Momentous Mondays: Influential artists of the next 5-10 years – Week 24: Kelsea Ballerini

It was in January 2019, when Jon told me. When Jon told me that he felt upon his heart the need and the desire to undertake what at the time was a year long musical journey into artists and their discographies. And not just to write extensively about any artist but to embark on a musical journey to delve deep into and examine influential artists. Artists that moved us, that invoked emotion, that told a story, whose songs were and are timeless, and whose discographies ushered in a new generation of storytellers, entertainers, performers, magicians and just plain honest songwriters. The artists that Jon intended to write about would challenge him to the core, flip upside down his entire definition of what it means to be a great artist, and would someday be some of his favourite, and most heartfelt and poignant artists of all time. Now this was a pretty big feat to undertake, so as Jon was voicing what was on his heart back then, he asked me for advice. And though I was quietly excited and intrigued as to how Jon would undertake such a feat given our demands at the café, in my heart of hearts I didn’t really believe it would pan out the way it thought that it would and should- and never once in a million years did I think that Jon would be here today still writing what is now regarded to him as one of his most special blog series, or things he’s done, ever!

I never voiced my concerns to him that day- as Jon’s pretty headstrong and fixated when he gets something in his head; thus any amount of gentle dissuading or confrontation about logistics would indeed fall on deaf ears. Therefore, I did what any supporting older brother would do. I sat and I watched Jon from the sidelines. And so began my prime-time seat into seeing God work in Jon what I never thought I would ever see. As far as I could remember, both Jon and myself were immersed in Christian music. In our formative years, in primary school, in high school, in university and in the first few years of the café. Not that Christian music is bad- it’s not, in fact I believe that Christian music, or should I say music about the Christian life and music directed to God, is one of the most invigorating and life-affirming ‘genres’ of music ever- if you could call it a genre. But Jon and I were sheltered when we were young. Maybe it was because we were born 3 months premature, or maybe it was because Mum and Dad wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the music we were listening was glorifying to God- they didn’t want to leave any chance for us to be led astray from the gospel of Jesus Christ- and that included music not seemingly about Jesus one iota. But whatever the case, mainstream music of any variety (pop, rock, dance, country, rap, acapella, southern gospel, gospel, r&b) was never heard of in our house. Sure we heard of a few popular artists here and there back in the day- but we never ever sought them out, nor had an inkling to do so. For what we knew back then was Carman and Delirious?. We were content with those artists, we were content with growing in our Christian faith that way, and we were of the assumption that anything else that fell outside of the umbrella of Christian music genre-wise wasn’t helpful to our soul, wasn’t leading us to grow in our character and as a person, and just generally was contradictory to what the Bible spoke about.

So for Jon to actively seek out artists whom quite a number of them were predominately in the mainstream for whatever genre that they’re influential in; well I was a bit apprehensive and a bit worried. I mean I didn’t want to see my brother slowly lose his faith. Who wants to see a family member go through that? Thankfully though, my queries were answered immensely and tremendously over the next few weeks, as I saw not only Jon’s faith still intact and then grow more and more; I also heard a lot of songs from artists Jon was writing about. And I have to say that I was wrong. Mainstream music isn’t bad. Mainstream music isn’t evil. And yes it is true- you can love Christian music as well as mainstream music. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. And by the time I figured out that this blog was benefiting Jon in profound ways, and deepening his faith as well, as he dove deeper into the foundations of what it means to be a Christian; it was around Easter 2019. Thus began my journey into writing about artists who may not be influential now, but are definitely going to be within 5-10 years. Future influencers, I called them. While Jon wrote about all manner of artists, including artists such as Ronan Keating, Rascal Flatts, Tina Arena, Delta Goodrem, Avril Lavigne, Backstreet Boys, Mandy Moore, U2, Alicia Keys, Keith Urban, Michael Buble, Kelly Clarkson, Needtobreathe, Skillet, Lecrae and OneRepublic to name a few; I felt that newer artists- whom I believed were equally as important, weren’t been written about. All because they’re considered ‘new’ for whatever reason.

