Even if you’re not an avid sports follower, you’ve probably seen the video of Nelly Furtado performing our national anthem at the NBA All-Star game by now.
The performance in Toronto garnered mixed reviews, especially among Canadians tuning in to the live broadcast. Furtado’s version of “O Canada” included a new melodic interpretation and accompaniment from indigenous Saskatoon flutist, Tony Duncan. The reaction from the Twitterverse was sharp, with some even calling for the Victoria-based artist to renounce her citizenship and stop being an embarrassment to Canada.
Our Sports Editor, Rob Williams was one of those who hated the performance. And purely from a technical point of view, I can see his point. Furtado did have a few pitch problems getting started, which were no doubt amplified by our ears expecting “the same old thing” from our national anthem and not receiving it. By the end of the song, Furtado had me on the fence – there was something in her interpretation, but I don’t think the concept had been developed out fully yet.
Still, whether you enjoyed Furtado’s rendition or not, you can’t fault her for trying.
Not all artists should sing the national anthem. It may be an honour to be asked, but “O Canada” is a truly difficult song to nail in a live performance – as we’ve seen time and time again on both sides of the border. It may have been especially difficult for a singer like Furtado, who really isn’t known for her belting performances and whose unique style comes out best on her softer tracks.
More complicated still are our feelings and expectations for the patriotic ritual, performed ad nauseum to the point where every single note (if not word) has been drilled into our collective psyche. “O Canada” according to some, is more about the song than the singer, and Furtado’s creative decision seems to have touched a nerve within our young country. You still can’t mess with “O Canada” it seems.
That being said, I think it’s way overblown to accuse Furtado of being a national embarrassment to Canada. If anything, the rendition can be seen as a return to the singer-songwriter’s risk-taking roots, something I haven’t seen since the artist’s third commercial album, Loose. Timbaland’s dance beats coupled with Furtado’s cool-mom abs may given her career its first number-one hit across North America, but there was a certain sadness in leaving weird-and-unique Nelly behind. That outspoken artist who, in early 2000’s, provided a different take on Canadian identity. Furtado’s proud and rebellious voice used to symbolize a refusal to fit in, to defy expectations of what we expected of her. This performance, then, was no different.
Risk-taking still seems to be a part of Nelly Furtado’s artistic makeup, and I’m glad to see a glimpse of it again. Whoa Nelly.