6 albums, 44 tracks
Born in Sep 12, 1993
Unapologetically Pop-Country: Kelsea Ballerini’s Place in Country Music
Kelsea Ballerini just got invited to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. For those of you outside of the country music bubble that I seem to constantly inhabit, the general consensus is that this is the biggest honour in the genre. Becoming a member of the Opry means that this artist has the opportunity to play the Opry whenever they want, as well as being on a list of Opry Members that includes greats such as Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire. Many deserving artists have yet to receive this honour. But last month, the Opry chose to grant membership to a pretty new artist in country music, one that has constantly received criticism for not being a truly country artist. But in a twist that few people saw coming, she’s now been accepted by the pinnacle of the country music community. The only way to come to terms with this, and to figure out why an artist so constantly criticized has been deemed legitimate by such an honour is to delve into her most recent record, Unapologetically, Ballerini’s sophomore record that came out in 2017.
In defense of pop-country
I find it particularly interesting how many parallels can be drawn between Ballerini’s second record and Maren Morris’s second record that just came out, GIRL. For starters, Ballerini named her record Unapologetically. This directly refers to the song “Unapologetically,” about her and her new husband’s very fast-moving relationship. But this title also refers to the criticism she’s received about not being country enough to be a real country artist. Morris didn’t address this in the title of her record, but she very openly commented on this in her song “Flavor,” about how if someone doesn’t like the way her music sounds, they can just turn it off. The sheer amount of love songs on this record also parallels closely with Morris’s, as they both got engaged/married at around the same time, resulting in an influx in love songs they were both writing. But unlike Morris, Ballerini is now a part of the Grand Ole Opry, meaning she has a responsibility to be as “unapologetic” about her country side as she is about her pop side. The song “Unapologetically” doesn’t sound like a song that would play on the Opry, but that’s nothing new when it comes to Ballerini’s music.
All of the singles off of this project are fairly bland, but some of the songs on the record are actually quite excellent. In particular, the opener “Graveyard” does an excellent job of showcasing Ballerini’s potential. The production of this song is an example of a perfect mix of country and pop. The acoustic guitar and mandolin are prominent throughout, but the synths behind them aren’t hiding either. If Ballerini is to be “unapologetic” about all the sides of her artistry and all of her musical influences, this is how you do it. Lyrically, this is also one of the stronger tracks on the record. The elongated “rest in peace” at the end of the chorus also allows Balllerini’s voice to shine. She doesn’t have a Carrie Underwood-level voice, but it can sound quite lovely if she sings songs that flatter it. “Graveyard” does just that. After “Graveyard” comes a couple pop songs, but the middle section of the record is much more interesting. “Machine Heart” comes with a synth-driven chorus, but with honesty in her lyrics that haven’t been seen on a Kelsea Ballerini song since “Secondhand Smoke” on her debut record The First Time. “In Between” and “High School” are acoustic-driven songs that centre around nostalgia for childhood and high school. Not an uncommon theme in country music, but Ballerini approaches this with a very real, believable voice, maybe because she sounds like she’s just out of high school herself. These are her “big sister” songs, ones that seem curated specifically for her young female fans. The final song in the mid-section of the album is one of the best. “End of the World” is one of those almost sickly-sweet songs that if sung by anyone else would seem insincere. But that’s the thing about Kelsea Ballerini: her whole personality in country music is being the sweet, relatable country girl, who also loves Britney Spears. This song about fresh love and the feeling that this love is some kind of saviour fits that persona perfectly. It’s a beautiful moment on the record.
So there are obviously a handful of great songs, a couple bad ones, and a handful of songs that are just there, just hanging out. This makes for a pretty decent record. But my main issue with Ballerini is that she always plays it safe. Her idea of being “edgy” and pushing boundaries is adding an extra pop beat to a song or writing a somewhat sassy track like “Miss Me More.” Even with “I Hate Love Songs,” I can just see her and her co-writers in the studio giggling about how interesting and out of the box the lyrics and sound of the song are (especially with “I think Cupid is stupid”); when in reality, it sounds exactly the same as the recent Keith Urban hit “Blue Ain’t Your Colour,” which sounds exactly the same as “Tennessee Whiskey.” She has no edge, whatsoever. Some may have said the same about Taylor Swift early on in her career, but by 19, Swift was writing cutting songs like “Dear John,” and at FIFTEEN, wrote “Cold As You,” arguably one of the best written country songs of 2006. Ballerini seems perpetually caught somewhere between “Picture To Burn” and “Teardrops on my Guitar” and seems to have no idea how to move past that. She also doesn’t play to her strengths. A song like “Miss Me More” would be potentially punchy if Ballerini had a stronger voice and was able to truly hit all the notes written in the song. But she really can’t. Additionally, the continuous emphasis on a basis of electronic production leaves the tracks feeling hollow and empty. Her live performances often sound much more full and complete because there isn’t that reliance on the synthesizer and electronic instrumentals and drums to fill up the silence. But guess all of these points aside, the real question is: based on Unapologetically, does Kelsea Ballerini deserve to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry? The best answer I can give right now is possibly.