So I have taken it upon myself to write about artists who will shape a generation tomorrow. They may still be rough around the edges, but their honesty, passion, zeal for their craft and love for their fans and for humanity in general, makes these 50 artists well worth me writing about them. And while I have written about many artists thus far, inclusive of Maren Morris, Jess Glynne, Little Mix, Rachel Platten, Echosmith, Marc Martel, Hunter Hayes, Hailee Steinfeld, Jana Kramer, Zach Williams, Demi Lovato and Lauren Alaina to name a few (yep, I know it’s female dominated at the moment- don’t worry, more male artists are coming soon!); it’s time for me to once again impart to all of you my thoughts on another inspiring, hopeful, heartfelt and passionate young artist- ready to take this year and the next few by storm. Country artist Kelsea Ballerini hadn’t set the world alight in my opinion over the 5 or so years that she has released music. However ever since I’ve heard her music over the past few weeks, I’ve become a fan, and I’ve realised that there are plenty of accolades that she has garnered unlike my initial preconception- yet Kelsea’s unassuming nature and her humility means that we the general public haven’t been privy to this information if we’re only watching the TV or are randomly scrolling through YouTube. A deeper look though, is needed for Kelsea’s already successful discography; and once you all like me discover the bubbly, fun, personality that Kelsea is, you will realise that this 26-year-old young starlet is exactly what we need during COVID-19. While we’re all down in the dumps and while we’re all feeling sad and frustrated, Kelsea’s positivity is a breath of fresh air and something that will remind us all of the good that’s still in the world, and that sometimes adversity can be conquered or overcome through banding together and bringing forth joy and cheer to the world like Kelsea has done countless times before!

Even though that I was taught from a young age that any music outside of ‘Christian music’ wasn’t worth listening to; I now know that that isn’t the case. Any type of music can be used by God to speak to you, and this is especially true of country music. The other day I actually took an analysis if how many country artists Jon and I have written about over the past year and a half- how many country artists we deem are influential or are becoming influential. And there are a lot, probably moreso than any other genre… if that means anything at all! Artists like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Rascal Flatts, Lady A [fka Lady Antebellum], Keith Urban, The McClymonts, Maren Morris, Lauren Alaina, Jana Kramer and Hunter Hayes have all contributed inspirational and relevant songs which have graced my ears over the past year and a half; while other country artists like The Chicks [fka Dixie Chicks], Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, John Denver, Tim McGraw, Dan + Shay, Lindsay Ell, Thomas Rhett and Kacey Musgraves are all in the beginning stages of being written about and deemed influential or becoming influential!. And it’s only recently that I have concluded that country music, aside from CCM, is one of the most vulnerable and honest genres out there. For this particular week though, one artist this year stands out amongst all country artists- up and coming singer/songwriter Kelsea Ballerini’s latest album (her 3rd studio project kelsea) confirms my thought processes, as I am introduced to one of today’s most skilful and impacting young artists today, as well as one of the most confronting and comforting albums all year.

Truth be told, I hadn’t heard much of Kelsea Ballerini’s material until late last year. I’ve heard her name thrown around- enough to know that she’s a ‘big-ish’ deal currently in country music- and it was only when I heard her song “club” playing on one of my Spotify playlists (and that didn’t even sound like your typical ‘country’ at all!) that I sat up and took notice. Not to bag country or anything, but maybe nine times out of ten your typical country song probably won’t be heard by the general population simply because it’s country- and most of the general public prefer pop or rap. That’s not ideal but that’s just the way it is. But for Kelsea and her ‘brand’ of heartwarming, comforting and catchy ‘country pop’ which is evident all throughout these 13 tracks on her third album; perhaps there is hope for country to invade mainstream pop radio and show the rest of the world that the country genre isn’t the big bad evil thing it’s been made out to be.

