that market.” But deals haven’t yet been finalized. In Latin America, however, the focus is on positioning Furtado as a songwriter who conceived and wrote her album in Spanish, says José Puig, VP of Latin marketing for Universal Music Latin America. Aside from having her single sent to radio in all markets, Furtado already spent a week doing promotion in Miami with Latin American media outlets and then will travel to Mexico. Also, for the first time in her career, Furtado and her management are actively looking for major sponsorships, although deals haven’t yet been struck. In the meantime, Puig says, Universal is in conversations with several mobile carriers and manufacturers in Latin American territories for deals that involve preloading content from “Mi Plan” onto cell phones, something the label has done successfully with acts ranging from Juanes to U2. Furtado is slated to visit other Latin American countries in 2010, in tandem with her global tour, although dates haven’t been finalized.

Smith is negotiating to produce a live show prior to the tour featuring Furtado and her guests, which could air on TV. And Furtado hasn’t discarded the possibility of recording an English-language version of one of her new Spanish-language songs. “If any of the songs is a big crossover hit, then maybe I’ll attempt it,” she says. “But I wouldn’t do it unless I go to the studio and it works. That’s why I did the Spanish album, so it could be its own, breathing thing.” FIVE RINGS TO RULE THEM ALL FURTADO HOPES TO PARLAY HER INTERNATIONAL FAME INTO AN OLYMPICS APPEARANCE In Nelly Furtado’s home country of Canada—where her 2006 release “Loose” debuted at No. 1—Randy Lennox, president of Universal Music Canada, says the label is treating “Mi Plan” as a major release, on par with any English-language Furtado album.

A round of promotion is scheduled, including the possibility of linking with the Winter Olympics, to be held Feb. 12- 28, 2010, in Vancouver, according to her manager Chris Smith. “Her dream is to be part of the Olympics,” Smith says. “I can’t say exactly how she’ll be involved, but it is something we’re working on.” Lennox says it’s too early to tell how her new Spanish single, “Manos Al Aire,” is doing at Canadian radio.

However, he believes her fans are already well aware of her capacity to produce non-English material, while Smith is convinced programmers will embrace the new single, given the global success of “Loose.” The album made Furtado a global superstar, racking up worldwide sales of more than 10 million, according to Universal. Europe proved a particularly strong region for the album, which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s European Top 100 Albums chart in January 2007, spending eight weeks at the summit. The record also topped the charts in Germany, Austria, Flanders, Poland, Switzerland, New Zealand and Hungary. It went top 10 in the Czech Republic, Greece, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Norway, France, Sweden, Wallonia and Australia.

The album has sold 1.1 million copies in the United Kingdom, according to the Official Charts Co. (OCC). Ironically, given the nature of its follow-up, Spain was the least receptive major European market to “Loose”—the record peaked there at No. 12—although that did mark Furtado’s first album chart success in the country. Furtado also enjoyed steady sales for her previous two albums. “Whoa, Nelly!” peaked at No. 8 on European Top 100 Albums, going top 10 in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Australia, Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, as well as top 20 in Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Flanders.

The album has sold 667,000 copies in the United Kingdom, according to the OCC, with worldwide sales approaching 6 million, according to Universal. The 2003 follow-up, “Folklore,” didn’t fare as well but still peaked at No. 2 in Portugal and went top 10 in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, plus top 20 in the United Kingdom, Flanders and Switzerland. It peaked at No. 12 on the European Top 100 Albums list, selling 245,000 in the United Kingdom, according to the OCC, and more than 2 million worldwide, according to Universal. “I believe that at this point [North American programmers] are interested in anything new with Nelly,” Smith says. “Finally North America will appreciate this record in the way that the rest of the world appreciates English albums.” —Jen Wilson and Robert Thompson
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