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Kelsea Ballerini's Musical Growth: 12 Songs That Represent Her Journey To 'Subject To Change'
Kelsea Ballerini

Photo: Patrick Tracy

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Kelsea Ballerini's Musical Growth: 12 Songs That Represent Her Journey To 'Subject To Change'

With the release of her new album 'SUBJECT TO CHANGE,' Kelsea Ballerini celebrates life's unexpected journeys. The country star picks 12 songs that tell her story, from her first hit "Love Me Like You Mean It" to the heartfelt "WHAT I HAVE."

GRAMMYs/Sep 23, 2022 - 02:55 pm

"I gotta be honest, my life looks a lot different than I thought it looked even a couple years ago," Kelsea Ballerini says with a sense of disbelief.

While many people can relate to that sentiment amid the effects of the pandemic, the country singer has experienced lots of changes herself in the past couple of years — including a divorce, which she announced in August.

That's one of the many life happenings Ballerini documents on her fourth studio album, the aptly titled SUBJECT TO CHANGE. But as she declares in the thought-provoking title track, "I don't think about the chapters/ It's all about turning the page."

The 15-track LP covers the usual country suspects — love ("LOVE IS A COWBOY"), heartbreak ("I GUESS THEY CALL IT FALLIN'"), booze-filled nights ("YOU'RE DRUNK, GO HOME") — but with a level of maturity and growth that even Ballerini admits feels different. As she's detailed in her teasers for SUBJECT TO CHANGE, the album is as literal as the title itself, and it all goes back to one thing: growth.

"I keep calling it my first grown-up record," Ballerini, who turned 29 on Sept. 12, says with a laugh. "Every record I've made, I've just been in such a different headspace, because they kind of mark two years of my 20s. And every two years in your 20s, I feel like you're just a whole different person."

To commemorate the release of SUBJECT TO CHANGE, Ballerini picked three songs from each of her four albums that she felt best displayed her personal and professional journey. Below, Ballerini details why she picked each song, what they mean to her, and how they all led to her most personal album to date.

"Secondhand Smoke," The First Time

I started writing songs when I was 12. When my parents got divorced, it was in that moment, and through that process, that I realized that music was my tool to heal. It's the way I process life and the way I get my emotions out.

"Secondhand Smoke" is the only song I've ever written about my parents divorce. And it, to me, was such a marker of honoring the pain that brought the gift. It was really important for me to put that on my first record to time-mark that — to just say, "This is the thing that is even the reason I'm making this record."

"Love Me Like You Mean It," The First Time

I had signed my publishing deal. I was doing two or three writing sessions a day, trying to figure out my thing and what was gonna make me an artist — like, what was gonna make people listen.

To this day —and I have an awful memory — I remember sitting in the lobby of Black River [Entertainment, her label] with ["Love Me" co-writers] Forest [Whitehead], Lance [Carpenter] and Josh [Kerr], we had just ordered pizza, and we were talking about the music we loved. And Forest brought up "Take A Bow" by Rihanna. He was like, "I just want to hear you do something with this kind of attitude." And the song just like, happened. I remember it feeling like something I hadn't written yet, and something that I hadn't really heard anyone else do yet.

Obviously it was the first single, but it holds a lot of weight for me personally because it was my first experience as an artist in general. That song represents the first of this whole journey.

"The First Time," The First Time

That song represents my songwriting, which is, and I've said it a million times, my favorite and the most pure part of what I do. I unintentionally wrote one song by myself.

When I decided to put that on the album, I made a promise to myself that no matter how many albums I get the pleasure of making in my career, I'm always gonna do one solo write [on] each record. I never want to lose the trust that I have for myself and my songwriting. That song represents that to me.

"Miss Me More," Unapologetically

I had the hook, "I thought I'd miss you, but I missed me more" in my phone for a long time. And I didn't want to write it in Nashville, just because of who it was about. I also didn't let myself write outside of Nashville for a long time, because I was really protective of not sonically pushing the boundary to pop, ever.

Then finally, I went to LA., and I had one session with David Hodges and another artist/writer named Leland. I finally just felt safe enough, I guess, to unload, so I did. [Laughs

It's also the first time that I let myself get a little bit savage. I was so nervous about being the girl that's happy-go-lucky [after releasing] "Yeah Boy" and "Dibs and "Love Me Like You Mean It," and then finally getting a little harsher. But it honored the feelings that I had at that time. 