Yet now’s not the time to dive into her third album just yet. For there were two albums before kelsea that has spoken to and touched our souls, as we are presented with thought provoking melodies and still-relevant songs about a myriad of topics. And as we marvel at how talented Kelsea is with her songwriting and her singing, it is indeed the lyrics that have wowed me and have spoken to the inner most being of myself and the darkest spaces that not that many know about. “Love Me Like You Mean It” , Kelsea’s first single from her debut album The First Time, reached number one on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, hence making Kelsea the first solo female country music artist to score a number one hit with her debut single since 2005 when Carrie Underwood did so with “Jesus, Take the Wheel” – and only the eleventh in history to achieve the feat. Two more singles in “Dibs” and “Peter Pan” followed, and with both these songs achieving number one on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, Kelsea’s stature as a songwriter grew and grew, and she became the first solo female in country music to send her first three singles ever to number one since Wynonna Judd in 1992. That’s some pretty cool exciting news right there! And as for the lyrical content of these three singles, Kelsea’s honesty and vulnerability shows in spades. “Love Me Like You Mean It” powerfully has Kelsea emphatically asking her boyfriend at the time if he means it when he declares that he loves her, and also subsequently alluding to the fact that we all need to back up our words with actions, that ‘…if you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk it, if you wanna keep me, keep me like you lost it, if you’re gonna say it and make me believe it, if you’re gonna love me boy, love me like you mean it…’; while “Dibs” has Kelsea ‘claiming’ her man, letting him and the world know that he’s hers, and “Peter Pan” is where Kelsea laments at a lost love, and the disintegration of a relationship due to the other person’s immaturity to the point where he’s called Peter Pan as a degrading nickname. And while “Dibs” reminds us all to chase after our dreams, as well as chasing after the person we love the most because in a moment they could be gone or taken; it is “Peter Pan” that is the most profound track in my opinion on this debut album, as Kelsea warns us all of acting reckless and irresponsible, that it’s not a quality that is endearing or likeable to anyone.

The rest of The First Time is just as inspiring and confronting- given that this was Kelsea’s debut! “Yeah Boy” is a fun, poppy 3 minute track that isn’t that deep (and we all need to hear a song like this once in a while just so that we can let our hair down and relax!) and has Kelsea once again declaring her love for her then-boyfriend; while “Looking At Stars” is another romantic style track that speaks about that kind of perfect love that we have with our significant other- and is a timely and gentle reminder of the immense love that Jesus Christ has for each one of us. Musically diverse country/rock tune “Sirens” has Kelsea channelling in her inner Carrie Underwood vocally, as she doubles down on the passion and sass, and emphatically sings about a toxic relationship, relaying that she should have seen the signs and listened to the ‘sirens’ (reminding us all that we all need to have friends and close family to bounce off our much needed advice from!); while the heartbreaking, personal and emotional “Secondhand Smoke” vividly details Kelsea’s parent’s divorce has probes and asks many unanswerable questions, ultimately helping to provide healing to many, as ‘…I thought it could be a story of being in a household that’s broken and that’s all you know, but you decide that you’re not going to feel like that. The reality is hard but I’m going to choose differently – I want people to take that from it. And I love my parents; I have the coolest parents ever… separately. [Laughs] So it’s not a knock on parents and their choices. It’s saying, ‘This is all I know, and I’m going to learn and grow from it and turn it around.’…”.

“Square Peg” is another inspirational ballad (and isn’t as country as I initially thought!), whereby Kelsea champions and celebrates individuality and uniqueness, declaring that ‘…you can choose if you’re bad, if you’re good, if you’re left or right, speaking your heart or speaking your mind, you can be what they say, you can be a cliché, you can tear up the box and throw it away, everybody gotta be themselves, everybody gotta dream out loud, everybody gotta be themselves, square pegs make the world go ’round…’; while The First Time ends with the circumspect and reflective piano prominent 3 minute “Underage”, a celebration of youth and living life in the moment, and trying to catch every moment when you’re young rather than trying to fit into all of these boxes and trying to please everyone. And with Kelsea covering a wide smorgasbord of lyrical themes in this debut, I personally believe that The First Time is a brilliant effort by a young and very talented artist- and if you want to know which Kelsea Ballerini album to listen to first, then this debut is as good as any place.

