Two years ago, fresh off her worldwide Primavera Anticipada tour, Laura Pausini, Italy's top-selling female act, made a surprise announcement. She was taking two years off-not to write or work on new material, but simply to rest and, in her own words, "lead a normal life with my family."
It must have been a good vacation. A renewed Pausini returns Nov. 15 with Inedito, an album that bears her signature sound and will be released in Italian and Spanish in more than 30 countries. But it comes with a whole new game plan that almost immediately incorporates the launch of her extensive worldwide tour.
"It's the first time in my life that my tour is already planned out," Pausini says, speaking on the phone from Milan between rehearsals. "It feels like a dream. One of the things I always fought for was my tour. I could never understand how it was possible to release an album and not have tour dates."
This time around, Pausini need not worry. Her Inedito world tour kicks off Dec. 22 in Milan and ends more than a year later. In late December alone, Pausini will play six nights-including Christmas-in Milan's Mediolanum Forum (capacity 10,000), followed by five nights at Rome's Palalottomatica (capacity 12,000). Between January and May, she has booked 50 more dates in Italy, Latin America and 23 other European countries.
Heavy touring isn't new to Pausini. Her career, after all, wasn't launched from the studio, but from the stage: She was the winner of the prestigious Sanremo Music Festival in 1993, when she was only 19, and she's been performing nonstop ever since.
"It's been almost 18 years where I've only traveled, played shows, done promotion," Pausini says with a laugh. "This is the first time in all that time that I've been able to sit back and review everything that's happened to me. There have been changes in my career, of course."
Those changes include an amicable split with longtime manager Gabriele Parisi and a new agreement with veteran Riccardo Benini, who previously handled Eros Ramazzotti.
But her music, naturally, has evolved as well. "When you start at 18, your music grows with you," Pausini says. "And I hope you can hear that in the arrangements and in the way the songs are written, particularly the lyrics. But I haven't wanted to make dramatic changes to my musical style. This is absolutely a very 'Pausini' album."
"Pausini albums" are defined by the melodic lines of Italian pop and by her signature voice, a ductile, beautiful instrument with a bell-like timbre that works equally well in Italian, Spanish and English-all languages Pausini, unlike most other Italians who sing in Spanish and English, speaks fluently. On Inedito, Pausini navigates equally convincingly from the joyous "Bienvenido"-whose video is an homage to "Aquarius" (from "Hair")-to the soulful melancholy of "Bastaba."
Pausini's versatility has eased her entry into multiple markets-she's a big seller in Brazil, for example-to the tune of 45 million albums moved worldwide since the launch of her career, according to Warner. In Italy, she reigns: Two years ago, she became the only female act to ever sell out a stadium, playing for more than 60,000 at Milan's San Siro.
"Laura, even in recent times, has been able to maintain her level of sales," says Warner Italy chairman Massimo Giuliano, who's worked with Pausini since 2000 and expects Inedito to sell between 250,000 and 300,000 copies in Italy alone. "Because she's been out of the business for a couple of years, there's a lot of expectation."
"As a female act, she has a place in the market that no one else has," adds Gabriela Martinez, VP of marketing for Warner Music Latin America, which is coordinating the release of the Spanish-language version of Inedito for both the U.S. Latin and Latin American marketplaces. "She's such a familiar name that she's transcended any niche."
Warner will work at least four singles from Inedito, beginning with "Bienvenido," which is No. 7 in Italy. (A second single, "Jamas Abandone," will be released there on Nov. 15.) But both Giuliano and Martinez say that the epicenter of Inedito's promotion is the tour.
While Pausini long toured with Live Nation, this time around she's with concert promotion company F&P Group in Italy, which was recently acquired by Warner. "So, it's really a 360 project," Giuliano says. F&P works with local promoters in markets outside of Italy, and timing the tour in tandem with the album's release allows Pausini to promote in each country as she performs there-a major plus for a global artist.
Still, the week prior to Inedito's release, Pausini will fly from Italy to Mexico to Argentina to Brazil to the United States and then to Puerto Rico, with promotional activities at every stop. Although Pausini only launched her Twitter account a couple of months ago-at the urging of her Latin fans-she already has 200,000-plus followers. On her Facebook page, which she launched a year ago, she has close to 1.2 million likes. Most important, even during her hiatus, she made a point of connecting with fans through website LauraForYou.com, where subscribers can participate in daily live chats with Pausini.
"I spend 20-30 minutes a day with them, and you hear amazing stories," says Pausini, who dedicated "Jamas Abandone" to her fans. "It speaks about returning to the stage and about the fact that even though I went through a phase where I most wanted to rest, I never abandoned the thought of singing on a stage again."