It represents me starting to take ownership of all of my feelings — not just the flirty, youthful ones, but the more confident ones. That song just took me on a ride. Best kind of revenge.

"Unapologetically," Unapologetically

"Unapologetically" represents this really naive, but dead-set will to just follow my gut and follow my heart.

My current single out at country radio ["HEARTFIRST"] is the same sentiment. I keep going back to it in different forms and in different songs, because I really believe in my heart that nothing good in life happens unless you just trust yourself. You never know where it's gonna lead, and that's part of the risk, but it usually leads somewhere really beautiful — at least for a while. 

"Legends," Unapologetically

"Legends," at the time — and maybe still — is the only song that I wrote about one thing, and by time I recorded it and it came out, meant a totally different thing.

I wrote it to process this period of my life that I spent with the person that I was trying to reflect on fondly. By the time it came out, I named the fan club Legends, and then all of the people that have been on the journey since "Love Me Like You Mean It" started calling themselves Legends.

We used to scream, "We didn't do it for the fame of the glory/ We just did it for you and me" — like, we just unspokenly started screaming it together at shows. It became this real connection between me and the people that relate to my music.

I love it so much more now, because it represents the connection that I get to have with people, which is why I do [this]. It has been a metamorphosis of a song for me.

"the way i used to," kelsea

"the way i used to" is by far the most pop song I've ever put on a record. I was in the car with my friend Steph Jones — who's an incredible songwriter — and we were playing each other demos. She was like, "I just wrote this sick hook at a camp, but I don't have the song, it's just the hook." She played it for me, and I was like, "I don't know anything other than this feels like the most clever hook I've ever heard, and for some reason it feels like I need it."

It's the first song ever [that] I didn't write nuts to bolts. It's the first song where I took the hook and I wrote the rest. I just really believed in it.

"a country song," kelsea

"a country song" — that somehow lives on the same record [as "The Way I Used To"] — is truly digging my heels into country music and saying, "This is the place that I feel watered." I love the juxtaposition of both of those living on the same body of music.

"la," kelsea

"la" is literally me talking through not knowing how to be a semi-public figure. I mess it up often, but I'm doing my best. It talks about trying to honor country music and everything that I do, while also honoring my will to push boundaries and expand myself and my art. It also honors growing pains.

Having all three of those on the same record, nothing could have been more true to the musical place I was in. I was finally confident enough to play. I just played on that album. It was so collaborative, so full of friendship. And it's like a quilt — it's not a very cohesive record, and that's just where I was at. 

"SUBJECT TO CHANGE," SUBJECT TO CHANGE

I had the [album] title before I had the song. I went in and I was like, "Okay, there's two ways we can write this. We can either be super broad, like, 'Everyone's experienced change in the last few years. This is a universal feeling.'" Or we can be so specific where it's like, almost jarring. And that's the route that I went.

I dyed my hair brown for like two seconds, and in the two seconds is when I wrote "SUBJECT TO CHANGE." So it literally says in the chorus, "I haven't decided if I'm gonna stay brunette," and I didn't. That is the irony of the whole entire record in one silly little line.

The whole record starts with "Seasons do it and it happens when the night goes day/ Going through it, I knew it, the right and the hard thing are sometimes the same." And then the second verse is, "If I'm honest, growing up, it kind of hurts like hell/ It's chaotic, ironic, but it's how I learned to find myself." 

I think it sets the tone of truly where I'm at right now in my life, but also just finding a lot of peace in the fact that the point of life is change. The point of life is growth. The point of life is moments where you just go "What is going on?," and then you find out what's going on, and you're better because of it. That song is the perfect tone-setter for the record, but it's also just a true snapshot of me as a 29-year-old right now.

"DOIN' MY BEST," SUBJECT TO CHANGE

There's a lot I could say about this song, so I'll word vomit because I think this song deserves it.

We had cut the first 10 songs for the album, and I was listening to it when I was on vacation in Mexico a while ago. I was realizing that some of the pillar songs, like the ones I was really excited about, I was almost playing a character in them, like "MUSCLE MEMORY" and "YOU'RE DRUNK GO HOME." 