Yet if we believed that The First Time contained plenty of heartfelt, inspiring and relevant melodies; then 2017’s Unapologetically contained even more so! The somewhat satirical “I Hate Love Songs” could be seen as Kelsea making a political statement of her hate for the contrived and sappy holiday of Valentines Day, however I reckon that it’s just her declaring that she loves her husband Morgan Evans (she did get engaged and married in between her first and second albums!) even if she hates the commercialised holiday of Valentines Day as well as the cliché love songs that go along with it; reminding us all that showing our loved ones that we love then on any day of the week and at any week of the year will ultimately mean much more to them rather than a superfluous token celebration for only one day of the year. There are a lot of things we can do for the people we love, and Kelsea champions us defying the popular trend of passively waiting and instead taking action to celebrate our loved ones now- this ever-true message is what makes this song one of my favourites on the album. “Legends” is another explosive and heartfelt melody, as the pop/country number and breezy summer anthem vividly describes Kelsea’s previous relationship, as she looks back at the good times with fondness and without bitterness, even though it did indeed end. Lyrically and thematically there’s a lot to chew on here as Kelsea encourages us to celebrate the good times despite the bad- and it is this positivity and optimism in the face of despair and adversity that makes Kelsea a force to be reckoned with right now in this industry- as Kelsea makes lemonade from lemons, and turns around a negative situation into something much more positive (like “Legends” in which she champions the relationship that got away!), we are once again reminded of the grace and poise and happy-go-lucky outlook that we all need to ascribe to have.

With Unapologetically debuting at number three on the Billboard Top Country Album Chart and number seven on the Billboard 200 Album Chart, making it her highest charting album on both charts; it stands to reason that Kelsea’s popularity reached enormous heights back then. And you’d be right. In December 2018, Unapologetically even received a nomination for Best Country Album at the 61st annual Grammy Awards (alongside albums like Kacey Musgraves, Brothers Osborne, Ashley McBryde, Chris Stapleton); although the project didn’t win. “Legends” and “I Hate Love Songs” are thoroughly engaging and impacting singles, yet it is the third single “Miss Me More” that really speaks to the core of who we are. In the song, Kelsea takes on a persona who has been betrayed and been burned, as she eloquently relays that she was always compromising for this person, that ‘…I retired my red lipstick ’cause you said you didn’t like it, I didn’t wear my high heel shoes, ’cause I couldn’t be taller than you, I didn’t wanna lose my friends, but now it’s hard to even find them, it’s what you wanted, ain’t it?…’. Yet when the relationship ended, she finds herself ‘missing me more’ than the other person, highlighting the fact that she changed so much for this person that she was unrecognisable. She was miserable therefore this song reminds us all that we ought not to change for anyone, just because it’ll earn us brownie points or we think that people will love us more if we look like this or that. “Miss Me More” hopefully will allow us to finally see the truth that when people start making demands of us and people want this or that which is actually inconceivable or impossible; it’s time to get out and it’s time to start putting ourselves first and our emotions and well-being first.

