Kelsea Ballerini's breakout hit, "Love Me Like You Mean It," is just a taste of the country-pop sound in her imaginative catalog. The Knoxville, Tennessee native has dedicated the better part of the last decade to creating inspiring music, based on her life, to motivate others to live without fear of their emotions.
Her full-length debut, "The First Time," has Kelsea's credit behind every song. The album radiates positivity while exploring all facets of the human experience. She is a true poet, and "The First Time" reflects that.
Kelsea's refreshing approach to music is rooted in a vulnerable place. Turning to songwriting to help her through her parents' divorce, she first discovered Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy." Captured by the lyrics and the story, Kelsea knew she had found a creative home in country music and continued to uncover strength and inspiration from artists such as Shania Twain, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and the Dixie Chicks.
"Life got rocky when I was 12," Kelsea says, "and this gift of songwriting just fell into my lap. It was literally this blessing that came at the perfect time. And for me, it's always been that steady thing in my life that I can always go back to.
" Songwriting propelled Kelsea forward. At 15, she moved to Nashville with her mother to pursue music. Her fresh sound builds on her East Tennessee upbringing and musical influences ranging from Britney Spears to Kelly Clarkson to Frank Sinatra.
Kelsea’s vision, ambition, natural talent, and genuinely positive personality became abuzz on Music Row. "I would meet with anyone that would meet with me," Kelsea says. "I always approached meetings not expecting anything but just asking for advice.
That way I never left disappointed." Black River Publishing VP Celia Froehlig signed the burgeoning artist to a publishing deal in 2013. That December, at the company Christmas party, Black River Entertainment CEO Gordon Kerr offered Kelsea a record deal in the form of a wrapped present.
Kelsea's self-titled debut EP quickly gained her a loyal following and introduced fans to the hit single "Love Me Like You Mean It." With the release of "The First Time" the 12-song collection showcases her lovable, playful side with the catchy "Dibs" and "Yeah Boy.
" Kelsea sings of getting stood up by a former flame in the ballad "The First Time," while "Looking at Stars" is her fun-loving spin on a romantic dirt road date. Kelsea delivers a head-spinning performance in the fiery fan favorite "XO," which calls out a man who’s still hung up on his ex.
In the striking "Stilettos," she gives perspective on the quiet pain that women endure. The ballad takes inspiration from the Pinterest quote that reads, "Strong women wear their pain like stilettos. No matter how much it hurts, all you see is beauty.
" "Peter Pan" is loaded with Neverland imagery, and addresses how running from love affects personal growth. Kelsea sings in the chorus, "Always going to fly away; Just because you know you can; Never going to learn there's no such place as Neverland; You don't understand; You'll never grow up; You're never going to be a man; Peter Pan.
" Kelsea proves stronger than the heartbreak of her parents' divorce in the revealing "Secondhand Smoke." "Square Pegs" celebrates being yourself in a world where you can choose who you want to be. "Sirens" warns of the dangers of falling for a heartbreaker, while the youth anthem "Underage" paints a portrait of life before the age of 21.
With a bold approach to life, Kelsea’s connection to her fans comes from an unapologetic authenticity that is refreshing. "Letting yourself feel whatever you need to feel, not protecting yourself from emotion and dealing with it is what makes people, people," Kelsea says.
"It's what makes writers good writers. It's important to me to be vulnerable and transparent -- that's when people relate to music best. It's not sugarcoated and it's not super pretty. It's just real.
" That realness has garnered the support of superstars, media and fans alike. "Driving around with the @KelseaBallerini EP on repeat," Taylor Swift tweeted in early March. "So lovely." Little Big Town posted, "We've gotta #GirlCrush," and Dustin Lynch shared, "Hey @taylorswift13 you were right … @KelseaBallerini is on fire!" Newly crowned one of CMT’s “Next Women of Country,” Kelsea is featured on several “ones to watch” lists for 2015, including Billboard, Country Weekly, Rolling Stone Country, The Huffington Post, and Spotify.
NBC's Today Show spotlighted "Love Me Like You Mean It" on “iHoda,” Hoda Kotb's Playlist. USA Today, The Washington Post, Just Jared, and many more have glowing pieces on Kelsea. Recently, Kelsea made her Grand Ole Opry debut and is currently co-headlining CMT’s inaugural “Next Women of Country” Tour.
“Dreams do come true. I’m seeing it first hand. While I want to do it all, the arena tours and award shows, most of all, I just want to put out good music that matters.” The First Time is Kelsea’s first big opportunity to do that.
“When I signed the record deal, in my heart I thought, ‘what do you want to say to the world? Because now, there are people who are going to help you say it.’”
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