Laura Pausini sits in front of a gorgeous terrace. She is already packed and ready to head off to Spain for a few days of promotion. And she has a message for her doubters.
“There’s only one way to respond to those who tell me that I’m too old to do something, or who express doubts because I’m a woman,” she tells Billboard Italy over Zoom. “I just do it.”
One of Italy’s most-revered singers, the Grammy-winning Pausini, 48, says she “went through some sort of crisis” over the past two years. “I felt like I was lacking support from those around me, I thought I couldn’t make it,” she says. “But now I’m feeling more confident than ever.”
And she is proving it.
Born in Faenza, a small town between Bologna and Rimini, Pausini started a music career at age 19 that few Italian artists can compete with. Her records have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide, she did nine world tours and landed three songs in the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart (“Las Cosas Que Vives,” “Viveme” and “Como Si No Nos Hubieramos Amado”; all of them are Spanish versions of songs originally in Italian).
Billboard Italy accompanied Pausini to concerts in Madrid and Milan, two of the three gigs (the first at New York’s Apollo Theater) on her 24-hour live marathon on Feb. 27 to celebrate a 30-year career that started with her breakthrough single “La Solitudine” (“Solitude”).
How do you respond to those who thought [the 24-hour marathon] was a bizarre idea? Was it worth it?
I wanted to do it for a long time. At first, I wanted to sing 30 songs, each one in a different city of Italy, from south to north. I would have travelled with a van and reached my fans with very short notice. But I wouldn’t have made it in 24 hours, and that was essential to me. The celebration must last one day. It couldn’t go on for a year, that would mean being stuck in the past. I don’t reject the past, it’s just that we must look forward with courage.
How did you get prepared for it?
The preparation lasted six months. I worked with my phoniatrician (a doctor specializing in vocal cord issues), nutritionist and personal trainer. Not to lose weight, but for the vocal and physical effort I was about to endure. I abstained from all acid foods to avoid reflux. I used to eat at precise hours and train like an athlete to make sure my legs and my diaphragm would be strong enough. When I finish a concert, I never fall asleep easily – I actually slept very little in between those shows. And we had different set lists and different roadies. It’s been hard, but also one of the three most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had, after the victory at Sanremo in 1993 and the concert at the San Siro stadium in Milan. Also, I thought I had owed my fans something.
What do you mean?
So many people have been following me since 1993 and did crazy things to see me in concert. People from Italy spent a lot of money to see me in New York, Miami, London, Las Vegas. I saw them with my own eyes. That’s why I often felt like I was in debt, my songs were not enough to thank them. I had to do something special.
In Madrid you said that in Spain you feel freer than in Italy. How so?
In Italy, people know who my parents are, their job, what schools I attended, the little village I’m from. They have been following my personal growth since my teenage years. But it’s not like that when I’m abroad. They have a different form of respect and maybe see me like a huge star, like it happens when someone comes from far away.
What was the most valuable teaching you learned singing abroad?
Coming from such a small village and going abroad opened my mind in a way that no course of studies would. After high school, I wanted to study architecture at university but stopped there. Sometimes I feel like I fail to express myself in a ‘cultured’ way.
Well, you speak five languages…
But that creates confusion. My life is so fast that sometimes I lose track of time and forget where I am. Sometimes I’m in Italy and think in Spanish or Portuguese, for example. When I won Sanremo in 1993, Eros Ramazzotti was the only Italian singer who was famous in Latin countries.
And then you came. The only woman.
That’s right. There was not much room for women back then. What happened to me was the result of several coincidences. For example, I won the contest Sanremo Famosi in 1991 so, in theory, should have participated among the New Artists of Sanremo 1992, but they didn’t call me. If they did, I wouldn’t have sung “La Solitudine,” which was the key to my success. In 1993 the head of Dutch radio attended the festival. He saw me and decided to make the most important radio stations of the Netherlands play my song. Then Dutch television and other countries followed. Belgium, France, Germany… It all started from an honest song and a good amount of luck.
Don’t you think it would have happened anyway?
Many people told me this, but I don’t believe it. I know so many artists that are great singers but stopped after a few songs.
Singing well is not enough. Is your “Italianness” equally appreciated in Latin countries and in English-speaking countries?
We’re still labeled with many stereotypes and that’s annoying. I notice that I am appreciated in English-speaking countries when I don’t mock their music. They usually want to hear “Pausini’s melody,” as they call it. I also don’t like artists who follow trends that are not theirs. I mean, if I listen to Shakira, I expect her to do her own thing. There’s a reason why we’ve been chosen by the audience, and that’s our authenticity. I couldn’t do R&B, it’s not part of my culture. I only used to sing it when I performed at a piano bar.
Your new single “Un Buon Inizio” [“A Good Start”] was written by Riccardo Zanotti of Pinguini Tattici Nucleari. His style is very recognizable. Didn’t you fear it would overshadow yours?
No, I didn’t. In the last two years, I tried to sing on the backing tracks of famous songs. For example, I tried to sing Mahmood and Blanco’s “Brividi” (“Shivers”) [with which they won Sanremo 2022], but it was not for me. I want to step out of my comfort zone, but at the same time I don’t want to lose the character people expect from me. I always try to work with younger people who can give me a more contemporary perspective. When I worked with Madame for “Scatola” (“Box”), many people wondered what we had in common. But she knows my entire album “Simili” (“Similar”) by heart, even more than me. After all, we artists influence each other. We take inspiration from the past to create something new. I was influenced by Claudio Baglioni, Vasco Rossi, Eros Ramazzotti, even Jethro Tull, and brought them into my own world. Now that I am a certain age and experience level, I must listen to what’s new and try to understand why and how newer artists say certain things. That’s fundamental. Two years ago, I thought I had nothing more to say.
