Kelsea Ballerini Spills on Her Squad, Rapid Success & a Possible Drake Collab

Country artist Kelsea Ballerini is a multitalented force of nature with two #1 singles, two ACM awards and a girl squad to rival Tay's. Naturally, when I got "dibs" on a bit of the singer's time, I jumped at the opportunity to ask her to be friends and she was just like, "Welcome! Welcome to the group." So if you're looking for me, I'll just be hopping on over to Nashville, Tennessee, where my new BFF moved at age 15 to pursue her musical dreams and shake up the country music industry with her sass, talent and perseverance. In the meantime, check out the rest of our conversation to learn about Kelsea's path to success and what's in the books for her in the months to come.

Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?

Kelsea Ballerini: Definitely not. I grew up in East Tennessee and I thought I wanted to be a dancer for a long time, and then I thought that I wanted to be a vet for a long time. Singing just wasn’t a thing that, in my head, I thought you could do. Like I thought that the people that were singers—I don’t know—had some sort of magic power, so I didn’t know I could do it. So when I started writing songs when I was 12, that’s when I really wanted to try, at least.

You started writing songs when you were 12?!

KB: Yeah!! I was such a little nugget, writing songs all the time.

That’s really cool! Did you do talent shows and stuff?

KB: Umm… I did, yeah, I did, but I was kind of private about it at first, because, I don’t know, I didn’t have a ton of friends and I just wrote songs all the time and it wasn’t really until I went to Nashville that I was very vocal about wanting to be a singer-songwriter.

About country music, what specifically about it speaks to you?

KB: Well, I grew up on a farm in East Tennessee, so I just have very Southern roots and a Southern upbringing and… It’s funny, when I was really young, I didn’t even listen to country but, you know, I had a farm and I would go to church with my big family on Sunday and then have fried chicken after, like, I was living a very country lifestyle, so as soon as I started listening to country music, I really connected with it because of my roots.

Was there a moment in your career when you like, “Okay, I’ve made it?” Maybe hearing yourself on the radio, or something like that—just a big step?

KB: Yeah, I call them mountain-top moments and they’re the moments when you’re like, “Man, I don’t think I’m gonna forget this one.” Hearing my song on the radio for the first time was definitely one, singing at the Grand Ole Opry, getting AMA, CMA and CMT nominations, and getting to perform with Taylor Swift. I mean, there’s been a couple that are like blowing my mind.

And it’s all happened really fast, right?

KB: Yeah, relatively quick, it’s all been in the last year and a half.

You’re releasing a new single. What is it about?

KB: Oh my gosh, yes, I’m so excited. It’s called “Peter Pan” and it’s a take on the story that everyone knows, like the boy who can’t grow up, but it’s kind of talking about it in a relationship sense. It’s about the kind of heartbreak where like nothing dramatic happens, it’s just like one person can’t emotionally match the other. I’m so proud of this song, I’m really excited to put it out.

Can I ask what inspired it?

KB: Well I mean, I know I’ve personally dated a couple guys that I feel that way about and a lot of my friends have too. You know, I think you either have or know someone that has had a heartbreak.

Is there someone that you would just die to collaborate with?

KB: I love collaborations and I’ve always wanted to do one on every record. Gavin DeGraw, I would love to work with, Taylor Swift, I would love to work with, Drake one day would be cool… I have a bunch.

Has there been anyone in country music that you’ve met that’s been really inspiring for you?

KB: I mean, everyone’s so nice, but Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum, she’s like my big sister, she’s like the most incredible person, and then she’s also an incredible artist and that’s the best combination in the whole world.

Has it been difficult for you being a woman in country? Do you think you’ve been treated differently because you’re young and a woman?

KB: I think, you know when I first moved to town, as a young, happy-go-lucky singer-songwriter… it’s definitely hard for people to take you seriously. That was definitely a struggle for me, but as far as girls on the radio, it’s hard for me to speak to that because my first two singles went number one and I’ve had massive support, so I know that there’s been a giant lack of females for the last few years, but I think that we’re in a trend right now where females are coming back and I’m very, very, very honored to be a part of that.

Do you have anything coming up in the near future, apart from the single, that you’re super excited about?

KB: The video for the single! Honestly, it’s the most epic thing I’ve ever been a part of. You know, it’s funny, I really wanted to do a very serious video for the song… until I saw the treatment that we ended up doing. It’s something I would have never thought of and it’s such a different take on the story, and so we made it into like a mini movie.

So is it kind of like the Taylor Swift “You Belong With Me” video?

KB: No, not at all. It’s very like dark and more mature than I’m used to.

So is it kind of a break from what you were doing before?

KB: I mean, I think even just with the song. With “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Dibs,” I show the fun, young, pop-y side of me, but I think with this song I show more depth and more songwriting, so we wanted the video to match that.

So did you write the song?

KB: I did, yeah. I get to write every song I put out, which I’m very thankful for.

I’ve kind of asked this before, but has there been someone—like a friend or a family member—who’s been super instrumental in your career?

KB: Well, my mom, for sure. She moved to town with me when I was 15 to help me get started. She was dropping me off at meetings and she’s been a huge part of making all this what it is. She’s a rockstar.

Did you meet any people who were about your age when you moved to Nashville, who were trying to get into music as well?

KB: Yeah! You totally make friends with people that you’re going through the same things with. Even right now, I’m really good friends with Cam and Maddie & Tae, we’re all kind of walking through it together and we’re all around the same age. It’s important to have that community of sisters, you know.

Yeah! And that’s a really cool group, like I want to be friends with you guys.

KB: Welcome! Welcome to the group.

Thank you! I have one last question: is there a life lesson you’ve learned, something you’d really want to share with our readers?

KB: I think honestly knowing who you are and standing up for who you are in any aspect, whether you’re into music or whatever, I just think that being able to take the time to figure out who you are and stand for that is a big, big deal. There are so many voices all over the place, trying to influence people and it’s important to kind of discover yourself, you know?

Kelsea's album The First Time is now available.

Iris was the associate editor at Her Campus. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in communications and gender studies, but was born and raised in France with an English mother. She enjoys country music, the color pink and pretending she has her life together. Iris was the style editor and LGBTQ+ editor for HC as an undergrad, and has interned for and goop. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @irisgoldsztajn, or check out her writing portfolio here.

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