The multihyphenate juggles radio, book and album projects
In conversation, Mexican singer-actress-author-radio host-entrepreneur Thalía is a relentlessly upbeat presence. The words “cool” and “amazing,” as well as stronger variants, pop up in nearly every sentence, and even mentions of her rare career slipups are accompanied by doses of silver-lining positivity.
In fact, the only time the mood darkens is when the contemporary state of the music business rears its head.
“Everything is so fast now, everything is so disposable now, there’s no time to build up a career like we used to have in the past” says the singer, who has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide over the last 30-odd years. “Kids just want to have one song, they don’t care about a body of work, they don’t even care about a whole album, they just want whatever’s hot right now. They download that song and that’s it. It’s really tough.”
“You just have to be alert, and learn, and yet be very loyal to your ideas and to what you want to communicate. Are you doing this because you want to be famous, make money and be in magazines? Or are you doing this because you want to create an emotion, and be part of the soundtrack to someone’s life?”
Of course, shifts in the music business notwithstanding, Thalía, 42, has every right to be chipper. Though it’s been two years since her last album, the Latin No. 1 “Habítame Siempre”, the mononymous singer has been busy with a range of projects. Her ABC radio show, “Conexión Thalía” widened its syndication to 70 U.S. markets earlier this year. She just wrote her first children’s book titled “Chupie, the Binky that returned home”, taken from a tale Thalía improvised for her child during a late-night pacifier battle. It’s her fourth published work overall, following a memoir, a beauty tome and a pregnancy fitness guide.
According to the singer, none of these forays into various media were sketched out according to any grand strategy.
“For some reason, everything just collides at the same time”, she says. “I’ve always been singing and acting was just something that happened. Then at the same time, I was creating a lingerie line in 1993, and launched my first business. Once you have a nice team, you can create so many opportunities.”
Even though she entered the business at age 9, Thalía was given plenty of time to find her place in it. After attracting attention with a stage role in “Vaselina”, a Mexican kiddie variation of “Grease”, Thalía was recruited for teen-pop group Timbiriche, a sort of estrogen-heavy version of Menudo whose revolving membership included future pop star Paulina Rubio. After leaving the group, Thalía bounced between recording sessions and television roles for a spell, before breaking big in the mid-1990s with a blitzkrieg of transmedia coups.
Signing to EMI, Thalía notched a string of massive local hits, especially “Amor a la mexicana” and “Piel morena” working under producer Emilio Estefan, who had previously molded the career of his wife, Gloria. Meanwhile, a string of telenovela roles saw her personal brand expand exponentially. By the time she lensed her last starring TV role, in 1999’s “Rosalinda”, Thalía’s soap operas were broadcast in 180 different countries, and the singer herself visited the Philippines as a sort of goodwill ambassador for Mexico, as well as recording tracks in French, Portuguese and Tagalog.
“I think it keeps your brain moving faster, singing in another language”, Thalía says.
It wasn’t so long ago, however, that Thalía’s career was at something of a crossroads. Leaving the telenovelas behind in the new millennium, Thalía recruited hitmaker Estefano to helm a number of mainstream-targeted records during the Latin American music boom, notching the first of her five Latin Grammy noms for 2000s “Arrasando”. This was followed by an initially successful expedition into the English-language market, where Thalía made a decent dent thanks to collaborations with Jennifer Lopez songwriter-producers Cory Rooney and Ric Wake.
After coming within a hair’s breadth of breaking into the top 10 of the U.S. album chart with the English-language version of her “Thalía” album in 2003, follow-up “El Sexto Sentido” saw her momentum in the Anglophone world flag (though it still placed strongly on the Billboard Latin charts), and 2008’s “Lunada” was, by her standards, a letdown even in her home market of Mexico. She left longtime label EMI shortly thereafter.
For her first release on Sony, where her husband, mogul Tommy Mottola, had previously reigned as chief executive, Thalía experienced something of a resurgence with 2009’s “Primera Fila”, a bare-bones live album consisting largely of new songs that called attention to the previously undersold power of her singing voice. Thalía describes the record as “the closest to my heart, because it was intimate, raw, naked”.
“I think what happened was, before there were always a lot of dancers, a lot of explosions and effects, a lot of distractions. When I just stood onstage and surrounded myself with amazing musicians, and picked perfect songs with amazing stories, feeling the songs and letting them out from my soul, it was a new perspective of how people perceive me.”
Studio follow-up “Habítame Siempre” largely followed suit, ditching some of the glitzier, dancier touches of her 2000s releases for a more classic pop aesthetic, highlighted by duets with neo-crooners Michael Bublé and Robbie Williams, as well as a bachata experiment with Prince Royce.
“Those two last albums were sort of a relaunch of my singing career, a new start, a change of scene”, she says. “I wanted to go in the same direction (on ‘Habítame Siempre’), but also give it a little different rhythm, an injection of freshness.”
Though she indicates it’s still to early to share details, Thalía says her next record, following a children’s album that she hopes to have out in March, will continue along the same progression, with “strong ballads, but a lot of rhythms and happy songs, all in the Latin Thalía style”.
And she categorically rules out any attempt to reclaim her crown as queen of the telenovela.
“It’s so tiring, so exhausting”, Thalía says. “Just to think about all the work to make a single episode… no, no, no. Next lifetime.”
She doesn’t, however, rule out an attempt to make a film, perhaps the only major branch of the business in which she has yet to really test the waters, save for an uncredited child part in 1979 and a role in minor 1999 film “Mambo Cafe” (her attempt at magazine publishing, the Oprah-esque lifestyle glossy Thalía, folded after a few issues.)
“I love acting. I plan to do some project (in the future), but something more concise”, she says. “As an actress I want whatever brings butterfl ies to your stomach, when you read something in a script and think, I was waiting for this. That’s what I want.”