How did you overcome that phase?
I listened to too many songs and got even more confused than before, so I reached out to [former director of Island Records Italy] Jacopo Pesce for advice. I listened to many songs that others sent me, without knowing who wrote them. I always do that. Zanotti’s song immediately caught my attention, but I struggled to identify with the lyrics. I asked him to change them a bit and he was more than willing to do so. We met in Milan and realized that we had many things in common, despite the differences in age and gender. Of course, he hasn’t had all the experiences I have had.
Such as the feeling of having achieved too much?
That’s right. It’s what I felt when I won the Golden Globe in 2021 with “Io Sì (Seen),” but also when I felt like I was missing the support from those around me. Those who used to encourage me had started to behave the opposite way.
How much did you have to fight as a woman in an industry that was – and is – dominated by men? From the outside you look so strong and confident.
That’s how I am on stage because that’s where I belong. But in my private life I’m more insecure, I have my weaknesses. The bigger the success, the more you get both positive and negative consequences from it. People will tell you: ‘Now you are a certain age and you’re even a woman.’ It’s crazy to see how this way of thinking spreads to all countries. But I push back. If you diminish me and tell me to do things in a certain way, I’ll do the opposite. I’ve been facing a lot of discrimination since the beginning of my career.
When I participated in Sanremo in 1993 I didn’t have an album, nor a contract. All the artists had one, except me. My record label, Warner Music Italy, didn’t expect it and prepared one quickly. I signed it 15 days after the festival. It said that my debut record should sell at least 30,000 copies in order to make a second album. I didn’t question the fact that another new artist, a male, had a minimum of a 100,000. And I would get 4% of the revenues, while his cut was 8%. The day my album was released, it sold 60,000 copies. Within six months, that figure grew to 1.5 million. My perspective changed and my manager demanded a cut of 8%. Anyway, I perfectly remember the diffidence I faced when I started. When I signed my contract, they told me to keep in mind that the last woman who had sold so many copies was Anna Oxa. But those were the 80s. Can I tell you something that bothers me about journalism?
Everyone talks about about women and gender equality, but in at least in six or seven countries I’ve seen that a magazine won’t put a woman in her 40s on the cover.
Age becomes a problem. Madonna also said that.
But men over 40 don’t have that problem. And editors in chief are often women. Not everyone is like that, and it’s not like I have to be on the cover at all costs. I’m just saying that words don’t always match actions. As a woman I learned that there’s a need to be concrete. Between 1993 and today so much has changed. But we still have a lot to fight for and must convince ourselves that we’ll make it, even when it seems all odds are against us. Even when we just want to lock ourselves in and stay with our children. In Italy, everyone is ready to say: “What is Pausini even doing nowadays?” In the last two years I couldn’t even react, I only felt like crying. But now I react. It’s important to feel both energy and urgency. That’s why my new logo depicts a woman running forward.
Is there anything you would say or do differently if it happened today?
Just one thing. I’d be more careful when it comes to trusting people. If I could speak to the young Laura, I’d give her a list of names of people to avoid. I mean, those people were also important. I am who I am today also thanks to the experiences I went through. I may look strong but I’m very emotional and I suffered a lot.
What can you say about the spirit of the concerts in Venice and Seville this summer?
I want to look forward without forgetting the past. Over the next weeks I’ll start a radio tour in Italy, even the small local stations, which I haven’t done since my victory at Sanremo. And then I’ll perform in public squares, just like I did in 1993. That’s why I chose two iconic ones such as Piazza San Marco in Venice and Plaza de España in Seville. I’d like all these moments to have a common theme, such as celebrating the past, but at the same time to make the audience see what’s coming next. I want to create a setlist specifically for those two locations. We’re still planning things, but everything is clear in my mind. Now I have to look at the details, which is difficult, but I like it, because when I find something that makes a difference I go crazy. I want to communicate the will not to settle for what you achieved, to always challenge yourself and chart new paths.
Do you think you’re as demanding with those around you as you are with yourself?
I do. Because this job is like a mission to me. It’s commitment, dedication, discipline. Regardless of the results, I like when people working with me believe in the project. The most difficult thing is maybe staying focused on what we do, in terms of availability and work schedules. But I think that it’s the only way to do a good job. Music must not be taken lightly. It can actually change people’s lives. The artistic part has to be pure instinct, but the work that makes it possible must be taken very seriously.
What is your ultimate goal?
To demonstrate that pop music matters. Even the most light-hearted songs can change a few hours in the life of someone we don’t know. Over the last 30 years I often visited hospitals that use music therapy to help the patients. I experienced one of the most touching moments of my life when I sent an Italian guy in a coma a vocal message in which I sang and spoke to him. After a few days, he woke up. That was incredible. We should never underestimate what we write and sing. That’s why I’m not able to sing as a mere performer. Writing lyrics or at least taking part in the process is fundamental to me. I value what people will get from my music. I think that’s my mission and the reason why I’m still here.