“I am loud and I talk too much,” Ballerini, 26, admits. “And it’s really because I am scared of the silence. I am scared of the alone time now. I am aware of that.” She starts the highly personal record, out on Friday, with the song “overshare,” relating the time she got drunk and weepy in front of strangers and the other time she embarrassed herself in front of a celebrity (and no, she won’t name names.)
But Ballerini’s portrait of a young star straddling country and pop isn’t just an Instagram feed of famous friends and exotic locales. She’s cataloging insecurities that are just as relatable to the average person.
“I feel like it’s the album that is super self-aware and super open in a different way than I’ve been before,” said the Knoxville, Tennessee-native who is nominated for female artist of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, which was pushed back to the fall because of the coronavirus. “It’s the album that I keep saying puts me on a first-name basis with everyone.”
In addition to again co-writing every song on the album, she took on additional duties as a co-producer with Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally and Jimmy Robbins. “Kelsea knows what she wants every track to sound like and she knows how she wants her vocal to sound, and what guitar parts she wants in there, down to the finest details,” said Copperman, who also co-wrote several of the songs.
While Ballerini is one of the few female artists to consistently get No. 1 country radio hits, she knows that many people still consider her a country pop artist. For this record, she leaned into that more heavily than before, co-writing with Ed Sheeran, Julia Michaels, Halsey and Tayla Parx, a co-writer of Ariana Grande's hits “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings.”
Halsey and Ballerini’s fast friendship formed over rounds of late-night karaoke in a Nashville dive bar, and when Ballerini decided to write a dark sounding duet, she thought of the “Bad at Love” pop star.
“I was like ‘I’m going to write a chick duet and I am going to try to get Halsey on it,’” Ballerini said. “Bold! Who do I think I am?” The two singers co-wrote the club-ready “the other girl” about the suspicious feeling women get about a cheating partner.
Ballerini also couldn’t pass up an opportunity to write with Sheeran, either, even when it meant taking a red-eye flight from L.A. to Nashville to meet up with him. Copperman was in a writing session with Sheeran, who had mentioned his desire to write country songs.
“He was telling me that he wanted to have a No. 1 country song, and I was like, "Let me help you make that happen,'” Copperman said. Ballerini, Sheeran and Copperman wrote about three songs in about three hours, including “love and hate,” a piano and string ballad that made the record.
But even as Ballerini eases into the pop world, she also has her feet planted in country music, duetting with fellow Knoxville-native Kenny Chesney on the nostalgic “half of my hometown,” and her first real drinking song, the twangy “hole in the bottle.”
She ends the album with “la,” a song she wrote by herself, about her need to stay grounded amid the shiny lights of red carpets and parties. "The whole thing is me trying to be self-aware,” said Ballerini. “It's a lot of self-discovery.”
__ Online: https://www.kelseaballerini.com/ __ Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall