Early in her career, Kelsea Ballerini’s work was unfairly compared to Taylor Swift 一 to such a degree that many wrote her off as a copycat. If you dig into her catalog, however, you’ll discover the Knoxville native has always been on top of her songwriting game. She certainly takes genre-bending cues from Swift, but really, she was simply following trends that were already saturating the radio.
Beginning with her First Time debut in 2015, Ballerini carried a thoughtfulness to her records. Where she may have been a little green around the edges, there was always an emotion informing her stories and the way she sculpted melodies.
Now three albums in, Ballerini has laid a solid foundation for a very long career in country music, with each release demonstrating her strength and growth as a storyteller.
Revisiting her songbook so far, we handpick her best songs, from hit singles to essential deep cuts.
Empowerment anthems are a staple in country music. Rather than keying an ex’s car or setting his bed on fire, Ballerini fired a single warning shot: “I'm over you / So get over yourself".
The saucy wordplay makes this Unapologetically deep cut a perfect kickstarter for our list.
There’s both an innocence and maturity to 'Peter Pan', Ballerini reframing Peter Pan and the Lost Boys to engage in a heart-rending tale of heartbreak.
The sweeping track, confrontational and sorrowful, demonstrated the uniqueness of her songwriting, even in those initial commercial days. “You’re never gonna be a man,” she sighed.
Ballerini likes her friends, tequila, and “putting on a dress and dancing with my feelings”. You weren’t likely to find her in a club, though.
Over a simple snap track and glistening production, the country star set up boundaries about what she didn’t want, even going as far as admitting her own suffocating social anxieties.
“What’s wrong with me?” she pondered, much like us all have.
Red roses symbolize beauty and romance.
But as with any flower, withering and decay are inevitabilities, much like the changing of the seasons.
Ballerini compared a literal rose to tending a relationship. Written in past tense, the song depicted both the blossoming and the wilting against a rhythmically layered backdrop.
It can be difficult to let go and move on from heartbreak. Ballerini had been put through the wringer, yet managed to offer up sage, beyond-her-years advice.
“Let the memories burn and crash,” she urged. Sifting through the rubble of her heart, she finally put everything in her rear-view mirror.
Ballerini has a way of dissecting misery that cuts to the core.
On 'Stilettos', she utilized flashy accessories as a metaphor for the walls we construct in our lives. “I wear my pain like stilettos,” she belted.
She may have been broken on the inside, but she wouldn’t dare let her ex know the truth.
A spiritual sequel to 'High School', this Kenny Chesney-featuring ballad found her waxing nostalgic about her hometown.
The journey of self-discovering is a universal one; whether you stay or go, there’s always a hunger to be accepted and to find purpose and meaning in life.
“Memories make us wanna go back,” she sang, quite tearfully.
It wasn’t the sting of heartbreak that hurt her most. It was the loss of herself.
“I forgot I had dreams / I forgot I had wings,” she confides. A pulsing backbeat punctuated Ballerini’s reclamation of herself, as she stared down her ex and rose like a phoenix from the ash.
“Even the homecoming queen cries,” wept Ballerini. With this delicate ballad, the singer-songwriter peeled back the layers of public perception.
We never truly know what someone else is going through; even those like a homecoming queen, who seemingly has the world at their feet, have a fair share of pain.
'homecoming queen?' is an important exercise in empathy.
Drawing from her parents’ divorce, Ballerini beautifully captured the deep pain and inherited trauma of familial dysfunction.
“Am I the product of a problem that I couldn’t change?” she questioned, her family’s fractured state distorting her own perceptions.
When marriages fray and end, people forget children can suffer the most.
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