Kelsea Ballerini vies for a top prize at the CMA Awards Country music’s next big star?
By Kristin M. Hall
Country singer Kelsea Ballerini got the text of a lifetime recently. “The other day I got a text from a mutual friend that said, ‘Are you in Nashville? Reba wants to grab a drink,”’ Ballerini recalled.
That was, of course, the one and only Reba McEntire, one of country music’s reigning queens.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’” Ballerini said excitedly.
The singers, both nominated for female vocalist of the year at tonight’s Country Music Association Awards (8 p.m., ABC), will perform a duet of Ballerini’s new song “Legends” at the show in Nashville, Tenn.
“I am so glad [Reba] did reach out to do that, because we didn’t even talk about music. We just hung out and got to know each other,” said Ballerini.
The meet-up proves that in a couple short years, the 24-year-old Ballerini has proven her place among country music’s biggest stars. Her 2015 debut album had multiple radio hits and earned her awards. She was even nominated for best new artist at this year’s Grammys. And performing-rights organization ASCAP will give her the Vanguard Award on Monday.
Ballerini is on the verge of another big year with her sophomore record, “Unapologetically,” released last week. It tells a smart and catchy story of the Knoxville native who moved to Nashville at 15, stayed true to her identity and found love. She structured the album into chapters of her life, starting off a little dark and ending on a high note.
“It was like fitting a puzzle together,” Ballerini said. “I want people to listen to it and without looking at the credits, know that I wrote every song.”
Here’s a look at some of the key songs of the album.
“Miss Me More” is both parts a Britney Spears-esque breakup song and anthem to preserving your identity in a relationship. Ballerini details the real-life experience of a man telling her not to wear high heels “‘cause I couldn’t be taller than you.”
“With young love so many times, especially with young girls, we invest everything we can into a relationship and at the end of it, you really think you’re going to be sad about losing this person or losing the time you spent with them,” Ballerini said. “But you really look in the mirror and you realize you lost yourself and that’s the saddest part.”
“In Between” is one of Ballerini’s most autobiographical songs, as she recounts her transition from a “guitar to a Grammy.” The defining line of the track for Ballerini was, “Sometimes I’m my mother’s daughter, and sometimes I’m her friend.” Ballerini credits her mother with helping her through these important life moments, and the song ends with a voicemail recording of her mother.
“I surprised her with it,” Ballerini said. “I sent her the song without it because that was an addition like two weeks before the album came out. It was a super last-minute idea. Oh gosh, she was so excited.”
The song “Unapologetically” was written just weeks after Ballerini met her fiance, Morgan Evans, an Australian-born country singer.
“I always had a rule for myself that I would never ever date an artist,” Ballerini said with a laugh. “Then life happened.”
The sweet love song, in which Evans sings backup vocals, shows Ballerini ready to jump into the relationship despite what others might think.
“If it’s serious, they are going to say I am too young and they are going to say it’s too fast,” Ballerini said. “This is me saying that I don’t care. It’s so freeing to say that.”