‘I admit life is so messy’

It’s the title of Kelsea Ballerini’s new album Subject to Change, and that certainly represents his current state of mind. Her personal life had just changed dramatically, as she announced that her husband, fellow country singer Morgan Evans, is divorcing her after almost five years of marriage. And while she doesn’t discuss the details of the split in her Yahoo Entertainment interview – conducted just days before the couple’s announcement – as she begins a new chapter both personally and professionally, she is making most of her record vulnerable yet

“Obviously we’ve all changed a lot in the last few years, because life has happened some us to. … And I think in the last few years, in my twenties, I’ve grown up so much. I learned so much about myself in this extra space that we were forced to go there,” says the country/pop superstar, who was just 29 years old. “And I loved that Subject to Change represent my life. he represented everyone life, and it took me thematically through the story I was writing. And so, we went back and forth, like, ‘Do we make it wide, or do we make it as good as me?’ And we ended up going very, very personal, to set the tone for the whole record.”

This is hardly the first time that Ballerini has looked into creating her art. Subject to Change serves as a companion piece of sorts to her 2021 book of confessional poetry, Feel Your Way Throughin which she wrote about everything from her body-image issues, to witnessing a school shooting as a teenager, to the backlash she received for what some considered her tone-deaf and simple, if well-meaning, tweet responding to country star Morgan Wallen’s use of a racial slur.

Kelsea Ballerini (Photo: Black River Records)

“Writing Feel Your Way Through it was very cathartic, of course, because some of it is light, and some of it is like funny stories, and some of it is stuff that I’ve never talked about before and it covers a lot of trauma,” says Ballerini. “I felt so free releasing that book, and I think it released this part of my creativity, but also just as my soul, as crazy as it sounds. I felt that the people involved gave me the confidence to continue pushing in that direction. So there are certain songs [on Subject to Change] that you listen to him and he is almost a little grumblinghow honest it is.”

Ballerini mentions two Subject to Change tracks, “Marilyn” and “Doin’ My Best,” as the ones that “probably opened my chest.” The first, inspired by the ultimate ideal/objective woman, Marilyn Monroe, is somehow connected to Ballerini’s story. Feel Your Way Through poem “Kangaroo,” in which she wrote about her body dysmorphia and past battles with eating disorders. “Marilyn in this song is a metaphor for me,” explains the singer-songwriter. “Marilyn to me in this context is a woman who presents herself in one way, and feels deeply in another. I definitely relate to that, and I think with social media, maybe everyone can relate to that.”

As for “Doin’ My Best,” that track, like Ballerini’s “The Right of History,” addresses her aforementioned Wallen social media controversy. In that song, she sings about “kicking her ass on Twitter,” and tells Yahoo Entertainment, “Honestly, I haven’t had Twitter since, and it was a good lesson for me. I think I’m a very pleasant person, and since I’m an artist and a public person, I’ve had to learn how to stand up for things I believe in. But sometimes when you’re doing that, you’re going to stumble and you’re going to do it wrong. And, you know, I didn’t do it all the way right. … I think that the intention There is one thing, but I think the rebuttal [that Wallen tweet] I didn’t recognize the systematic racism that took place — which I completely understand. I stood back, I listened, I learned. … I got my ass kicked, and I learned a lot from it. And I take full ownership of it.”

Ballerini says with a laugh, “And I miss Twitter literally 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 shut up and just post the beautiful parts of my life, and not open myself up to this anymore?’ Because I’m very sensitive and I feel everything, and I think that’s what makes me good at my job. Or, ‘Am I working on myself personally in therapy … and staying open and finding the tools?’”

Ballerini has been a passionate advocate for mental health awareness in the country music community for years, and is her own advocate — but it wasn’t always that way. “Growing up in Knoxville, Tenn., nobody ever talked about it. Like, I didn’t even know 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 that I wrote about in the book . And I had no choice to go. And so, my younger relationship with speech therapy and just mental health 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 it’s really been the last five years when I came in and started taking care of myself that way. And it’s such an important part of my life, taking care of my brain and my mind and my soul like that.”

Opening up about her past traumas — like her experience with the murder of classmate Ryan McDonald during a 2008 cafeteria shooting at Knoxville Central High School, which inspired her poem “His Name Was Ryan” — helped her heal. “It was one of the last poems I wrote for the book, and I remember I was sending drafts to a couple of my friends, and my friend Christina said, ‘If you’re going to go there and talk about it. all the great things you’ve done, you’re leaving something out. Maybe it’s time you talked about it.’ And that’s what I needed.”

Writing about her life fostered Ballerini’s strong bond with her fans. “When you talk about big things, whether it’s body dysmorphia, eating disorders, gun violence, families breaking up, whatever it is … when you can have a conversation about something, you build a community that automatically,” she explains. “And when you have company, you’re able to move through things more healthily and quickly. Like, I still suffer from PTSD [from the school shooting]; I’m a performer and I’m on stage a lot, so telling me if pyro is over or not sounds like a good day to me. It’s a big thing that I deal with on a regular basis, so I think just putting that information out there will hopefully help people like me understand my reaction to certain things. [onstage].”

Ballerini has used her platform to speak out in many ways, including addressing “Tomato-gate,” a country music scandal that arose when radio consultant Keith Hill used an offensive analogy, describing male artists as “lettuce” and female artists as mere tomato garnish. Ballerini was arguably successful (she had four No. 1 singles on the Country Airplay chart, and is the only female country artist to hit No. 1 with her first three consecutive singles from a debut album) women’s doors again. country artists. And Ballerini says, “I see it’s starting to change a little bit and become more inclusive; I am hopeful.” But she admits there is still a long way to go.

Kelsea Ballerini (Photo: Black River Records)

Kelsea Ballerini (Photo: Black River Records)

“I mean, I want to say [things are changing at radio], but then I look at the chart. I checked of course when [the Subject to Change single] There’s ‘Heartfirst’ today, and I think it’s similar through women in the top 40. So I don’t know. I don’t know what’s driving me – and what’s driving me is showing up as a woman in country music, lifting up other women that I believe in, writing with other women, working with women, producers, work with women on my team.

“I’m collaborating on this record with Carly Pierce, who I’ve known for the last 10 years. We’ve seen each other through so many lives and through every season of our careers and we’ve always wanted to make a song together. And then Kelly Clarkson, who is just like my freaking idol from the beginning – I asked Kelly to be part of the song, and she did vocals that night. It’s called ‘You’re Drunk, Go Home’ and it’s just like a sassy little country bomb. I’m excited about that. I love being a part of two women from different genres, who respect each other. I just want to surround myself with epic women creatively, business-wise. That’s it which I have control over. And I think when more women have the opportunity to do that, that’s when real change happens.”

As Ballerini approaches her thirties as a newly single woman, she marvels at how fans have accompanied her on her journey, even when she’s made mistakes or revealed the not-so-nice parts of her life. “I admit that life is so messy and so multifaceted,” she says. “When it’s good, it’s good, and we should feel that. But when it is not, it is not, and we should feel that too. … the deeper I can go into those subjects that I feel strongly about, the better.”

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