Tag Archives: Kelsea Ballerini

Let’s Hope Carly Pearce’s #1 Is Just the Beginning

The very first opinion piece I ever wrote for Country Exclusive, back in June 2015, was a short comment on Kelsea Ballerini’s #1 song, “Love me Like You Mean It.” This was the first debut single by a solo female to hit #1 on the country airplay charts in nine years, and I called it a double-edged sword because while nine years is a ridiculously long time without this occurring, Kelsea Ballerini’s song was pop and shouldn’t have been the one to break the drought.

Carly Pearce, with her decidedly pop country ballad “Every Little Thing,” has become the next woman to achieve this feat, only the second woman to do so in all the time I’ve been writing. While definitely pop-influenced–you can blame that on Busbee being the producer, because the live version is very country–this song actually has country elements, even featuring a dobro. It did get some early help from On the Verge, but it reached the top of the charts on its own, as well as selling well and resonating with the public.

So let’s learn from this and not let this be Carly’s first and only radio success. We cheered when Kacey Musgraves hit the top ten with “Merry go Round,” and now, only a few years and two albums later, radio won’t play her at all. Cam’s “Burning House” was a huge success, making it to #2, yet she hasn’t found that success with her subsequent singles. Carly Pearce’s #1 with “Every Little Thing” is a great achievement, but can she get radio to play her next singles without assistance from ON the Verge?

Also, in my recent review of her album, I mentioned that pop producers took too much control of this and forsook much of Carly Pearce’s individuality. This ought to be a lesson to Carly and those around her that she doesn’t have to record and release stuff like “Catch Fire” for the public to pay attention. So take a chance. Try releasing the far superior, actually country-infused “If My Name Was Whiskey” or “I Need a Ride Home.” Carly could develop into a very cool artist and perhaps find favor with both mainstream and independent fans, but she’s got to be given a chance and not treated like every other pop singer manufactured and molded for country radio. The success of her debut single proves that the appetite for songs like this is there; this is a ballad slower than molasses, featuring a dobro and talking about heartache. So yeah, pretty much the opposite of everything that’s supposed to work on country radio these days. And yet, somehow, it did. So let this be, as it should be, the beginning for Carly Pearce, and don’t let her fade into the background. And let this also be a stepping stone so that she can perhaps be a gateway for more deserving women, both more traditional and modern, to have their songs see the same success.

Congratulations to Carly Pearce and “Every Little Thing” for breaking through, this #1 is well-deserved.

An Unapologetic Assessment of Kelsea Ballerini’s New Record

Country Rating: 0/10
Pop Rating: 6/10

The above rating discrepancy perfectly sums up what is wrong with mainstream country today–you can sing anything and have it be labeled country, never mind the definition or roots of that genre before now. Make no mistake, Kelsea Ballerini, although she did have some more pop country stuff on her debut album, has released, in Unapologetically, the most blatantly non-country thing I’ve heard in 2017 operating under that title. Thomas Rhett’s album is more country than this. Kesha’s album, though correctly labeled pop, is more country than this. This is like a complete “f you” to country music and all it stands for.

And this is arguably an even worse offense when you take into account the industry’s systematic discrimination of women, and factor in that Kelsea is not only pretty silent on the issue, but continues to take advantage of it for her own success. She was in the right place at the right time when Keith Hill made the infamous tomato statement, so she became country radio’s token female. Never mind that she’s got not one shred of country anywhere on her sophomore effort. It’s a pop record through and through, and for better or worse, mainstream country has demonstrated with alarming firmness that there are only so many slots for females, so Kelsea Ballerini becomes in a way even more polarizing than some of her male country counterparts as she mercilessly hogs one of the precious few slots to release immature pop music. When you think of all the talented and systematically overlooked women in country music, both of the more traditional and the more pop country persuasions, it’s hard not to cringe every time you hear “Dibs” or “Yeah Boy” gracing your radio dial.

But in this complicated era of country music and all things being marketed as such, some difficult situations sometimes arise. It’s easy to hate stuff like the aforementioned “Dibs” and write off Kelsea Ballerini as an immature pop princess, but what happens when she shows personal growth on her second effort? You could see glimpses of it even on her debut, though except for “Peter Pan,” her maturity wasn’t allowed to show in her singles. It doesn’t often happen, but how do you judge the music when it is so obviously mislabeled, yet it’s pretty decent music for its own genre?