I was like, "These are so rad and I'm so excited to play them live, but it's not necessarily where I'm at in my life right now." And I really want to honor the part of me that I unlocked when I wrote my book [of poems, Feel Your Way Through, published in 2021]. I unlocked this part of me that was really fearless with honesty, and I wanted to make sure that I had at least one song where it was like, brutally honest — and honestly, just an extension of the book.

I asked my friend Alysa Vanderheym — who I wrote eight of the songs with on this album — to send me a track. She sent me a track, and I went down to the ocean. I put on my earbuds, and I opened my Voice Notes app, and I just stream-of-consciousness sang the song. That's why the rhymes aren't perfect and some of the words are weird. 

It's really taking ownership of my life and things that might have looked a little embarrassing or a little cringy, and just fully taking ownership of those things. 

The other thing that I'll say about this song is, every year I pick a word, like on New Year's, and it's my word for the year. This year, I remember I spent hours on New Year's Eve writing all the things that I wanted to get better at, and all the things that I wanted to grow in. I read it the next day, and all I got from it was, "You're not good enough now, and that's actual bulls—."

So I [tore] it up, and I just wrote, "I'm doing my best." And I put it in an Instagram caption too. I said, "That's my vibe for the year. I'm just going to show up as I am as someone who's actively trying to grow, but knowing that as I am now is enough." 

You hear that thematically on SUBJECT TO CHANGE — in "LITTLE THINGS," in "WHAT I HAVE," there's a lot of peace in it. Peace amongst chaos. It's been the theme of my year, it's been my biggest intention this year, and it's the song that really just takes ownership.

"WHAT I HAVE," SUBJECT TO CHANGE

I love starting the record with "SUBJECT TO CHANGE," which says, "Life is chaos. Life is ups and downs. We find ourselves somewhere in the middle of all those ups and downs. I acknowledge that everything I have now I might not have tomorrow. Life is subject to change."

Then the record takes you through the journey. And at the end it says, "And although it might not be what I have tomorrow, right now what I have is meant for me. And it's not in the big things, it's in the little things. And I'm taking inventory of my life as it is now, before it changes." 

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Keith Urban Announces 'Graffiti U' Album, Tour With Kelsea Ballerini

Keith Urban

Photo: Noam Galai/WireImage.com

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Keith Urban Announces 'Graffiti U' Album, Tour With Kelsea Ballerini

The GRAMMY winner announced a new album is on the way, as well as a 59-date tour

GRAMMYs/Jan 19, 2018 - 01:25 am

On Jan. 17, Keith Urban made the hearts on his loyal fanbase sing when he announced the title of his upcoming album, Grafitti U, complete with a one-two punch of a tour announcement.

The GRAMMY winner announced the news during a pop-up show in Nashville, Tenn., at Exit/In, where fans were in on the reveal. Fans were asked in advance to take a photo of themselves holding a white cardboard square, which Urban's team then Photoshopped to reflect each stop on his tour.

Starting in St. Louis on June 15, the Graffiti U tour will travel through 59 venues in North America, including Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Denver, Cincinnati, and Charlotte, N.C. Fellow country star Kelsea Ballerini is scheduled to open most of the dates.

As far as the album is concerned, it's still in progress.

"It's very much air-traffic control mode," Urban told Billboard. "I'm listening to mixes, giving my notes and getting a revised mix. It's a lot of back and forward on all kinds of things right now."

And that artistically driven title? It comes from Urban's feelings about the process of making music.

"[The title has] more of an artistic expression connotation, a purer artistic expression, which is really what record-making is for me," he said. "It's going in and starting with a blank canvas in the studio that's just white. It's like, 'OK, what are we going to paint on this today? What are we gonna do? What colors are we gonna use?' I love that unknowingness and that real free expression of artistry."

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7 Things We Learned At The GRAMMY Museum's 'The Power Of Women In Country Music' Exhibit
Items on display at the GRAMMY Museum's 'The Power Of Women In Country Music' Exhibit in Los Angeles.

Photo: Courtesy of the Recording Academy/Rebecca Sapp for Getty Images

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7 Things We Learned At The GRAMMY Museum's 'The Power Of Women In Country Music' Exhibit

Artifacts from Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton and more shine at the new exhibit, which celebrates the role of women in one of music’s oldest genres.

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2022 - 11:34 pm

"The Power Of Women In Country Music" exhibit opened May 27 at the GRAMMY Museum in downtown Los Angeles, and it's a must-see for any lover of country music, strong women, or the history of the recording industry at large. 

