Kelsea Ballerini, 21, just became the first female singer in 10 years (since Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”) to have her debut single reach No. 1 on country chart.
She’s currently on tour opening for Lady Antebellum, but chances are she’ll be headlining soon enough.
Question: Why do you think your song “Love Me Like You Mean It” was so successful so fast?
Kelsea Ballerini: I was hoping if people wanted to cruise in their cars with the windows down that it had a good enough beat for that and if people wanted to listen to it, they would hear a message of empowerment and confidence.
How do you think your many months of visiting radio stations factored into the success of the single?
The radio tour is the reason that song did so well. Relationships and having connections with people makes you want to root for them and it makes them want to root for you. We did a 21-week radio tour and we saw close to every station and some twice. It was only supposed to be eight weeks but we were just enjoying it and it was going well.
How did you celebrate that song going No. 1 this summer?
It was such a huge celebration for everyone involved — the writers, the producer, my label. It’s all of our first No. 1 at the same time. Honestly, to be a new artist and have a No. 1 is a huge deal. To be a new female artist on an independent label, we really celebrated.
What did it mean to you when Taylor Swift tweeted praise about your song?
It still feels like it didn’t really happen, because I’m such a huge fan of her. I remember getting her first record when I was 12. That’s when I started writing [songs]. To have someone that you were so influenced by and so inspired by basically say “I like what you’re doing; keep doing it” was very cool.
What have you learned from her?
What Taylor does best is she puts fans and songwriting at the forefront. That’s why she has such a huge and unique career.
Your parents got divorced when you were 12 and now you wrote a song about it, “Second Hand Smoke.” Was their divorce a blessing or a curse for you?
It was a blessing. That time in my life is what made me write songs because I couldn’t deal with it. I always loved storytelling, journaling and I loved music. But that was the time when they came together.
I read your approach is to take sadness and make that into a positive. Please explain.
I wanted the underlying message of my whole record to be empowerment, because I think it’s so important for girls to have some kind of voice like that on the radio. Even with ‘Second Hand Smoke’ and ‘The First Time,’ I tried to write them in a way with some kind of positive outcome.
Your songs don’t sound traditionally country. What are your influences?
I grew up on a farm in East Tennessee living a very Southern lifestyle. My roots are extremely Southern. At the same time, Britney Spears was my first concert. I think it’s my job as a country music artist to be honest, because that’s what makes country music so beautiful. Honestly, I listen to pop and I listen to R&B and I listen to Christian music and I listen to country. I’m inspired by all of it. But I’m a country music artist.
Why has it been so difficult for female singers to get on country radio lately?
I’m not quite sure. I think it has allowed a lot of amazing male artists and groups to break through. Now I think it’s time for the girls. We’ve seen that with Cam (the voice of “Burning House”) and Maddie & Tae (known for “Fly” and “Girl in a Country Song”) and myself lucky enough to be included in that. We’ve been embraced with excitement more than a hesitance. Someone told me once that Nashville works like a pendulum and now it’s back over and it’s girl time.