Single Review: Nelly Furtado “Powerless (Say What You Want)”

Powerless (Say What You Want)
Album: Folklore
Year: 2003

Nelly Furtado’s new single “Powerless (Say What You Want)” beats to its own drum. In it, Furtado embraces her culture and wants people to speak up when they feel marginalized by society.

In the first verse, she sings about the media pushes people to become whiter and ignoring other cultures. However, the media then makes other cultures feel like they don’t have a voice at all: “paint my face in your magazines/make it look whiter than it seems…burn every notion that I may have a flame inside to fight/and say just what is on my mind/without offending your might.”

In the chorus, she tells people to think beyond their lives, despite feeling that they can’t change anything. However, she tells them they have a voice and to use it: “cuz this life is too short to live it just for you/but when you feel so powerless what are you gonna do/so say what you want.”

In the second verse, she sings how cultures’ traditions are marketed as the latest fad. In turn, the culture’s traditions become meaningless and their original intention is not even mentioned: “I saw her face outside today/weatherworn, looking all the rage/they took her passion and her gaze and made a poster/now it’s moccasins we sport/we take culture and contort/perhaps only to distort what we are hiding.” She challenges people by asking in the bridge, “hey you, the one that don’t fit in, how ya, how ya gonna get in” if they don’t stand up for themselves.

Furtado is confrontonial in the verses, as she expresses discontent with society’s ambivalence with other cultures. In the chorus, she’s authoriative while addressing others who feel slighted.

Sampling the breakbeat from Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Girls” and using various other non-mainstream instruments (including a banjo) in the music, “Powerless” is without the glossy sheen of manufactured pop.

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