Encompassing almost 100 years of female-led folk or hillbilly music, the exhibit looks at the evolution of what it means to be a woman in the country genre — from its first pioneers to today's generation of future stars. 

Whether you're a fan of Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Maybelle Carter, or Kelsea Ballerini, you'll find something to love at "The Power Of Women." Full of stage-worn costumes, hand-written lyrics sheets, and well-loved instruments, the exhibit will allow visitors to see relics such as Taylor Swift's stage props and Patsy Cline's dress made by her mother. 

There's lots to learn, too. You can get to know tones of instruments like the autoharp, or explore the early plight of women in country music, when the industry was a bit more concerned with style than substance. 

The exhibit will run through Sun. Oct. 2. Whether you are hoping to check it out yourself or just curious what it's all about, here are some of the biggest takeaways from "The Power Of Women In Country Music" at the GRAMMY Museum.

The Arc Of Women In Country Music Is Long

Long before country music was recorded, women were helping define its sound, whether it was through strumming a banjo on a front porch or belting out a twangy traditional in church.

In 1927, the Carter Family's Maybelle and Sara Carter made the first country music recordings featuring women. That doesn't mean the doors busted wide open in their wake — women were still mainly shuffled into roles primarily as family caregivers and support staff for their working husbands. 

That started to change a bit after World War II, when artists like Patsy Cline and Rose Maddox started to make waves by crossing over onto the pop charts. But the real heyday of women in country music didn't come until perhaps the late '80s or early '90s, when stars like Reba McEntire and Shania Twain became truly international superstars. 

Many, many women helped pave the road along the way, and "The Power Of Women In Country Music" helps celebrate their stories.

Read More: 5 Women Essential To Country Music: Dolly Parton, Mickey Guyton, Jo Walker-Meador, The Love Junkies & Mother Maybelle Carter

"The Singing Cowgirl" Deserves More Credit

Everyone knows about Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, but in the mid-'30s, female country artists like Patsy Montana, Rose Maddox, and The Girls Of The Golden West found success as "singing cowgirls." (In fact, as her part of the exhibit details, Montana was the first female country singer to sell a million records.)  

Dressed in fringed skirts, bolero vests, and wide-brimmed Stetson hats, singing cowgirls reminded Depression-struck America that it was still possible to be determined, optimistic, and in charge of their own destiny — even when things didn't always seem so bright. 

Fun fact: The success of singing cowgirls and their male counterparts is part of the reason that the genre eventually became called "Country & Western."

There's More To Country Music Than Just Being On Stage

Many women have made their mark in country music through songwriting rather than through performance. There's some crossover, of course — Dolly Parton and Maren Morris broke into the industry by writing songs for others before finding their own success — but women like Jessie Jo Dillon, Laura Veltz, and Liz Rose have become country powerhouses because of the power of their pens rather than their voices. 

That makes a lot of sense, given how much Nashville values the craft of songwriting. "The Power Of Women" contains handwritten lyrics for songs like Diane Warren's "How Do I Live" (made famous by LeAnn Rimes) and Dan + Shay's "Tequila," which was co-written by Nicolle Galyon, who has co-written nine other no. 1 hits as well as Miranda Lambert's GRAMMY-nominated "Automatic." 

Read More: 10 Songs You Didn't Know Dolly Parton Wrote: Hits By Whitney Houston, Kenny Rogers & More

Country Women Can Be Stronger Together

Among country's singular female stars like Dolly, Reba, and Shania, the exhibit reminds that some of the genre’s biggest women acts have found strength and success in groups. The Judds and the Chicks had massive success in the '80s and '90s, respectively;  today, groups like the Pistol Annies and the Highwomen create songs and sounds that mesmerize and mystify. 

Those groups are also often made up of powerhouse acts in their own right, like Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstandt, and Emmylou Harris' Trio, and the Pistol Annies' Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angeleena Presley. Visitors to "The Power Of Women" exhibit can check out the Pistol Annies' fun nameplates ("Lonestar Annie," "Hippie Annie" and "Holler Annie"), as well as the outfits the trio wore on the cover of their 2021 Christmas album, Hell Of A Holiday

Country's Females Have Always Pushed Genre Limits

Starting in the '70s and '80s, a group of female musicians emerged that would challenge what it meant to be a country music star. Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Rosanne Cash blurred the lines between country and rock, while Alison Krauss broke into bluegrass's boys club. 