In a just world, I wouldn’t be making assessments of albums so blatantly pop as this because they’d be in the correct genre, but the fact is, Ballerini called this country, and I have to call it out for not being country in the slightest. That said, music always comes first before genre lines, and Kelsea Ballerini has made a pretty decent pop album. I’m sorry she didn’t label it as such, but from now on, I’m going to review it as such, as that does more justice to Kelsea Ballerini and her music.

The most encouraging thing about this new record is Kelsea Ballerini’s obvious search for more depth and maturity. You’ve got songs like “High School,” where she sings of a guy who’s still stuck at seventeen, still driving his high school car, still calling his high school sweetheart, because he can’t grow up and move on. The girl continues to ignore his calls because she’s not looking for a relationship like this. It’s a much more realistic way of portraying high school than much of mainstream country, and Kelsea, in her twenties, is writing songs about growing up while men in their forties still sing about trucks and tailgates and cell phones like they’re still teenagers. She also shows maturity and vulnerability on “In Between,” which details all the ways she’s living in between a child and an adult; “Young enough to think I’ll live forever, old enough to know I won’t.” Again, a song like this shows a lot more self-awareness from Ballerini than we might have imagined she possessed after listening to stuff like “Yeah boy.”

She’s still exploring relationships for much of this record, just as on her debut, but again, the writing and themes go deeper. In the opener, instead of some bright, upbeat pop song, we get the dark, moody “Graveyard” that is comparing this guy to death essentially, as he takes the hearts of “hopeless, broken girls” and casually breaks them one by one, all to end up in his graveyard. It’s an interesting metaphor, and the production works well here. “Roses” is the more developed version of “Legends,” which, by the way, is slightly more bearable in the context of the album, but still remains pretty empty and shallow. “Roses” explores the same theme but compares the relationship to roses in that they are beautiful for a period but eventually die. “Miss me More,” although it suffers from some annoying production, is a pretty clever take on the aftermath of what seems to have been a controlling, abusive relationship. The narrator has lost friends and dressed differently than she would have, all for the sake of this guy, and now that it’s over, instead of missing him, she misses herself, the person she used to be. Another clever moment comes in “I Hate Love Songs,” as it makes fun of all the clichés associated with falling in love. She still loves her man, but it’s not a cliché. This song would be better if it weren’t sandwiched between two love songs, but taken on its own, it’s quite a cool piece of songwriting and one of the standouts.

There are still some major problems with this record, production being the worst. There’s some overproduced, annoying stuff going on in the chorus of “Miss me More” which serves to distract from an otherwise thoughtful track. “Machine Heart,” which is also one of the worst songs here in terms of writing, just sounds lifeless. This song really adds nothing at all to the project. “End of the World” isn’t a bad song and actually demonstrates Kelsea’s knack for melody quite well, but it’s underdeveloped lyrically, as we never really figure out why the narrator was at the end of the world in the first place. We hear that she found new love in a very dark place, but when you say things like, “gotta go through hell to get to heaven,” it leaves me wondering what hell entailed. “Unapologetically” is just forgettable, as well as being rather unfortunately placed after “I Hate Love Songs.” “Get Over Yourself” is a bit hard to decipher because it’s hard to tell whether she’s really over her ex, as the song states, or whether it’s meant to be an obvious lie, and we’re supposed to get that she’s lying to herself. I tend to go with the latter, which would make the writing better, but the writing ultimately isn’t quite clear enough, so it’s just kind of confusing. And “Legends” is still empty, bland, and boring, and absolutely the worst single to release for this and the worst way to close the album.

But there’s nothing here to make you cringe like many of Kelsea’s radio singles from her debut album. “Legends” is the worst offender here, and that’s just bland and uninteresting. It actually shows quite a bit of growth from Ballerini, and there’s definite improvement in her songwriting. There are some terrible production choices on this record, and fixing those might have even made this rise to a light 7. The parts that Kelsea Ballerini is responsible for aren’t bad at all, even if sorely mislabeled. It’s not fair to ignore the fact that this is not country in any universe, and I’ve made that perfectly clear. But it’s also unfair to overlook the improvements made by an artist, and Kelsea has shown improvement, as well as the ability to listen to her critics. A pop album through and through, but not a bad pop album by any stretch.