With the title track being a powerful declaration of Kelsea’s unending and undying love for her husband, that she’s head over heels; it seems as if Unapologetically showcases Kelsea at a different place in her life than the debut album- one would think that these songs are much more ‘lovey-dovey’. Yet this is not the case- sure there are a few more ‘romantic love’ songs but there’s still the emotional heart breaker of a song if you want to be wrecked emotionally. “End Of The World” portrays Kelsea fervently relaying that she feels like it’s the end of the world for her emotionally because of a whole bunch of things, yet she also reminds us that even though things can seem dark at this moment, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that ‘…I met you at the end of the world…’– and ‘you’ could mean anyone, but it’s anyone who can and will be that friend or be that person that you can rely on and depend on. Kelsea also describes her relationship with her husband as “Music”, describes one of her previous relationships as “Roses”, and verbally rebukes the notion that “Graveyard” is all her relationships are every going to be. With “Graveyard” being pretty intense and no-nonsense, Kelsea highlights that she doesn’t want to be a footnote in the other person’s ‘graveyard’, and with the concept of everyone having their own story to tell, we are encouraged to own our story and not be a sidenote or a supporting character in someone else’s life. “Machine Heart”, full with metaphors and imagery describing a mechanical heart, is an acoustic guitar driven ballad describing the ever-true notion that we all do not have a machine heart, thus we all should allow ourselves to feel the entire spectrum of feelings, and not to be afraid of it; while the polarising “In Between” delves into the messy in between stage of childhood and adulthood, with Kelsea emphatically relaying to us that sometimes we’re ‘…dumb enough to think I know it all, smart enough to know I don’t, young enough to think I’ll live forever, old enough to know I won’t, in the in-between…’. While the revealing and confronting “High School” speaks about the choices we make in life and whether we regret some things and wish we were back in high school when we were popular. And as Kelsea succinctly relays to us about her thoughts of “High School”, we are glimpsed into a lyrical genius of a track, and one of Kelsea’s most reflective and contemplative songs ever!

I think sometimes when you go back to your hometown after your life has changed so much, you realize that some things don’t change – and some things do. And I was one of the things that did. Part of that was really bitter, and part of that was really sweet. I think it was just one of those songs where I realized that I’d changed a lot. [The song is] not necessarily about the boy that the song is referring to; it’s about that moment when you realize you’ve outgrown your young self. You’ve changed, and you’ve evolved, and you don’t fit somewhere anymore. I wrote it after a trip to my hometown sitting on my bedroom floor wondering if I was wrong for leaving so soon and for wanting something different. The answer is no, that everyone has a perfect and right path, and mine led me to Nashville at 15, trading in prom queen for a big city dream and a slate that was clean.

Even though I thoroughly and wholeheartedly believe that Kelsea’s first and second albums are such a joy and a breath of fresh air to listen to; Kelsea’s third album, the self-titled kelsea will always hold a special place in my heart. “club” was the first song from Kelsea that I ever listened to, and kelsea was the first album from Kelsea I listened to from start to finish. And though on this album, the music is quite controversial, given that Kelsea is branching from country to pop (but still keeping elements of country in her album!); one can tell that the subject matter overall on Kelsea’s album is so much more than what people assume country music to be- even from glancing at the unassuming song titles (which are all stylised as lowercase letters). On the surface, the poppy 3 minute “club”- one of Kelsea’s promotional singles on this project- is an anti-‘get out and have fun at the bar’ type of song, but a look deeper reveals that Kelsea prefers to stay home instead of partying outside as she values being in control of her actions, knowing that in the long run partying outside while there’s a chance of your drink being spiked isn’t worth it. As Kelsea passionately reiterates that ‘…I don’t wanna wake up on the floor of a bathroom, lookin’ at the stamps on my hand like a tattoo, say I’m never doin’ that again if I don’t have to…’, we are reminded that we don’t need to be inebriated to have a good time. If we know we’ll be compromised and if the cost is too great, then why can’t we stay home instead of going to the club? The acoustic guitar driven tear-jerker official first single “homecoming queen?” is just as inspiring even though musically polar opposites to “club”, as Kelsea imparts to us that everyone is human and everyone can cry and have feelings- no one is immune to sadness hence no one can judge another’s faults and failings; while the confronting “the other girl” is a stirring empowering duet with Halsey, as the duo sing about a guy who has two lovers- and the two women in the end banding together to teach him a lesson- a fictitious story yet nonetheless a warning to treat women with respect and honour.