"The Power Of Women" pays tribute to those pioneers with a display case containing, among other things, the beautifully embroidered, Manuel-created boots Harris wore on the cover of 1979's excellent Blue Kentucky Girl

The exhibit also tips its hat to genre-crossing artists like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and Taylor Swift, all of whom crossed over into the pop and rock spheres, pushing both the boundaries of what country music could be and drawing new fans to the genre.

Even Taylor Swift Used To Buy Off The Rack

Some of the most interesting artifacts in "The Power Of Women" exhibit are the stage and video-worn outfits sent from the closets of country's biggest stars. There are two looks from Dolly Parton set on mannequins that really let viewers know just how tiny she really is. One — a red and pink high-necked dress — was worn by Parton on the cover of 1972's Together Always with Porter Wagoner

One of the sweetest garments on display in "The Power Of Women" is also one of its most understated: An orange cotton day dress made in the '50s or early '60s for Patsy Cline by her mother, Hilda Hensley. Cline died in a plane crash in 1962, when she was just 30, and the dress is a bittersweet reminder of how young she was, and how close she remained with her family.

Taylor Swift sent over four outfits, including one worn on stage at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards. The other three outfits were worn in various music videos, like 2008's "Tim McGraw," which found Swift and her stylist pulling from racks at BCBGIRLS and Betsey Johnson to create the starlet's on-screen look. 

Speaking of GRAMMY-worn outfits, Shania Twain fans will certainly recognize the satin suit/gown and top hat that Twain wore for both the "Man! I Feel Like A Woman" music video and on stage at the 41st Annual GRAMMY Awards. It sits not too far from one of Faith Hill's actual GRAMMY statues, her Best Female Country Vocal Performance gramophone she won for “Cry” in 2003.

Country's Female Future Is Strong

"The Power Of Women" devotes considerable space to women that might not yet be household names, but who have a strong chance at becoming country's next big stars. It's an incredibly diverse group of artists — something country music hasn't always been known for — including Black women like Reyna Roberts and Brittney Spencer, Mexican-American artists like Leah Turner, and stars who have risen from TV competitions, like The Voice's Danielle Bradbery. 

The exhibit even highlights acts from outside of the U.S. who have found their way to country music, like the U.K.'s Yola, proving that the genre is only growing in popularity and reach — with women continuing to break the mold. 

10 Things We Learned At "An Evening With LeAnn Rimes" At The GRAMMY Museum

History Of: Nashville's Beloved Ryman Auditorium

Ryman Auditorium in 2003

Photo: Frank Mullen/WireImage/Getty Images

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History Of: Nashville's Beloved Ryman Auditorium

Ever wondered what makes the beloved venue so special? This week's History Of episode has you covered

GRAMMYs/Nov 3, 2020 - 07:09 am

Back in 1892, Nashville businessman Thomas G. Ryman built the Union Gospel Tabernacle church. After his death in 1904, the church's name was changed to Ryman Auditorium to honor him. In the 1920s, promoter Lula C. Naff rented the building and booked talent, including Marian Anderson, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, and Doris Day, who made the city a cultural destination. 

The church was also home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show for 31 years, beginning in 1943, which brought in more great artists and shows.

Watch Another History Of: Walk To London's Famed Abbey Road Studios With The Beatles

While the beloved, intimate venue—it seats 2,362 people—sat dormant for almost 30 years when the Opry left, it was renovated and revived in the early '90s; it has since hosted many more star-studded shows from the likes of Brandi Carlile, Dolly Parton, Kane Brown, Kelsea Ballerini, and the Wu-Tang Clan, who made history in 2019 as the first hip-hop act to ever headline the space known as "The Mother Church Of Country Music."

Watch the latest episode of GRAMMY.com's History Of video series above to learn more about the iconic Nashville venue.

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How Excited Would You Be? Kelsea Ballerini On Her Best New Artist GRAMMY Nomination
Kelsea Ballerini

Photo: Guerin Blask

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How Excited Would You Be? Kelsea Ballerini On Her Best New Artist GRAMMY Nomination

Country singer/songwriter explains why her first career GRAMMY nomination makes her want to "pass out a little bit"

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

(The Recording Academy asked some of this year's first-time GRAMMY nominees to collect their thoughts and share what it feels like to be nominated for a GRAMMY.)