Italian vocalist Laura Pausini — heralded for her Grammy-winning catalog of Spanish-language hits, including the 2004 best Latin pop album winner Escucha — is preparing the release of her 13th studio album, Hazte Sentir (March 16) and a worldwide supporting tour that is proving to be a much welcomed challenge for the 43-year-old. Although, admittedly, change in her personal life is rather unnerving.
Releasing nearly every one of her major studio albums around the holiday season, Pausini’s new LP will see a spring release this go-round, which has altered her artistic and business (and wardrobe!) approach. “Sometimes, you need to change and refresh,” she told Billboard during some downtime from her tour rehearsals in Rome. On the other side of that refresh button, self-doubt and melancholy often dwell in the singer’s personal life — so much so that at times it hampers the source of her songwriting. Hazte Sentir is the embodiment of her ongoing soul-searching journey, using her voice to emancipate herself, oftentimes by telling the reluctant truths we encounter in love and loss.
Speaking with Billboard ahead of the daring new personal venture, Pausini wears her heart on her sleeve for an exclusive chat about the pains and pleasures of recording Hazte Sentir, how the concepts of motherhood and womanhood have evolved for her, and why “Despacito” deserved to win at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
It’s been three years since you released your last album, Similares. How related is the concept to Hazte Sentir and what is the meaning behind the title for you?
On this album I was concentrated on giving a message of strength. I want the people and myself to know how important it is to be focused on ourselves, and to not be afraid to explain who we are and express ourselves. This is Hazte Sentir, which is basically ‘let me hear you,’ ‘let me feel you.’ The way you can touch me, but not in a sensual way, like a deeper way of touching my soul.
How is this release different from past albums and how has it changed your approach as an artist?
This is the first time I don’t have a rule about it. Usually, I’ll know I’m going out [to promote] around next Christmas — last time was not like this. My record company slated my album for Christmas 2018, but I was ready now. It was a little strange for them to hear that because I think, if they have to choose, they prefer the album go out in Christmas time because of the selling of the album. But for an artist, especially if you write your own songs, as I do with some of my friends, you cannot wait. If the songs are ready, you have to do it now because maybe in six or seven or eight months I’m not searching for these sounds or these lyrics. I need to absolutely express these feelings now. I love the songs in this album! I just couldn’t wait, I had to say ‘sorry!’ They accepted it too. This is the first time in my life I’m releasing an album in this part of the year, which is weird because I usually have a different way of promoting the album. Typically promoting during Christmas time, the TV shows are the same, the radio is the same and I used to do that. Now, I have different plans — even traveling in different seasons also where I need different clothes. Sometimes you need to change and refresh.
What did you discover about yourself personally making this album?
I’m still discovering myself every day, especially when I finally became a mother. Then you’re always discovering yourself as a woman, not only a mother. I thought my destiny and goal was to be a mother and that’s it, but it’s not like this. Life goes on and you as a person need to experience different types of feelings — you discover yourself strong one day then weak on other days.
I remember when my daughter was born five years ago, the first three years of her life everything was ‘bam! bam! bam!’ Everything was amazing and I didn’t want to sing any sad songs or write sad songs. This time it’s different. Of course I’m very happy to have my daughter in my life — she’s always amazing, she’s the gift of my life. But I’m also discovering some, uh, miedo, a fear inside of me because sometimes I don’t know how to continue to write songs or even live life. Sometimes you feel like you have the perfect people around you an now, all of a sudden, you’re not feeling comfortable. You’re not trusting them anymore. For me, this is tough to accept. It takes me a long time to make decisions, I’m a Taurus girl, the astrological sign. I believe a lot in this. 2018 for my sign is supposed to be very great in my job, but a lot of changes in my personal life. That scares me because I don’t like change.
When I have to make a decision, or anybody really, it’s not a very easy thing, it’s tough. Then I feel small and not ready to make a decision and it even physically makes my body feel exhausted. My job is my life, so I know that the decisions I make a lot of people will be involved in them. I don’t want to hurt anyone, then I have to. It’s complicated and, in the end, these things are tough to accept but it’s something we have to do when we are growing up. We have to learn from the past and then sometimes refresh — and I’m not talking about my love, my boyfriend, I’ve been with him for 12 years and I feel so blessed. That’s why it scares me a little to talk about this because I love him so much and I never want that to change. This is a strange moment in my life, it’s a very melancholic one sometimes and that’s reflected in my album. This is why I wanted to call the album Hazte Sentir, because sometimes you have to speak loud and to erase your shyness and come out the way you are.
“Nadie Ha Dicho” is the painful and emotional lead single. When your personal life is going relatively well, where do you draw inspiration to discuss painful relationship drama? Is there a relationship or moment you frequently go back to?
This is something I’m experimenting with, which is trying to be the voice of others’ stories. I started with Similares — a lot of songs off Similares are not my own stories. I try to read letters or emails and I try to contact people who write things that touch me so deeply. This is the way the album was written, inspired by stories from people who are writing to me. And I have to tell you, for example, I had a fan submit their story which I recorded, and the song is talking about a person who has to make a decision again. You can hear a lot of songs about people being betrayed or they are being left, this song is from the point of view of a person who is leaving another one. It’s a very important love story. Sometimes when something doesn’t work in a couple, you’re afraid to talk about it with each other. Risk is the best word I can use to describe the song because to live, you have to take risks. In love too, when it’s finished but you have to try another way. It’s strange for em to say that because I hate that, even the one being left. One time I was living this situation so I identify myself in it, I feel it so deeply because I can remember how sad I felt when I was leaving someone.
