The title of Kelsea Ballerini’s new album is Subject to change, and that certainly sums up her state of mind right now. She has just gone through a major change in her personal life, with the announcement that she is divorcing her husband, compatriot Morgan Evans, after nearly five years of marriage. And while she doesn’t discuss the details of the split in her Yahoo Entertainment interview — which was held just days before the couple’s announcement — as she embarks on a new chapter both personally and professionally, she does open up about her most vulnerable. record so far.
“Obviously, we’ve all changed a lot in recent years, because life has… forced us to. … And I feel like I’ve grown so much in recent years, in my twenties. I’ve learned so much about myself in this extra space that we’re kind of forced into,” said the country/pop superstar, who just turned 29. Subject to change represented my life. It represented everyone’s life, and it kind of led me thematically through the story I was writing. And so we kind of went back and forth, like, ‘Are we making it broad, or are we just making it like that about me?’ And in the end, we went in very, very personally, to set the tone for the whole record.”
This isn’t the first time Ballerini has looked inward to create her art. Subject to change serves a kind of accompanying piece to her 2021 confessional poetry book, Feel your way throughin which she wrote about everything from her body image issues to witnessing a school shooting as a teenager, to the reaction she got for what some people found to be tone-deaf and simplistic, albeit well-intentioned, tweet responding to country star Morgan Wallen’s use of a racist slur.
“To write Feel your way through was super-cathartic, of course, because some of it is light, and some of it is like funny stories, and some things are things I’ve definitely never talked about before and cover a lot of trauma,” Ballerini says. “I felt so free to release that book, and I think it unlocked this part of my creativity, as well as my soulas crazy as that sounds. I felt that the way people connected with it gave me the confidence to keep pushing in that direction. So there are certain numbers [on Subject to Change] what you’re listening to and it’s almost a little shockinghow fair is it.”
Ballerini quotes two Subject to change songs, “Marilyn” and “Doin’ My Best,” as the ones that “probably opened my chest the most.” The first, inspired by the ultimate idealized/objectified woman, Marilyn Monroe, is connected in some way to Ballerini’s Feel your way through poem “Kangaroo”, in which she wrote about her body dysmorphia and previous battles with eating disorders. “Marilyn is a metaphor for me in this song,” explains the singer-songwriter. “Marilyn to me in this context represents a woman who presents herself in one way and feels deeply in another. I definitely have something to do with that, and I think with social media maybe everyone has something to do with that.”
As for “Doin’ My Best,” that song, like Ballerini’s poem “The Right of History,” focuses on her aforementioned Red Light District social media controversy. In that song, she sings about how she “kicked her ass on Twitter,” telling Yahoo Entertainment, “Honestly, I haven’t had Twitter since, and it was a good lesson for me. I think I’m a chronic people pleaser, and as an artist and a public person, I’ve really had to learn to stand up for things I believe in. But sometimes when you do, you’re going to trip and you’re going to do it wrong. And you know, I didn’t do it all right. … I think the intention is one thing, but I think the rebuttal to [that Wallen tweet] was that I failed to recognize the systematic racism that has occurred – which I fully understand. I took a step back, I listened, I learned. … I got a kick in the ass, and I learned a lot from it. And I take full responsibility for that.”
Ballerini adds with a laugh: “And I literally don’t miss Twitter at all!”
Ballerini says she took a step back from social media in general for her mental health. “I honestly think it was after that incident that I realized I had a choice. It was like, ‘Do I just shut up and only post the beautiful parts of my life, and just don’t open myself up to this anymore?’ Because I’m very sensitive and I feel it all, and I think that’s what makes me good at my job. Or: ‘Do I personally work on myself in therapy… and stay open and find the tools?’”
Ballerini has been a staunch advocate for mental health awareness in the country music community for years, and she’s her own advocate — but that wasn’t always the case. Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee was never something anyone talked about. I wasn’t even aware of the term “mental health,” she says. “I was forced into therapy twice because of two different things that happened to me when I was younger: one was my parents’ divorce and one was the school shooting I wrote about in the book. And it wasn’t my choice to go either. And so my younger relationship with talk therapy and mental health alone was very negative. It wasn’t until I grew up, and people started normalizing it in the media and talking about it, that I was even interested in rediscovering that path to mental health. … I would say that over the past five years I’ve really dived in and really started taking care of myself that way. And it’s just been such an important part of my life to take care of my brain, my mind, and my soul that way.”
By opening up about her past trauma — such as her experience when she witnessed the murder of her classmate Ryan McDonald in a 2008 cafeteria shooting at Central High School in Knoxville, which had her poem “His Name Was Ryan’ inspired – helped her heal. “It was one of the last poems I wrote for the book, and I remember sending drafts to some of my very close friends, and my friend Christina said, ‘If you go there and talk about all the great things that made you, you leave something out. Maybe it’s time you talked about it.’ And that was what I needed.”
Writing about her life also helped Ballerini develop a strong bond with her fans. “When you talk about big things, whether it’s physical dysmorphism, eating disorders, gun violence, families breaking up, whatever it is… when you can talk about something, you automatically build a community,” she explains. from. “And if you have intercourse, you can get through things healthier and faster. Like, I still suffer from PTSD [from the school shooting]; I’m an artist and I’m on stage a lot so I need to be told if there’s pyro around or it’s not a good day for me. It’s something I deal with on a regular basis so I think posting that information I hope will help people understand my reaction to certain things [onstage].”
Ballerini has taken advantage of her platform to speak out in many ways, including tackling “Tomato-gate,” a country music scandal that grew out of when radio consultant Keith Hill used an insulting salad analogy, describing male performers as ‘lettuce’ and female performers as pure tomato garnish. It could be argued that Ballerini’s success (she had four No. 1 singles on the Country Airplay chart and is the only female country artist to reach No. 1 with her first three consecutive singles from a debut album) has reopened doors for female artists from around the world. the country. And Ballerini says, “I see it start to shift a little bit and become more inclusive; I’m hopeful.” But she admits there’s still a long way to go.
“I mean, I want to say” [things are changing at radio], but then I look at the graph. I clearly checked where [the Subject to Change single] ‘Heartfirst’ is today, and I think there’s something like three women in the top 40. So I don’t know. All I know is what I have control over – and what I have control over is showing up as a woman in country music, lifting other women I believe in, writing with other women, working with women, producers, working with women in my team.
“I have a collab on this record with Carly Pierce, who I’ve known for about 10 years. We have seen each other through so many lives and in every season of our careers and have always wanted to do a song together. And then Kelly Clarkson, who’s been like my goddamn idol from the start – I asked Kelly to be part of the song, and she did the vocals that night. It’s called ‘You’re Drunk, Go Home’ and it’s like a little cheeky bomb in the countryside. I’m really excited about that. I love having two women from different genres, who respect each other, be a part of it. I just want to creatively surround myself with epic women, in a business sense. that is which I have control over. And I think when more women get the chance to do that, that’s the real change.”
As Ballerini approaches her thirties as a newly single woman, she marvels at how fans have accompanied her on her journey, even as she made mistakes or showed the less beautiful parts of her life. “I just recognize that life is so messy and so multifaceted,” she muses. “If it’s good, it’s good, and we have to feel it. But if it isn’t, it isn’t, and we should feel it too. … I feel that the deeper I can go into those topics that I have a strong sense of, the better.”
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