Buy the Album

Advice to Young Girls Seeking Country Airplay

You know the days when you could turn on the radio and hear all sorts of interesting female voices? That’s been true throughout country’s history, from Loretta and Dolly on down to Martina and Faith. Nowadays, it’s Miranda and Carrie–well, no, not even Miranda, as her latest single struggles mightily to chart despite its sales and critical acclaim. Better to say Carrie and Kelsea. Anyway, to all the young girls out there who might be pursuing a career in country music and are wondering just how to shatter the glass ceiling on country radio, here’s some tried-and-true advice.

1. Don’t, under any circumstance, release something traditional. Fiddle, steel, mandolin, throw them all out. Even if they might make an appearance on your album–which is also discouraged–at least do what Maddie & Tae did with “Girl in a Country Song” and release a single with electronic beats and pop elements. Keep all the traditional fans guessing at your intent, wondering if the beats are serious or sarcastic, because it’s better to hold them at arm’s length or even to alienate them altogether if you want to get a #1 at radio.

2. Ignore all the misogynistic bullshit thrown at you by radio programmers, record executives, and in many of the male songs on country radio. Katie Armiger spoke up about that a couple years ago, and look what happened to her career.

3. Don’t date anyone in the industry, or better yet, don’t attempt to have a personal life on any level. Lindsay Ell taught us that.

4. Trivialize the female problem on country radio and in the industry. Kelsea Ballerini’s got success, and she barely admits to the problem. Meanwhile, the ones who speak up about such things struggle for recognition. Just worry about breaking in yourself, and don’t try to help other women along the way.

5. Forget just ignoring the misogyny, try writing lyrics about being these types of women. Throw all your dreams and hard-hitting lyrics to the side and sing about tailgates and tight jeans. If at all possible, try accepting the objectification and embracing this role.

6. Try not to veer too far from singing songs about love or getting noticed by men. Under no circumstances should you speak up about the type of songs that women are often stereotyped as singing.

7. Don’t be sexual or have sexual desires, and if you do suffer from these afflictions, don’t leak them into your music, for God’s sake.

8. Talk about your outfits more than your music. It’s not okay to be sexual in your songs, but it is important to be viewed as desirable at all times.

9. If all this fails, sing one or two lines on a male song, and you’ll soon have a #1 hit. It doesn’t matter if you sound like a glorified backup singer, take it from Maren Morris.

10. Finally, remember that your awards, sales, and most importantly, your perspective, do not matter in this industry and on the radio. Let go of these archaic notions, and you might soon be one of the only four females in the top fifty. Here’s to being one of the fortunate 8%, and I look forward to your #1 hit!

Single Review and Rant: Kelsea Ballerini’s “Legends”

Rating: 1/10

Look, I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t hate Kelsea Ballerini’s debut album; I think she’s a good vocalist, and she showed potential as a songwriter in several places. It was sorely mislabeled as a country project when most of it was straight pop, and the few pop country offerings were mostly way too overproduced. To add to this, she released a couple of God-awful singles to country radio in the massively annoying “Dibs” and female bro country-ish “Yeah Boy.” But she also released a pretty nice one in “Peter pan” and a catchy, if pop, song in “Love me Like You Mean It,” and I was interested to see if her second album would take her into the land of full-on Disney pop princess music or more into stuff like Lauren Alaina’s recent record, definitely pop-leaning but with more substance and maturity.

So we come to “Legends,” Kelsea’s first single from her new record, and here’s what she had to say about it…”Every time I’ve listened to it, I find a different meaning … it brings me back to the heartbreak I wrote it from.” she goes on to say that at different times, she’s thought of her fans and her journey, and now she thinks of it as a “legendary love story” and concludes with the sentiment, “I hope everyone hears something in it that brings them to a place of nostalgia and is as excited as I am to begin this new chapter together.”

