‘Promiscuous’: The Story Behind Nelly Furtado’s Hit

‘Promiscuous’ signaled a brand new era for the singer, one that came with the inimitable production work of Timbaland.

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‘Promiscuous’ Nelly Furtado Cover
Image: Courtesy of Universal Music

Nelly Furtado emerged at the turn of the millennium, standing out by opting out of 2000’s dance-pop, nu-metal, and neo-soul trends. Rather, the Canadian-born singer’s debut album Whoa, Nelly! was a chilled fusion of pop, folk, Latin, and trip-hop. Featuring Top 10 singles “I’m Like a Bird” and “Turn Off The Light” (the former earning a Grammy award), Furtado was a refreshing alternative to the bubblegum pop princesses of the time.

Listen to Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” now.

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The singer followed up with 2003’s Folklore, an exploration of her Portuguese heritage. It ultimately proved to be a sophomore slump compared to the double-Platinum success of Whoa, Nelly!. So she called on music’s secret weapon – producer/artist Timbaland – to re-launch her career. The result was 2006’s Loose, a celebration of female sexuality that meshed electronica, pop, hip-hop, reggaéton, and R&B. Its title is inspired by the off-the-wall ideas Timbaland, Danja (Timbaland’s protégé at the time), and Furtado conjured inside the studio.

The trio created hits like the electropop-inspired “Maneater,” the Grammy-nominated No. 1 “Say It Right,” and the introspective ballad “All Good Things (Come to an End).” But the album’s standout is lead single, “Promiscuous,” which set the tone for Furtado’s musical reinvention.

“Promiscuous” was a departure, swapping folk for in-your-face sex appeal. It’s a flirtatious duet between herself and Timbaland, both trading naughty one-liners atop a pulsating rap melody. And for the Director X-helmed video, Furtado took it to the nightclub. Along with the director himself, Justin Timberlake and Keri Hilson (frequent collaborators of Timbaland) make guest appearances.

“I remember being a bit shy to put it out. That was probably the content, the fact that it’s called ‘Promiscuous.’ I hadn’t done anything wrong but women are always judged,” Furtado told FADER in 2016. “I’ve since changed my mind about that. By the time ‘Promiscuous’ came out, I was super happy. I always felt like the male and female voices were equals. It was created in that tradition of a TLC or a Salt-N-Pepa song, where the women are assertive and just like, ‘I’m okay with my sexuality.’”

Furtado’s willingness to experiment led to her first No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song was on top for six consecutive weeks. The single also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and won a Billboard Music Award for Pop 100 Single of the Year. “Promiscuous” had a resurgence in late 2020, entering Billboard’s Global 200 chart thanks to its popularity on TikTok.

The singer has since released three albums, but Loose remains her best-seller: it’s her sole album to top the Billboard 200 chart and won Album of the Year at the MTV Europe Music Awards and Juno Awards. To commemorate Loose’s 15th anniversary, Furtado revealed an expanded edition, featuring rare remixes and bonus tracks. Some highlights include “Do It” with Missy Elliott, and Spanish versions of “All Good Things (Come To An End),” “In God’s Hands,” and “Te Busque” with Juanes.

“Nelly knows what she wants to say, when it comes to artistry,” Timbaland told MTV in 2020. “She’s one of the best to ever do it, especially when it comes to studio sessions. She really gives it her all. She’s very poised in the studio and plays no games.”

Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” appeared on 2006’s Now That’s What I Call Music! 23 , alongside other No. 1 pop songs like Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” and Fergie’s “London Bridge.” Looking for more stories behind music’s biggest hits? Check out the Now! That’s What I Call Music page.

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