Pop singer Ricky Martin has been hopscotching the world since his preteen days as a member of Menudo. These days, he splits his time mostly between his native Puerto Rico and Sydney, Australia, where he has lived part-time since becoming a judge on The Voice Australia in 2013. (He also keeps a place in New York but sold his two South Florida homes in 2012.)
He finds his center in his music and his 6-year-old twin sons Valentino and Matteo — more than ever since splitting with his partner of almost five years, Carlos Gonzalez Abello, early last year.
“My kids are always with me,” Martin, 43, says from Puerto Rico. “They were pretty much born on the road. If we’re in one place for two weeks they ask, ‘OK, Dad, where are we going next?’ They’re amazing — healthy, strong, powerful, witty, really cool. My priority is my kids and the rest comes afterwards. But it has never sabotaged my career. On the contrary, when it’s time to work I have more energy, I’m more focused, I have more passion.”
His new energy shows on A Quien Quiera Escuchar (To Whoever Wants to Listen), released this week. It’s Martin’s first studio album since 2011’s Musica+Alma+Sexo, created as Martin struggled over his decision to come out in 2010.
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The combination of family and freedom since then has been liberating for Martin.
“I just wanna be me and open and transparent,” he says. “I just want to be out there without an agenda, to keep doing music, doing concerts — because if there’s one thing I’m addicted to it’s being onstage. But now it’s coming from a place that’s more sane mentally. I’m more in touch with my emotions. I’ve got my feet on the ground. I’m not so obsessed with being liked by everybody. That’s why the CD is called A Quien Quiera Escuchar. If you want to hear it, bring it on. I’m not forcing you to do anything — that’s where I’m at.”
Martin says Quien Quiera was recorded in short bursts, in Miami, San Juan and Sydney. “Usually I lock myself in the studio for seven or eight months,” he says. “This time it was one day here, one day there. Did it work? Good. If not, moving on. For the first time in I don’t know how many years I walked into the studio without the pressure of what am I gong to talk about. There was something cool about the creative chaos.”
A songwriter on many of the album’s tracks is Yotuel Romero, who was one of the three rapper-writers with hot Latin Grammy winning Cuban hip-hop trio Orishas, together with his wife, the Spanish artist Beatriz Luengo. With Quien Quiera, Romero joins countryman Descemer Bueno, co-writer of Enrique Iglesias’ megahit Bailando, as a Cuban collaborator with a major U.S. Latin star.
“Yotuel is brilliant,” Martin says. “He’s extremely gifted, he’s a hardworking man with amazing ideas … the feelings and songs kept coming. I call it poetry because every time he writes something he turns it into an amazing metaphor.”
Despite the title, Martin says that the first single, Adios, released last fall, was not inspired by the split with Abello. “Before everybody heard the song they said is he talking to his boyfriend? But it’s not about a breakup of a formal steady relationship. It’s more of a flirtatious kind of thing, adios, I love it, goodbye, mmmm, well maybe not.”
But other tracks are more personal. “The entire album is based on things I’ve been through,” Martin says. “Perdoname [Forgive me] talks about I need your forgiveness, I didn’t work hard enough on promises I made you — that’s me being very vulnerable, saying I’m so sorry.”
Isla Bella is heavily flavored with Puerto Rican bomba y plena — and Martin’s feelings about travel and home. “You don’t have to be an islander to understand this song, which talks about how hard it is to leave your country, and the nostalgia that comes with that decision.”
He will start touring in New Zealand in April, with the U.S. leg, including Miami, starting in September. (It will include a stop at Miami’s American Airlines Arena on Oct. 24.) His last concert production had a sort of musical theater concept, tracking Martin’s life. The new show will also be theatrical, Martin says — though they haven’t gotten past the thinking-in-the-shower stage.
“Last night I was in the shower and I said, ‘Yes — I want wigs!’ Not for me necessarily, but for the dancers,” Martin says. “But there’s something about opposites attract that I really want to work on with this tour, going from deepest romanticism to heaviest carnival adventure.”
Once the tour is done, Martin wants to give Valentino and Matteo, who were born via a surrogate, some siblings — although he says rumors that he’s about to have a little girl are premature. “If you believed everything you read online, this would be my seventh daughter,” he says. “Yes, I want daddy’s little girl, but that will hopefully be next year. It would be very irresponsible to make arrangements this year.”
But he can hardly wait. “There’s nothing more beautiful than waking up in the morning to a hug from your child,” Martin says. “I’m just starting. I am looking for more — I want a big family. The balance they give me is extremely powerful.”