In March 2020, Kelsea Ballerini released “kelsea,” an album full of feel-good country pop songs that peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 Charts. Ballerini’s previous work has seen significant success as well — her 2017 country album “Unapologetically” was nominated for a Grammy Award, and her catchy single with The Chainsmokers, “This Feeling,” hit No. 50 on the Billboard Charts.
However, not everything worked out for Ballerini with the release of “kelsea.” After its release, the world entered a global pandemic and everything Ballerini had planned — concerts, tours and events — were all gone. Ballerini took the time to reflect during quarantine and re-recorded the songs on “kelsea” in a more stripped-down, honest way.
“I had to clean the slate and start over. But not start all the way over because I love what I wrote,” Ballerini said in an interview with The Tennessean.
In this way, Ballerini kept the heart of the music in “kelsea” while also showcasing her vulnerability and emotions. “ballerini” is more personal, because the artist played a significant part in producing it, and because it’s stripped of features from artists in “kelsea” such as Halsey and Kenny Chesney.
The opening track, “overshare,” is a smooth and twangy country song in which Ballerini opens up about her insecurities, singing “Truth is, conversations make me anxious / Even if we're on a first name basis.” This is a place where Ballerini is honest about her insecurities in a relatable way without being melodramatic. Compared to its companion on “kelsea,” this “overshare” preserves Ballerini’s light tone while allowing listeners to reflect on Ballerini’s thought process in relationships with other people.
“hole in the bottle” was a successful track on “kelsea,” and Ballerini keeps the fun and playful vibe of this song on the new album as she sings about having a fun night of drinking in a bar over spirited guitar and piano melodies. “hole in a bottle” is a twangy song that shows Ballerini being herself and having fun, as well as serving as a moment of lightheartedness on the emotional album.
Throughout the album, Ballerini also shows her vulnerability in love and relationships. Songs such as “love me like a girl” and “the way i used to” deal with missing an ex and still having feelings for someone. Ballerini sings about trying to push back against these feelings, but eventually accepts them as they are and presents her authentic feelings to the world on these tracks. Though the subject matter of these songs tends toward cliche, Ballerini’s unparalleled emotions transform and reinvent these themes in a meaningful way.
In her successful attempt to present a more raw side of herself, Kelsea Ballerini also showcases moments of melancholy and sadness on “ballerini.” The track “homecoming queen?” is a place where Ballerini sings dejectedly about a girl who tries to look perfect for the world but has insecurities within herself. This introspective ballad is an incredibly powerful and honest moment on “ballerini.” A different moment on this album where this introspection is less convincing is on the piano ballad “club,” in which Ballerini sings about wanting more than the hooking up and drinking in modern culture. Though it’s enjoyable enough, it comes off a bit cliche and does not feel as meaningful as the other songs on “ballerini.”
The heart of “ballerini” is when Kelsea Ballerini sings about her struggles between two worlds. “half of my hometown” is a nostalgia-driven country tune where Ballerini wistfully sings about being connected to the place where one is from no matter where they are. Nowhere is this feeling made more clear than in the album’s closing “la.” Here, Ballerini honestly sings about the struggle between letting go of where you’re from, while still always having it be a part of you. On “la,” she sings — “But if I let down my hair in the ocean air / Will Tennessee be mad at me?” as she analyzes her longing for both Knoxville and Los Angeles. This is a fantastic and heartfelt song that showcases Ballerini’s talent and raw emotions.
“ballerini” displays a more vulnerable and truthful side of Kelsea Ballerini that was not as prevalent on her March release “kelsea.” Though it has its fun and playful moments, it also shows her breaking down and being honest. On “ballerini,” Kelsea Ballerini shows that she has a meaningful voice in the world of music, and that she is not just another country artist. She shows the world her authentic self without disguise — and the world is listening.