Kelsea Ballerini

Kelsea Ballerini

For the past five years — or more accurately, ever since she first exploded onto the country music scene with “Love Me Like You Mean It,” her 2015 chart-topping debut single — Kelsea Ballerini has moved through life at a feverish pace. “I’m programmed to be all about, ‘What’s next? What can I be better at? How can I think outside of the box?” the Grammy-nominated singer says looking back. “I think that’s always how I’ve been. Because I’m super driven. But,” Ballerini concedes, “that can make it hard to be in the moment.”

In fact, only in recent times has one of music’s most vibrant stars found the necessary breathing room to ease off the gas, return home to Tennessee, and take stock of the roller coaster ride that’s been her life this past half-decade. “And now, personally, I feel like I’m in the healthiest spot I’ve been in in a long time,” says Ballerini, who less than one year after releasing her debut LP, 2015’s The First Time, became the first new female artist to see her first three singles debut at the top of the country charts with hit songs including “Dibs” and “Peter Pan.” “I’ve been down with getting to know myself. Just mentally and emotionally,” she offers. “I’ve been able to be a better friend and a daughter and a wife. And it’s been really amazing. Because it’s really good when you have a minute to breath. And then you’re like, ‘Cool. This has been fun. Now let’s go!’”

Most importantly, for her creative soul and her ever-growing legion of rabid fans, finding that inner calm has resulted in Ballerini crafting some of the most personal, poignant and admittedly vulnerable music of her already-monumental career. An introspective look into the emotions of the last two years of her life, Ballerini holds forth via some of her most poignant songs on all matters of social anxiety (“Club”), the importance of true friendships, nostalgia for her hometown and childhood (“Half of My Hometown”), love (“Bragger”), and continuing to use songwriting as therapy. To hear her tell it, discovering who exactly she is right now as a wildly succesful 26-year-old recording artist, but also a friend, daughter and, as of 2017, a wife to fellow country singer Morgan Evans, has only resulted in Ballerini inserting herself into her music like never before. “Now it’s time to get deeper,” she says.

To that end, the first taste of this new and ever-more reflective Ballerini is “homecoming queen?,” the debut single from the singer’s forthcoming new album which follows 2017’s critically acclaimed Unapologetically. “It has my hands all over it,” Ballerini says of the plaintive, heart-wrenching ballad (co-written with Nicolle Galyon and Jimmy Robbins) that topples the façade we so often hide behind. “I’ve never been this vulnerable in a single before or put out a song with a message like this before,” Ballerini insists. And while the homecoming queen in the song is indeed a metaphor for so many different things in life, Ballerini sees it as an apt one for a society fixated on projecting a perfect existence.

“I think it relates so well to now in our society — especially young girls but really for everybody,” Ballerini says of her new single. On social media, for example, she admits, “I often feel like I have to put forward my best-filtered, perfect and completely-together, successful self. But that attitude has become a really toxic thing for people. I’ve learned there’s something really awesome about being honest. Because no matter what you’re seeing, everyone is human, and we all go through ups and downs. Being able to be genuinely happy and celebrate when things are good and also be able to cry and have a safe place to go to when they aren’t…that matters.”