Updated: Apr 20, 2020
There are so many incredible female country artists who unfortunately do not receive the mainstream acclaim that their male counterparts get. This is mainly due to country radio failing to play an equal amount of female artists to men and so don’t get as much publicity as male country artists, however, this is a rant for another day. From the top 10 country songs of 2019 (according to Billboard), the only female on the list is pop singer Bebe Rexha as a feature with Florida Georgia Line on their song Meant To Be.
Young female country artists seem to be going for a pop-country mix, assumingly to get plays on pop radio. For example, Maren Morris had her 2018 pop hit The Middle with Zedd, and her 2019 album GIRL was a straight country-pop album. Similar moves have been made from artists such as Kacey Musgraves, who’s 2018 album Golden Hour has disco-pop songs embedded between traditional country ballads. Most recently, Kelsea Ballerini has been slowly moving her country sound to a mix with pop, and her new self-titled album seems to be the end of her slow transition to a country-pop sound.
My feelings on Ballerini have always been mixed. At times I find her music to be amongst the best of the young female country artists at the top of the charts right now, however, at other times I find her stuff bland and relatively repetitive. Unapologetically (2017) was a good album, but apart from a couple of songs, it was relatively forgettable. I was interested to see if her new self-titled album, kelsea, would be an improvement or if she would stay stagnant.
As a general statement, I prefer kelsea to any of her previous albums, but only by a small proportion. Like her previous works, I found myself skipping through a lot of this album. On the other hand, I can’t stop playing songs such as needy and bragger, causing me to be conflicted on how I feel about this album.
I’ve always enjoyed Ballerini’s songwriting over her counterparts, and little has changed in that regard after listening to the new album. Songs like overshare and the way i used to are interestingly vulnerable whilst being quirky at the same time. However, in my opinion, Ballerini hasn’t grown a lot from Unapologetically. Although the topics may be more mature, I still found some lyrics and subjects to be immature. For example, homecoming queen? is a cute song, but why are there still references to high school? She’s married and in her mid-20s, references to her school days seem a bit outdated (and repetition of her song High School in her last album). On the other hand, the other girl with Halsey addresses a more mature topic with lyrics I would’ve expected from a 2011 Selena Gomez album. Also, what’s the need for Halsey? It feels like a desperate attempt to get her music into the mainstream pop world.
Whilst I’m saying that her lyrics feel as though they haven’t matured, her sound is completely different. Whilst she has previously seemed to struggle to mix pop with country, it works perfectly in this album. needy has the classic country instrumentals mixed with a pop beat, whereas, hole in the bottle and the way i loved you have clear R&B-pop influences. The sound of this album is cohesive, which can be repetitive at times, but makes for a smoother listening experience. I prefer albums that keep to a cohesive sound rather than jumping all over the place, and although this can mean that several songs get forgotten about: it makes for a better album and era. Rather than creating loud pop-country bangers, she’s more focused on acoustic tracks (which isn’t a bad thing).
This is my favourite album from Kelsea Ballerini. From the aesthetics to the pop-country instrumentals, I enjoyed the sonic cohesiveness of this record. Despite a lot of the songwriting and topic being immature, they still have the classic Ballerini charm which is uniquely vulnerable and personal.