Squished in the back seat of a ride share, Nelly Furtado was dreaming up her comeback single.

It was Valentine’s Day last year and the “Promiscuous” hitmaker was en route to a Philadelphia recording studio with a carload of friends and collaborators. That’s when one of them pulled out his laptop.

Australian dance producer Dom Dolla wanted Furtado to take in one of his unreleased instrumental tracks. Once the pounding beat was playing, everyone was paying full attention.

“The Uber driver was like, ‘Did you make this? I really like it,’” recalled Furtado, who hosts the upcoming Juno Awards, in a recent phone conversation.

“So, we knew the beat was slammin’.”

Suddenly, everyone in the vehicle was tossing about suggestions for Furtado’s return to music.

One came from fellow passenger Anjulie Persaud, the Oakville, Ont.-raised musician who landed her own 2011 hit single with “Brand New Chick.” She proposed Furtado peer in the rearview mirror and offer nods to her run of Top 40 smashes.

“I’ll eat your man, devour him whole,” she suggested as lyrics, flipping the title of Furtado’s 2006 single “Maneater.”

By the time they pulled up to the studio, the group was buzzing with ideas led by Furtado’s command for a sweaty, summertime dance track suited for a particular type of reveller.

“Dom, I want a club record that Mr. Beach will party to at 4 a.m.” she remembered telling the producer.

“Eat Your Man,” credited to Dom Dolla and Furtado, came out of that session. The forward-looking throwback drops references to “Say It Right,” “I’m Like a Bird” and Furtado’s other past songs.

When summer rolled around, Furtado got her wish — the track had Mr. and Ms. Beach moving their feet at parties all over the world.

And suddenly Furtado seemed to be everywhere, turning up at music festivals for brief appearances and ramping up her social media presence with a fresh look that evoked her heyday as a confident female pop star.

In March, she’ll work double duty as host and performer at the Juno Awards in Halifax. It’s her second time headlining the Canadian music bash after Saskatoon in 2007. Nominations for this year’s Junos will be announced on Feb. 6.

“You have to ride the wave,” explained the Victoria, B.C.-raised singer of her approach.

“You have to be open in order to capitalize on these moments.”

Much has happened in Furtado’s life since her 2017 alt-pop effort “The Ride,” which strayed from the mainstream with its topsy-turvy electronic beats.

After touring the album, she effectively slipped out of the spotlight to focus on herself. She gave birth to her second and third children – a son and daughter – who are now four and five years old, respectively.

“I was working,” the 45-year-old said. “I was quite busy being pregnant and breastfeeding.”

Furtado said it took that detachment from the industry to ultimately find her way back.

There was also a little help from Drake.

In July 2022, the Toronto rapper chased down Furtado in hopes she might perform as the surprise guest at a one-night-only OVO Fest concert in his hometown. The evening was billed as a celebration of his Canadian inspirations and he credited Furtado’s blend of hip-hop and pop as pivotal to his growth.

The morning of the show, Furtado remembers waking up to a voice note from Drake practically begging her to sing at his show. After some serious thought, she agreed with much trepidation.

And then she went about her day as a mom, taking her kids on a planned visit to the Toronto Zoo. It wasn’t until later that night — after she found a babysitter — that reality set in. She hadn’t performed publicly in quite some time.

“I wasn’t prepared,” Furtado said. “I was terrified.”

In a panic, she called her friend Sheldon McIntosh in hopes he might have some sage advice. The entertainer, who appeared on “Canada’s Drag Race” as contestant Tynomi Banks and danced with Furtado on tour, had known her for years. He recognized her anxiety bubbling and rushed over to see her.

“The girl was giving nervous,” McIntosh recalled. “And she looked at me like, ‘What would you do on the songs?’”

“I grabbed her hand and reminded her: ‘You’re that girl. Everyone loves Nelly.’ People want her to succeed.”

Mustering up courage, Furtado arrived at the venue to see a room of familiar faces. Longtime friends such as pioneering female rapper Michie Mee, Jellystone, Saukrates and K-os, instantly reminded her of her musical roots in the city.

“It was a bit of a reawakening,” she said. “Everybody there was like, ‘Oh, this is why I make stuff. This is why I create.’”

Well after midnight, Furtado stepped into the spotlight with Drake as her hype man. The stunned crowd roared as she performed snippets of “Promiscuous” and “I’m Like a Bird.” Furtado was taken aback by the positive reception.

“As soon as I left the stage, Drake was like, ‘I told you!'” she recalled.

The encouragement lit a creative fire that burned all the way to the recording studio where she laid down “Eat Your Man” and pop single “Keep Going Up,” which reunited her with mid-aughts collaborators Timbaland and Justin Timberlake.

Around 60 songs were made in total, she said, including ones with an array of Canadians. The studio sessions thrived on a “community mindset” as she collaborated with Grammy-winner Alessia Cara, R&B performer Charlotte Day Wilson and producers WondaGurl and T-Minus.

Furtado also co-wrote with her 20-year-old daughter, Nevis Gahunia, whom she credits with helping transform her thoughts and feelings into new music early in the process.

She likens the sound of her upcoming album to a hearty steak — her voice sizzling on top of a “large and solid” meat slice.

She giggles at how ridiculous that comparison seems. But she’s learning to roll with whatever comes to her mind instead of getting stuck on hesitation.

“I did a lot of work on myself. And I like myself more, so I can do a better job at work,” she said.

“You can’t reinvent yourself as a human if you don’t detach.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2024.

David Friend, The Canadian Press