Kelsea Ballerini on Taylor Swift and being country music's new 'It' girl

By Alisandra Puliti

Kelsea Ballerini is having the summer of a lifetime. Though the Knoxville native released her first single “Love You Like You Mean It,” in the summer of 2014, it really “gained momentum” at the start of this summer.“When we wrote it, I wasn’t even a signed artist yet, just a songwriter,” she tells HELLO!. “I never thought it would do what it did.”

And boy did it exceed her expectations. That first single off her first album aptly titled The First Time, which was released in May 2015, hit #1 on Billboard and Mediabase Country Airplay charts. This hadn’t happened for a female country solo artist since Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” in 2012, and even had country-turned pop superstar Taylor Swift singing her praises.

Kelsea performed her first headlining concert in NYC on July 16 Photo: Brad Lovell

Similar to the “Bad Blood” singer, she moved to Nashville at a young age to pursue her dream. At 15 Kelsea was writing away and landed a publishing deal at 19. “They saw that I was really serious about it, and they kind of watched me grow for a year,” she explained of her label. “Then they decided to bring me on as an artist.”

Now 21, Kelsea’s nonstop ride doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. The Black River Entertainment recording artist just released her second single, “Dibs” on July 20 and performed her first solo-headlining show at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre on July 16. Kelsea chatted with HELLO! about that experience, what the support from country music’s leading ladies means to her, and how great of a party host Taylor Swift really is!

HELLO!: You recently just performed your first concert in New York City as the headliner. What did that mean for you?
Kelsea Ballerini: It was crazy! I mean, I still feel like I’m kind of catching up to what’s happening the last few months, so for me, I’m still worried about people showing up. New York is such a huge city, and I’m like ‘I don’t even know if they know my songs here,’ but it was sold out.

H!: Along with songs off your album, you also surprised the crowd with your medley of “Baby One More Time” to “Bye Bye Bye” to “Bootlycious.” Did you grow up listening to pop music?
KB: Before I really knew country music, I listened to pop, and I still do. I think you can kind of hear it on my record. I also grew up on a farm in east Tennessee, so my roots are just naturally super southern so I’ve always had that southern country lifestyle.


H!: Speaking of pop, Taylor Swift has really been a big champion for you. Did you know her from Nashville?
KB: Taylor tweeted about my EP before my album came out months ago. My whole team looked at each other like ‘What just happened.’ She reached out to me personally and invited me to a party that she had in Nashville, and I opened for her “1989” tour in Pittsburgh, where those videos of the jam session happened.

H!: The party you are talking about was her best friend Abigail’s birthday party. So, be honest, is Taylor the best party host ever?
KB: It’s the photo booth. She has epic photo booths with all the props and stuff. [When I went], her security stopped me before I went inside and was like ‘Taylor wants to speak to you privately,’ and she barged out and attacked me with the biggest hug ever, and said ‘Kelsea, I love you.’ I said, ‘You’re Taylor Swift, I can’t do this right now!’ She’s honestly a cool person. She just makes everyone feel very loved and important. It’s also really cool to be a fan of someone as an artist and become a fan of them as a person too.

H!: Is there a possibility you guys would ever write together?
KB: I don’t know. I’m such a fan of hers. On her new album, “Clean” is an amazing song. I would so welcome that with open arms. It’s really cool that she listened to my stuff and liked it.

Kelsea loves establishing herself as a "fashionista" Photo: Brad Lovell

H!: You don’t really see much bad blood (yes, we went there!), in country music with women. So far, you’ve been given accolades from the likes of Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town among others. Why do you think that is?
KB: I think it’s because so many people are eager for women to be on country radio that there is no room for us to have competition. I think there’s only room for us to improve together and to help each other out as much as we can. If we got competitive like that, it would just hurt females on radio, and the whole point is for us to get on radio.

H!: You’ve been on the road with Lady Antebellum for their “Wheels Up Tour” and playing other fairs and festivals. Do you find it fun to shop and pick out your stage outfits?
KB: I am such a girly girl, and I love not playing it safe. I’m so new to this world, so it’s fun to establish myself as a fashionista.

H!: Any splurges?
KB: I really haven’t splurged on anything, but I did buy a dog [last week]. He’s a labradoodle, and I named him Dibs. He’s seven weeks.

H!: Aside from your pup, are you single or have a special someone?
KB: I am super happy.

And we will leave it at that!

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