Kelsea Ballerini started writing her first songs when she was 12 years old, as a way of coping with her parents' divorce. In the process of penning some of her most serious songs about love, life and heartache, she shed a few tears.
This week, she shed a few more ... but for an entirely different reason. The 21-year-old country singer-songwriter just learned that her fast-rising debut single, Love Me Like You Mean It, reached No. 1 on the Billboard country airplay chart and the Mediabase country radio singles chart, making her the first female solo artist to have accomplished this feat since Carrie Underwood's Jesus, Take The Wheel pulled it off in 2006.
"I got off the bus and we're eating cake and we're crying," Ballerini said of those with her on her current tour. "I'm having the coolest week, actually, ever."
Ballerini has positioned herself to become country's next big thing. She received the honor of performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, has won Twitter praises from country stars like Taylor Swift and Little Big Town and co-headlined CMT's inaugural "Next Women of Country" tour.
A lot of Ballerini's rise is due to her infectious and effervescent pop-country hit Love Me Like You Mean It. It's a song she knew in her heart would be the perfect introduction on her debut full-length album, The First Time, which was released in May.
"I wanted to lead with that song," she said. "That's the kind of song where they don't have to listen to the words, they can just roll down their windows and jam."
While Ballerini is an unabashed fan of pop music from the likes of Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson, the East Tennessee native also takes pride in being a songwriter. She is one of several female singer-songwriters — like Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and Maddie & Tae, just to name a few — who are emerging as a formidable presence in today's country music landscape.
Ballerini either penned or co-wrote all 12 songs on The First Time, and while she is elated people are digging her debut single and loves writing a fun and catchy tune like her next single, Dibs, it's just one color of her emotional spectrum as an artist. The album is bookended by the galloping country-rock opener XO and the tale of young, fast love in the closing track Underage. Writing ballads, she also has a knack for a clever lyric to encapsulate some deep emotions, whether she's referring to getting stood up by an old flame in the title track or her fears of being a part of a failed marriage like her parents in Secondhand Smoke.
"I think for me it was finding the perfect balance of being true to who I was as an artist and as a person and putting stuff out there so that people take me seriously," she said. "It was really important to put really good, storyline songs on the album. I hope when people listen to it, they hear that as well."
Ballerini is currently hitting the road promoting her album playing various fairs and festivals across the country and during these performances, she's getting used to what has become a common sight and sound.
That is her reception growing from, "one person knowing a little bit of Love Me Like You Mean It to the whole crowd knowing every word. I'm so excited. It's such a new thing for me. I really love it."