Here’s the thing: I would tell you to keep an eye on Kelsea Ballerini, but with a voice as strong as her songwriting finesse and a genuine passion for telling truthful stories, you won’t have to look hard to find the Knoxville, Tenn. native this year.
After moving to Nashville at age 15, she was originally signed as a songwriter for Black River Publishing in 2013. Soon after, she signed a record deal with Black River Entertainment and released her self-titled debut EP last November.
All five songs on Ballerini’s EP are magnetic; a country-pop vibe that keeps you dancing with lyrics so relatable you start to wonder if she’s singing your own story. Her first single off of the EP “Love Me Like You Mean It” hit the Top 30 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and recently just surpassed 1 million plays on Spotify. Her unique sound comes from an early love of pop within a girl whose roots are country.
“I grew up totally a Top 40 girl. I thought I was Britney Spears,” she laughs. “I’m definitely drawn to the melodies and the hooks of pop music, with the stories and lyrics of country. I think on the EP, and especially on the album coming out, there’s a lot of marrying those two genres in the songs that I have.”
A songwriter at her core, the 21-year-old co-wrote all of the songs on the EP, with the exception of “The First Time” which she wrote by herself. Influenced and inspired by strong, female songwriters such as Hillary Lindsey and Natalie Hemby, Ballerini writes and sings honest, heartfelt stories about growing up, relationships and getting through tough circumstances.
“I’ve always loved words and was a big journaler growing up. One day, my journals and poems just kind of turned into songs,” she tells me. “Being 12 or 13 is an awkward age for any girl, so I started writing about that. My parents were splitting up, so I started writing about that, too. Boys started to be cute and weird, so I wrote about that, and I just never stopped writing.”
Recently named one of CMT’s Next Women of Country, Ballerini joins the ranks of Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves and other exceptional women of country music with the honor.
“I really do think it’s an exciting time for women in country music, and for CMT to get behind us, and recognize and support women like they do is a huge deal,” she says. “I remember two years ago when they first started CMT’s Next Women. I was signed as a songwriter, and I looked at that group and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, these girls are such a force to be reckoned with.’ I never thought that the next year I would be a part of it.”
The success of her EP is the perfect catalyst for the release of her debut album, which you can expect sometime before this summer. Ballerini co-wrote all 12 songs, which offer a deeper look into her life and story.
“I’ve been writing for this record since I was 12. I feel like it’s a snapshot of my life from 12-21, and tells the stories of the emotions and all of the things that I experienced during those years of my life,” she says. “I think the album has a lot of depth and tells deeper stories. Those are the songs that it really matters to me to put out.”
In addition to a new album that we’re counting down the days for, she’s making her Opry debut this Saturday (Feb. 14), a step all aspiring country music artists dream of taking.
“I’m so nervous, but I’m so excited,” she says. “To be on the stage and in the circle is going to be such a special moment. I feel like for a new country music artist, that’s one of the biggest honors you can get.”
You can get tickets for her Opry debut here, and you’ll also be able to see her perform on tour around the U.S. You can go to her website for an updated list of dates and venues, or keep up with her on Twitter for updates!