Even though “club”, “homecoming queen?” and “the other girl” are heavy lyrically to the nth degree; things get really real in the acoustic guitar driven “love me like a girl”, whereby Kelsea sings to her significant other, asking him to listen to her problems and issues, to not to try to solve them, but to listen like her friends do. Sometimes as people we try to overanalyse situations, we find ourselves in, or try to ‘fix’ a problem…it’s the rational side of us, and we’ve all done this at one point or another in our lives. Yet Kelsea is conveying this concept that seems foreign to us, but it’s oh so true, and very much needed in society today. And it is this. That sometimes people don’t want an answer when they are hurting. They need a friend or a shoulder to cry on. That’s why I reckon “love me like a girl” is probably one of the most important songs ever made this year- as it encourages us to deconstruct everything we’ve learnt about trying to comfort and help someone in our own way, and just sit with the person and just be. Sometimes it’s healing to the person if we’re just there and no words are offered. So thank you Kelsea for this gem of a track and easily the standout melody here.

The raw emotion and honesty continue to flow in the vulnerable radio friendly “love and hate”, as Kelsea powerfully relays to us that sometimes the line between hate and love is very thin, and especially so if the significant other cheats as in the case of this song (which may or may not be based in reality); while “hole in the bottle” surprisingly is about what you’d think, as Kelsea reminisces about how she has drunk a lot of wine in one sitting while heartbroken over a breakup; and though this song is superficial, it is indeed valid as it speaks about being honest and vulnerable about your feelings or even lack of feelings! While Kelsea brings the subject matter back to impacting, honest, personal and relevant with the stirring duet “half of my hometown” with Kenny Chesney. As the two singers eloquently and seamlessly sing in harmony, reminding us all that we all have roots in our past that are part of who we are, no matter if we want to run away from them or not; we are presented with one of the most emotional tracks of 2020, and a reminder that we all need to not forget where we came from and the people who we grew up with- the person who we are is most likely influenced by our past. So no matter how dark or messy it is, I reckon we always have to be grateful and thankful- and that is what this song is trying to accomplish.

“the way I used to” is probably Kelsea at one of her most vulnerable moments, as she emotionally relays about how she thinks about her ex while drunk, and wonders if he still loves her- a track about being a mess yet still an honest track; while “needy” is a pop type of country song whereby Kelsea explains to her husband (or significant other if the song is sung from another point of view) that he makes her needy and makes her want him in a way that’s incomprehensible and out-of-this-world, even if she still is independent most of the time. It’s songs like “needy” and “the way I used to” that remind us that we as humans need other people in our lives, be it in a romantic or platonic way- because if we do not, we simply cannot survive. kelsea ends with the reflective and introspective acoustic guitar driven “la”, as Kelsea sings about her love and hate relationship with Los Angeles, California and how at times she feels lost and homesick and at other times she feels on top of the world and ready to make a new life in that city. While most of us feel pretty excited and enthusiastic to move to a new city, Kelsea’s feelings of anxiousness and trepidation remind us all that sometimes it’s ok to long for home and be homesick- because that’s what it means to be human. The song could also double down as code for Kelsea unsure about which route to take in the future in terms of music: staying in country, or doing a ‘Taylor Swift’ and transitioning fully to pop.

I don’t know if it was necessarily heartbreak [that inspired kelsea] but I think it was self-discovery. I just kind of kept my head down and really worked since I was 19 and for the first time last year, I had a couple of months where I wasn’t super busy and it was to allow me to work on this album. But I got home and I was like, “Do I have friends? Do people like me? My husband is on the road. I haven’t really done this before. Why am I so insecure? Why am I so anxious all the time?”

I had to start going to therapy to meet me now and re-get to know who I am now and know it’s not who I was at 19 and know that that’s normal, but unpacking all these things that I’ve kind of been too distracted to know about myself these last five or six years…it is ongoing.

