Nelly Furtado just released the first single off of her forthcoming fifth album The Spirit Indestructible titled “Big Hoops (The Bigger the Better)”.

This video is amazing for a number of reasons.  First, Nelly Furtado always delivers on her vocals and lyrics. I like that she understands what her vocal abilities are and she chooses to use it in original ways. I also like that her lyrics are fun and reference the 90s:

Tonight’s the jam, I’ll be there ’til dawn/I’m going down, I got my big hoops on/Pant leg so wide, I got my backpack on/I’m going to hear my favourite song/ Hey, hey, hey, what’s the scenario?/That boy keeps passing me by/I said no diggity, no doubt/I thought I told you I was fly/

Second, Nelly experiments with some dubstep, best heard in the last thirty seconds of the track when strong drum and bass beats kick in. Third, her sense of fashion is a creative contemporary urban-cool: from strutting down the street in her wide leg-pants and huge  sun-shaped, sparkling earrings to wearing geeky frames in another shot and big hoops, Nelly knows how to keep it entertaining! Listen and watch below:

What I really love and want to talk about however, is the video’s cultural and artistic edge. “Big Hoops” showcases native dancing. World champions Tony and Kevin Duncan, both members of the Apache and Arikara/Hidatsa nations, demonstrate their hooping techniques, while Violenta Duncan illustrates her dancing in a colorful beaded-shawl. As Native Appropriations blogger Adrienne K says, “This is going to go down in history as my example of how to incorporate Natives without crossing the line into cultural appropriation.” She’s right. Many pop culture artists like Gwen Stefani and Ke$ha are guilty of cultural appropriation. I’m convinced I don’t have to remind everyone of Gwen Stefani’s move from exoticizing and placing Asian women in the backdrop of her music videos to taking on the role of a white-Californian chola in another. The point being that the white body is always able to appropriate and perform the raced “other” without contestation.

The fact that the native hoop dancers are able to illustrate their talent, art, and culture on their own, without becoming props in the background, is so important. As K echoes, “What I like about the video is that Nelly just let the Duncans do their thing and show off what amazing dancers they are without having to fit into some overly constructed storyline.”  In the ‘behind the scenes’ video below, Nelly Furtado introduces Yellow Bird Production members and lets them speak for themselves and speak on what hoop dancing symbolizes for their native community, and native identity in general:

Nonetheless, thinking about how much I like Nelly Furtado and my own analysis of this video made me realize that, while she does not share a history of fetishizing people from the global majority (what some people call “minorities”) like some of her contemporaries, she does inhabit a unique in-betweenness. In other words, as a Canadian-born, Portugese-raised woman, she gets to move in-between racial and cultural spaces with ease, and in ways that other white artists do not. I’m not applauding this but simply trying to understand what enables Nelly Furtado to travel these different worlds? Is it that her own race and culture is ambiguous to us?

Nelly Furtado’s multilingual skills have made it possible for her to connect with the Latino culture in ways that other contemporary artists cannot. In 2009 she released a Spanish album titled Mi Plan and collaborated with Juanes on a chart-topping number. Even the fact that she gets to produce a music video titled “Big Hoops”, in which she wears and raps about big hoops, is something to think about. An accessory normally associated with multicultural urban women of color, hoop earrings are not something we often see white women wearing and flaunting. If it is not her racial and cultural ambiguity, then what makes it possible for Nelly Furtado to live in such in-betweenness?

Perhaps Nelly Furtado answers this question for us when responding to a reporter on why she chooses to live in Toronto: “[I]t’s the most multicultural city in the entire world” and a place where [I] “can be any culture.”

Deep analysis aside, I remain a fan of Nelly Furtado’s and can’t wait to hear the remainder of her new album. It’s release is scheduled for June 19th.

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