Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Nelly Furtado's Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)

One of the things I thought was pretty cool about Nelly Furtado's music was the variety. I remember flipping through the booklet of my copy of Folklore and thinking, "She used all these instruments in just this one song?" To me, Furtado seemed really unique among artists. I admit, the first time I heard Promiscuous (the first single I'd heard from her 2006 album, Loose), I was disappointed. I had been expecting more songs like those from Folklore, or from her debut album, Woah, Nelly!, and I definitely wasn't expecting to hear yet another hip-hop song. The track grew on me, though, and six years later, I still play it on a regular basis. I mean, the song just oozes sexual positivity, and that's definitely a theme I can get behind.

Big Hoops (Bigger the Better) is more like the stuff from Loose than from either Folklore or Woah, Nelly!; it's the sort of song you might dance to at a club. It's also really, really catchy. Furtado has stated that this song has her channeling her 14-year-old self, back in the early '90s. She said that hip-hop wasn't really a big thing in Vancouver at the time, so if she wanted to hear hip-hop, she had to try and catch it from radio stations south of the border. I have to say, my own inner child is also loving the idea of big hoops, since I wore a lot of big earrings when I was young, too.

It was the video for Big Hoops that made me stop and think, though:

First of all, the stilts? Impressive. Mostly, though, what caught my attention were the hoop dancers, starting 20 seconds in.

I watched the rest of the video, bought and downloaded the song and played it a few times (like I said, it's catchy), but I kept thinking back to the use of Native American hoop dancers in the video. I remember there were some criticisms (and rightly so) surrounding Native American appropriation in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, 2010 (where Furtado preformed), as well as the use of indigenous imagery in marketing for the games. (This article discusses the issue far better than I ever could, and I recommend it for those who are interested.) I was initially concerned that Furtado had fallen into the trap of appropriating elements of other cultures (Aboriginal culture, in this case), and doing it in an inappropriate and/or racist way, not unlike what was done during the Olympics. However, this was the same artist who sang Powerless (Say What You Want), so I wanted to read up on the subject before passing any judgement.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am not an expert on the subject, but based on what I've read and learned? I think Furtado got it right.

It's not Nelly doing the hoop dancing; rather, it's Tony Duncan, an Apache world champion hoop dancer from Mesa, Arizona. Also in the video is his brother, Kevin Duncan, and his wife Violet preforms a shall dance later on in the video. In other words, Furtado and her team brought in the experts for this video, as opposed to hiring white dancers and putting them in some bastardized stereotypical Native American costume. There are some shots with Furtado and the Duncans together (including the last shot of the video), but she's got her big hoops on, not a costume. It looks to me like Furtado tried- and succeeded- to include elements of Native American culture in this video, rather than just appropriating those elements.

I also highly recommend reading what Native Appropriations has to say about the video.

After Big Hoops, I'm really excited to see what the rest of Furtado's album, The Spirit Indestructible, has to offer.

Also, very much wanting to one of these tank tops, which not only look awesome, but support Free The Children's efforts to build an all-girls school in Kenya, which is definitely a cause I can get behind.

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