The thing is, I’m trying to grow up and do everything right. I’m trying to grow up and do everything right, publicly. And I’m also trying to push myself and be better as an artist and be better as a woman. Trying to do all that gracefully is a lot of pressure and I put it all on myself, so it’s just trying to balance all of that…I think the greatest gift that I had was starting so young because I was just so naive and so hungry and so driven that I didn’t think about anything else than, “I love this song. Let’s go work it to the bone!” Now, I’m 26 and I think I’m starting to stand up for myself more in a business sense. I’m starting to learn more about business … and I think that makes it a little more difficult.

Bubbly and extremely relatable when I was watching video interviews, Kelsea just overall seems like a fun person to be around- like a friend that everyone wants to hang out with and party with. And apart from her successful and extremely relatable three albums that she has released, the fact that Kelsea’s guest spots and one-off songs are sung with immense passion and joy reminds us that there are still good and happy people in the world even during COVID-19, Kelsea included. “Better Luck Next Time” (Songland), the stand-alone single “We Were Like”, the Christmas song “My Favourite Things” (from The Star), as well as guest appearances on “Center Point Road” (Thomas Rhett), “First Time Again” (Jason Aldean) and “Dance With Me” (Morgan Evans) all are compelling, captivating and exquisite to listen to, as I am more and more becoming a fan of Kelsea, and the more and more I can see and understand why Kelsea is becoming more and more influential by the day. As Kelsea encourages us all to live in our own stories and discover our own identity rather than live in someone else’s shadow; the amazing things outside of the spotlight that Kelsea has done, for which I myself judge artists more on as to whether they’re ‘deserving’ for a place in my list; astound me… and there are heaps more of them!

After being named one of CMT’s Next Women of Country in 2014, Kelsea was also named at number two on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 – Music list. Kelsea also received two Academy of Country Music Award nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year and Video of the Year for “Peter Pan” in 2017; while in 2018, she was also featured as a fifth coach on The Voice. In 2019, Carrie Underwood inducted Kelsea into the Grand El Opry, while Kelsea has been a guest on the TV specials Brad Paisley Think He’s Special and #KidsTogether: The Nickelodeon Town Hall. Kelsey also guested with Halsey on the concert series CMT Crossroads, where they performed a number of songs from each other’s discographies, while Kelsea has also toured all over the country and the world, including with artists such as Thomas Rhett, Rascal Flatts, Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban, Lady A (fka Lady Antebellum) and Dan + Shay to name a few. It seems like life never seems to stop for Kelsea… and her busyness yet her calm demeanour that she shows us that she is indeed a very special young woman and a special musician and singer/songwriter indeed.

With both Unapologetically and The First Time being certified Gold, it is anyone’s guess how kelsea ends up with respect to accolades and awards won/nominated. In some respect though, it doesn’t really matter. Kelsea knows who she is and knows her sound- even if it is ever evolving. Having started singing in her church – when Kelsea was 13, she was already leading worship – Kelsea’s sound of country or country-pop or pop is welcomed by myself and here’s hoping that if Kelsea still is a believer, maybe a faith based album in the future (like what Hillary Scott did back in 2016) may be something different and welcomed in the industry? Regardless, right now Kelsea Ballerini’s self titled album doesn’t really revolutionise the country music genre. Nor are her songs super, super country- dare I say that this album is more pop and acoustic/folk, with a couple of out and out country songs thrown in (like “half of my hometown”). Yet there’s something about this project that will certainly make me revisit these songs again and again. Maybe it’s Kelsea’s passion or the fact that it seems like she’s being super honest. Maybe it’s her fun demeanour that shines through, or maybe it’s because these songs make it seem like Kelsea’s one of the rare genuine people in the music industry that are actually happy. But whatever the case, if you were like me before and not an avid fan of country music, I reckon that Kelsea’s new album will make you a fan. I certainly has for me. So shall we say that Kelsea may be a young Carrie Underwood in the making? From the looks of this album she may be well on the way! And while I’m sure many of you may shake your head as you discover that I’m writing about yet another country artist; let me hopefully persuade you. To look past the genre, to look past the gender of the artist. And to just listen to the artist. Listen to what Kelsea is revealing to us through these vulnerable and relatable lyrics. One chance for each of the three albums. And then afterwards I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with Kelsea’s music just like I did. So as you are jamming to or thinking of jamming to Kelsea Ballerini’s discography; let me leave you with a couple of very revealing interviews from Kelsea- as she delves into key events in her life, as well as her songwriting process and advice for those of us wanting to break into the music industry. And if after that you aren’t inspired… then nothing will! 😊