Kelsea Ballerini’s Unapologetically Is The Taylor Swift We Never Got To Have
Though she probably hates the comparison many have suggested over the years, Kelsea Ballerini is one of the last holdovers of the more traditional feminine voice of Country Pop music, staying true to the more innocent, old-fashioned viewpoints on teenage relationships whilst advocating for better standards of living for women throughout the genre. Taylor Swift once held our attention in these circles of thought, providing endless jams with a lighthearted spirit & a youthful exuberance, but as she & other heavy-hitters like Kacey Musgraves & Lauren Alaina have tried to push their sounds in a much stronger, often delightfully-feminist direction, the more underappreciated aspects of Teen Pop within Country have fallen to the wayside, leaving younger audiences without that bouncy, willfully-ignorant sound they need to keep their formative years bright & jolly like it used to be – With Unapologetically, Kelsea Ballerini turns the tables, capturing that exuberant spirit we love & creating an album full of nothing but catchy road-trip bangers you’ll happily sing along to when no one’s around.
Evoking The Spirit Of Youth In Every Song
As mentioned, Unapologetically is all about the adolescent fantasy, with Kelsea Ballerini delivering songs about teenage romance, unrequited love, growing pains & many more staples of the noughties-era Teen Pop movement; Sure, much of this aesthetic can be seen as problematic in today’s more mature reality, perpetuating stereotypes of feminine submission & unrealistic expectations of what relationships should be for a growing individual, but there’s a distinct sense of fun, reckless abandon & unrestrained positivity that makes every track incredibly entertaining to listen to – Take “Legends” for example, a track all about cherishing the happy mistakes in life & the tender moments you’ve shared with someone you truly love, reflecting on them in times of trouble to bring you strength when you need it most; It’s undoubtedly corny & can be a bit embarrassing to listen to for anyone over 18 years of age, but the instrumentation is bright & jubilant with an uplifting sense of hope that can just as well inspire youths towards respecting their partners more wholeheartedly than most modern relationship songs would ever dare to express – Love should be championed, not shunned.
Captivating Charm Gives Generic Country Pop A Bit Of Pizazz
One of the things that made everyone fall in love with Taylor Swift in the first place was her unflappable air of calm in the face of adversity, especially for an artist who was so young in the height of her popularity; Her music was about cherishing innocence & the sheer importance of discovering life’s inconsistencies on your own terms, growing up at a rate that felt comfortable for you rather than trying to accept all outside influences – Within Unapologetically & especially songs like the brooding “Graveyard” or the self-referential “Miss Me More,” Kelsea Ballerini tries to show that you can’t always be one step ahead of the issues you’ll face in life because you can’t recognize red flags until you’ve experienced them yourself, learning to accept what you can’t control & growing as a person in turn, building better bonds with your familial & platonic support groups whilst figuring out who you are as well.
A Guilty Pleasure You Won’t Have To Defend
From around 2013 to now, the music industry at large has tried its best to push younger music acts towards a more mature sound, with acts like Selena Gomez & Ariana Grande leading the charge for today’s sexual revolution – well, acceptance more than revelatory – as the market opts for darker tones & less fantastical views of the shitty world we all live in. Sometimes, you just want a break from all the over-sexualization & reality-checks that tell you love is dead or that Trap percussion beats are the most amazing thing in the world – Kelsea Ballerini’s Unapologetically is that lunch break, packed to the brim with joyous soundscapes & catchy melodies that make you feel good from the inside out, reminding you that not everything in life has to be grim & jaded; As such, blasting “Get Over Yourself” or the very Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”-esque “Fun And Games” should be seen as a requirement to your own sanity instead of jams you need to listen to in private.
Official Music Videos
- Nov 21, 2018The Chainsmokers rock Monday Night Football halftime show, performing ‘This Feeling’ with Kelsea Ballerini
- Nov 14, 2018Kelsea Ballerini & Morgan Evans Couple Up For CMA Awards 2018
- Nov 12, 2018Kelsea Ballerini: Hottest Photos On The Internet
- Nov 10, 2018Kelsea Ballerini Fires Back Against ”Disgusting” Body-Shamer After VS Fashion Show - Newsline
- Nov 09, 2018Kelsea Ballerini Claps Back After Troll Tells Her to ‘Lose Some Weight'
- Oct 29, 2018Kelsea Ballerini Announces First-Ever Headlining Arena Tour
- Oct 05, 201810 Best Country and Americana Songs of the Week: Kelsea Ballerini, Walker McGuire
- Sep 14, 2018Kelly Clarkson, Kelsea Ballerini Hitting the Road Together for 2019 Meaning of Life Tour - Taste of Country
- Black River
Kelsea Nicole Ballerini (born September 12, 1993) is an American country pop singer and songwriter. She released her first album The First Time in 2015, and her second album Unapologetically was released on November 3, 2017. She received a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2017 Grammy Awards. Ballerini's two albums have accounted for seven charted songs on the Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts. She has four No. 1 singles on the latter, starting with her debut single "Love Me Like You Mean It", which made her the first female artist to send a debut single to the top of that chart since Carrie Underwood in 2006. It was followed by "Dibs" and "Peter Pan", whose peaks also made her the first female country artist to send her first three singles to the top of that chart since Wynonna Judd. Ballerini's fourth No. 1 single is "Legends".