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Joni Mitchell, Nelly Furtado, Amanda Marshall and the art of a comeback Print-ready version

How the three musicians returned to the spotlight

by Natalie Harmsen
CBC Music
February 29, 2024

Joni Mitchell, left, Amanda Marshall, middle, and Nelly Furtado, right, have each recently launched comebacks. (Getty Images and Claudine Baltazar; graphic by CBC Music)

I'll eat your man, devour him whole,
Lickin' my fingers, I'm in control,
Fly like a bird, I'm takin' it home.

The chorus to "Eat Your Man," Nelly Furtado's 2023 EDM collaboration with DJ Dom Dolla, sizzled with references to the Canadian singer-songwriter's early hits "Maneater" and "I'm Like a Bird." Yet the most intriguing part of the fiery song isn't its playful lyricism, but that it was an explosive comeback single: the track marked an end to Furtado's six-year musical hiatus, reached more than 45 million streams on Spotify and scored a 2024 Juno nomination for dance recording of the year.

Furtado's last studio album, The Ride, dropped in 2017, and she stepped away from the music industry shortly after to focus on welcoming her second and third children. But after a 2022 appearance at a concert with Drake, and a social media resurgence - her 2006 smash "Promiscuous" went viral on TikTok - she began a full-blown comeback with "Eat Your Man" and another club-primed single, "Keep Going Up," with her early aughts collaborators Timbaland and Justin Timberlake.

In 2003, Nelly Furtado took her biggest risk yet. Why 'Powerless' is still a provocative wake-up call This year, her comeback will be in full force: Furtado will release a new album, host and perform at the 2024 Juno Awards, and appear at music festivals including Electric Forest and Lovers and Friends.

Furtado is only one of the latest in a long string of artists to launch a successful comeback. Some of music's biggest stars - including Elvis, Madonna, Sade, Tina Turner and ABBA - have all had musical resurrections throughout the decades. Currently, Justin Timberlake and Sophie Ellis-Bextor are in the midst of their returns. It's a move that several Canadian singers, including Céline Dion, Justin Bieber, Shania Twain - and recently, Amanda Marshall and Joni Mitchell - have also pulled off.

'People have realized that she is a genius'

Mitchell has experienced various ups and downs in her career, but most recently she suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 and retreated from the public eye. Now 80, she's made a comeback, beginning with her triumphant return to music in 2022 with a surprise set at Newport Folk Festival. The performance was turned into a live album, Joni Mitchell at Newport, and went on to win the Grammy for best folk album in February.

"She said in one of her songs, 'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.' And I think the aneurysm really made people wake up and ... everyone thought that we'd never hear from her again," said Norma Coates, a music professor at the University of Western Ontario.

"I think ... the idea that we almost lost her [resonated] and that, in the last few years, all of a sudden people have realized that she is a genius."

Mitchell also performed live at the Grammys for the first time ever this year, singing a poignant rendition of "Both Sides Now." It garnered acclaim in the Toronto Star, Variety and the Atlantic, which described her performance as "one of the greatest awards show sets ever - one that suggested that she is the philosopher for an ascendant generation of musicians, both in rock and roll and outside of it."

"[Joni] has been a hugely influential artist, and in the early days was not treated with a great deal of respect," said Jacqueline Warwick, a music and gender studies professor at Dalhousie University. "And now, it really feels like an amazing vindication to see her finally being treated with the reverence that we've had all along for someone like Bob Dylan."

Singer-songwriter Amanda Marshall, who stepped into the spotlight in the '90s, also experienced hardship before returning to the music scene last year. The "Birmingham" singer disappeared for more than 20 years due to a legal battle with her former manager, before finally releasing a new album. She says the adversity was key to creating new music again.

"It turned out to be the very best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me to become the person that I was supposed to be," she said. "The record was really a labour of love. We did exactly what we wanted. We took exactly as much time as we wanted. And for me, it really became about not pleasing anybody else."

Pressures on artists differ for women

Although Furtado, Mitchell and Marshall have been successful thus far, mounting a comeback comes with challenges. Sexism and ageism put more pressure on women artists to pull them off successfully, said Warwick. She added that, particularly in rock music, singers gain credibility by being young and sexy, and because of that "it's a lot harder for women to age in that kind of role."

The typical trajectory for a woman's career is that it rises to a certain point, then plateaus for a while before rising again, Warwick explained. The plateau is usually because of family obligations, such as children or eldercare.

"In a way, these women like Nelly Furtado are kind of fitting into that model where they've stepped back for a while, and now they're back and they're going to keep rising."

One of Furtado's biggest new audiences is on social media. "When it comes to my legacy, it has only started to connect in the last few years because of TikTok," Furtado told Fault of the digital "Nellysance." Furtado currently has over one million followers on the platform.

"I think the music industry is looking for artists who are going to make money for them," Coates said, of Furtado's return. "And she has in the past, so it's quite possible that she will again and speak to some new audiences, which is great as well."

Even with a large digital presence, live performances are still essential for comebacks, and Furtado, Mitchell and Marshall all have shows lined up this year. When Marshall embarked on a cross-country tour in 2023, she was pleasantly surprised to find not only did she still have a fanbase, but that she had reached new audiences, too.

"You know, what was really gratifying to me [was] to see people who have bought my first record or my second record, who are now bringing their children to the shows."

Marshall's Heavy Lifting is up for adult contemporary album of the year at the 2024 Junos, and both she and Furtado will see if their comeback projects receive recognition at the ceremony.

"It's a cliché, but people always say, 'Music is healing,' [and] it really is," said Marshall, explaining why people care about seeing their favourite artists return. "There's something about music ... it's the physical manifestation of an emotional thing."

"The world's been through so much these last few years, and there is something so moving and inspiring about the resilience and grace of these artists, returning to the public eye and performing again," said Warwick. "It's wonderful."

"I want to inspire other moms and women out there that, even in their 40s, you can re-embrace your talents and go for it," Furtado told Vogue. "Making music is the only thing that I'm really good at."

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Added to Library on March 4, 2024. (426)

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