Does Kelsea Ballerini make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “club”, “Square Pegs”, “Love Me Like You Mean It”, “I Hate Love Songs”, and “homecoming queen?”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

I grew up loving music, but I never knew that you could just choose to be a singer like that. I was from a small town in Knoxville so you grow up to be a vet or something that you see other people doing around you. And until I saw a girl named Taylor move to Nashville, I didn’t know that I could do that.

I didn’t know it at the time, because I was blissfully naive and young, that when I put out my first single, there was a lack of females and it was a climate of the Carries and the Mirandas still having wild success on radio, but there was a gap between them and who was next,” Ballerini says. “And I think when you’re naive you just go in and you’re like, ‘This is what I want to do. I’m going to go do it.’ And you don’t know what you can’t do, so you just think you can and I think it’s a great thing, I think it’s a gift.

The first two albums, I found my group that I felt safe and comfortable with, and I stayed within that because I knew it and it worked. And this time I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to get in rooms with people who were outside of country. I wanted to get in rooms with people that are just so much better than me and learn and push myself, because why not? A lot of the songs aren’t even on the album, but they are songs that I’m so proud of because I got in the room with Ryan Tedder or I got in the room with Jon Bellion, and I hadn’t had those opportunities before.

It’s an uphill battle. I think that everyone is very aware of it and I think when people are very aware of it, that’s when things have to start changing. And I think for a while people were kind of like, ‘Yeah, but Carrie just had a number one.’ Just kind of writing it off instead of saying, “No, this 80 percent male, 20 percent female is unequal and not OK.” So, I think now that everyone’s very aware of it, we will start having changes.

I have to have intentional cut-offs for songwriting. If I keep writing, I will just redo the record 85 million times, and I’ll just never have a done album. So my cut-off was like two weeks ago. So I’m done writing. I have to be done. And I have like 200 songs. And now I have to sort through it all and be like, ‘OK, what’s good enough?’

I’m taking my songwriter hat off for a couple of months while I finish the album so that I don’t confuse myself, because I’m going to write something and be like, ‘The whole album’s wrong. I have to redo everything.’…well, the cool part about the music industry, and the frustrating part about the music industry – one of them – is that there is just not a rulebook. There’s no set way to make it happen. That’s why there’s shows that people go on, and some people break young, and some people break older. Sometimes, it takes a certain song, and you’ve had three records. It just depends.

And I think that’s really frustrating, because you don’t know where to start, but when it does work, it’s so custom. It’s so unique to you and your path. I would say: if you love writing, write as much as you can. I think songwriting, for me, is the reason I have the opportunity to be an artist. If I wasn’t a songwriter, I don’t think I’d have this career. So I’d say that if you have something to say, I would write until you feel you’ve said it.”

I was so naïve [about breaking through the noise]. I didn’t know. I was so young. And luckily for me, I had Taylor [Swift] to look up to. I had Carrie [Underwood] to look up. And Shania [Twain]. There were so women in country music at that point that I just thought, ‘Of course I can do this’. I didn’t know at the time, really, that there was a gap of women that weren’t on country radio. But I was naïve to it. I didn’t think that that was going to be a conversation. And so when we ended up putting the first single out, and it started charting and doing well, that’s when people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you have a single that’s working on the radio’. I was like, ‘Really? Why? All these other women have done it.’ I was just naïve. I think it’s the greatest gift I had.

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