Your tour kicks off in the summer. How do the venue selections reflect the intimacy of the album?
I trusted the promoter to book venues where the audiences can really feel what kind of show I’m proposing. Of course, I’m touring with a new album but I also like to share with the audience my hits. I love to share my voice and feelings with a new song but then my ears are happier when the audiences are singing very loud. Like Viveme, for example.
Singing in so many different languages, do you uncover new meanings to your lyrics as you record in each?
Sometimes I’ll start writing a song in Italian then I’ll start searching for the Spanish adaptation, i don’t find exactly the right words I use in Italian. Then I’ll find the meaning in Spanish and like it better and change the lyrics of the Italian version. It’s very interesting, sometimes when I’m talking with my colleagues in Italy or Spain, we talk about American singers who are lucky to have their own language that is spoken all over the world. It’s beautiful though because I like English too. My privilege in this music business is to have been able to learn languages which helps me to be richer in terms of culture, and while I’m writing a lyric, I really can’t help but find new ways to express myself. For example, when I’m in the U.S., it’s the only place in the world — and maybe in Australia too — where I’m singing in four languages: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French. And some songs in English. This is my favorite part of touring because I can hear my voice singing in another language and I can recognize people that are from France when I sing in French because their expression changes. They know what I’m singing. Same for people from Brazil when I sing in Portuguese. It’s just beautiful. That connection, I feel privileged to not just sing in one language. I’m a proud Italian and I think if I wasn’t Italian I wouldn’t be able to write this kind of music and then maybe nobody would be that interested in me. My country gives me my notes.
Aside from your tear-jerker lyrics, you are known equally for your powerful vocals. Who were your vocal influences growing up that you emulated?
When I was starting I didn’t want to be a famous singer, I just wanted to play the piano bar in restaurants. I had a lot of female singers I liked in the 80s when I was a little girl like Whitney Houston, Barbara Streisand for American people. Italians too, like Ornella Vanoni and Anna Oxa. I then started having people in the piano bar tell me to give them cassettes or CDs of mine and I thought I need to record and couldn’t believe it, it was strange for me. Then my father, who was a piano player, was singing with me too. He always told me he was upset with me because I tried to imitate the singers I like and to use my own voice. Erase from your mind this kind of singer and have your own voice. I didn’t know about me then. I didn’t know.
With Latin music’s biggest fusion with pop culture in recent memory upon us, do you have plans to collaborate with any artists outside of your comfort zone?
Latin music is so powerful now, which I’m very happy about. In Italy, my country, two years ago there were no songs in Spanish at all. I even have to explain in my interviews here in Italy that I also sing in Spanish — which I’ve been doing for 25 years now — and they didn’t understand. So, I’m happy to turn on the radio and listen to “Despacito” or other songs. Of course, I know the entire catalog of Latinos and Latin music, it’s not only urban or reggaeton. But I’m also not the one to tell you ‘I don’t like reggaeton’ because that’s not true, I do. It’s something that comes from a culture and I like it. I like to be open-minded.
I was starting to discover rock music when I was 12, then jazz when I was 13. My favorite music to listen to in the whole world is Boss Nova. If I collaborate, I would prefer something not my style because usually collaborations for me work when the artist can give me something that I don’t know, so I can grow. For example, when I sang with Michael Buble, and I had to learn the crooner way of singing, my voice came out in a different way. It was amazing! That is one of the favorite duets of my life. So, why not salsa or reggaeton? Why not? Let’s open our minds and try. If people don’t like it, interesting, but nobody’s dying. And, for me, I’m still learning something more.
So when does your Daddy Yankee collab come out?
Haha! Maybe not Daddy Yankee, probably somebody else. But it could be soon.
The cultural juggernaut known as “Despacito” was undoubtedly the song of the year and nominated in multiple categories at the Grammys last month, and didn’t win. Was the song snubbed?
I love all the people in the category, it was an amazing list of artists. But the song of the year is “Despacito.” And not because Luis Fonsi is one of my favorite artists or best friend, but really, it’s a fact. I know the Academy has a lot of ways of thinking about giving awards, but if I’m walking on the streets here in Rome or in Paris or in Madrid, I’ll ask people which is the song of the year and everybody says “Despacito.”
Fans loved you as a coach on La Voz. Any plans to return?
People keep pressuring me so much because they want me to go back. I’m planning this tour now which doesn’t end until November, which goes from North to South America and then Europe. I told them I’m unable right now because the first part of La Voz is recorded in June and then in November the live shows. But most of the taping is in June and I’ll be in the middle of tour. But I want to tell you, I love The Voice. I really do! It’s a format that I really love and I did it in Mexico as well as Spain. I have invitations from France and Brazil that I’m thinking about for the future.
Now, I’m recording X Factor in Spain, so you can see that I’m a really big fan of talent shows. But I only accept offers from people who allow me to do whatever I want, pick whatever songs we want and without any compromises. In Mexico and Spain, I was free to be me. I want the girls and boys on my team to be themselves. I know it is a popular TV show but we are still talking about life and music. Right now, on X Factor in Spain — we just recorded the auditions — the talent that comes out is much different than the talent that came out for The Voice. It’s just another kind of artist.