Well, let me say for the record, listening to “Legends” only brings me to a place of boredom, and it makes me about as excited to hear the rest of her new album as I would be to watch paint dry. I want to find something to like, or at least something positive to say, and it’s not like I’d change the station if this came on because it’s not outright obnoxious like “Dibs” or “Yeah Boy”–but that’s just it, it’s so vapid and shallow, and there’s just nothing at all here. It’s supposed to be this legendary tale of past love, but the only line that sticks out is “I’ll always wear the crown that you gave me,” and that’s just because that line is so idiotic and conjures up more images of the Disney princess music I mentioned before. I suppose maybe it’s talking about prom, but the fact remains it’s a lazy piece of songwriting throughout, and when I think of legendary love stories, I don’t think of songs where neither the melody nor the lyrics stand out and where the singer doesn’t even sound engaged. Yes, as I said, Ballerini does have a good voice, and in a technical sense, she sings this well, but she sounds so bored–and who wouldn’t be? It’s vapid, bland, safe, formulaic, and so forgettable that it’s not harmless 4-ish or 5-ish material like “Speak to a Girl” but complete emptiness similar to “Live Forever” by The Band Perry from a couple years ago. In fact, that song is a great comparison because while there’s not something glaringly wrong with this, like offensive lyrics or cringe-worthy Sam Hunt style spoken word, it’s the nothingness of this song which renders it awful. And finally, let’s erase the notion that this in any way, shape, or form should have ever been considered country–but that’s almost an afterthought, because at least the most recent atrocities to receive a rant here, Keith Urban’s “The Fighter” and Thomas Rhett’s “Craving You,” were actually catchy and therefore at least marginally better as pop songs. This? this is a failure in both genres and wouldn’t make it on pop radio.

I want to find something to like about Kelsea Ballerini. I want to support more women being given a voice on country radio, but this is not country in the slightest, and there are so many more women, both country and even in the pop and pop country realms, who deserve the limited space more than her, and if “Legends” is a success, it will in no way represent progress, either for females in country or for music of substance and the genre in general. Here’s to hoping her album is much, much better than this.

Written by: Kelsea Ballerini, Glen Whitehead, Hillary Lindsey

What Happens When you Take Women Out?

I debated whether or not I should write this piece because it’s really quite personal, and I’m not sure if it will be relatable or have a point when I’m done here, but it’s still on my mind after a couple of days, so I’ll try my best to be articulate as I express my thoughts.

The inspiration for this piece came after the news that Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” fell from #38 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart this week to #42, despite its sales and the ridiculous spike after her ACM performance. Now, as I’ve seen a lot of people point out, Miranda has never had the greatest treatment at radio anyway. There’s also the fact that “Tin Man” is stripped down, not necessarily radio-friendly, and quite traditional, so it’s got those strikes against it–although “The House That Built Me” had all of these characteristics and still gave her a #1 hit. But the glaring fact is, a big part of this simply has to do with the fact that Miranda Lambert is female, and in 2017, despite all the think pieces and supposed inclusion of more women by the country awards shows, females are still systematically ignored on country radio and by the country industry as a whole–and if you think these awards shows really want to include more women, why are there fewer nominees for ACM Female Vocalist of the Year? Sure, more women have been signed to major labels recently, but they’re not generally given the same chances to succeed; there’s a quota for females on country radio, and Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are filling it. And now it looks like Lambert will be replaced by Kelsea Ballerini, who is as non-country as Sam Hunt and the bros.

Keith Hill said back in 2015 that radio should “take women out.” The more infamous part was calling them tomatoes, but the more alarming part was taking them out. Lindi Ortega said then, “I can’t begin to describe to you how my blood boils at those words. Erase us, delete us…make it so we don’t exist.” And that’s what country radio is systematically doing–taking the female perspective so completely out that it’s shocking to imagine a woman’s point of view beyond the “girl” on the tailgate. Maren Morris recently spoke about this when she wrote that women in country can’t be sexual in their songs–they are supposed to be pretty and desirable but not write about their own desires. That inspired another piece which I haven’t yet written and have many conflicting feelings about writing–mostly because so many people I know will read it, and Maren Morris is a stronger person than I am–but it’s a more specific issue deriving from the same problem: take women, and their perspective, out. “Girls” are okay–and that’s why Kelsea Ballerini’s music can succeed on country radio; that, and that it isn’t country and seldom has substance.

So what actually happens when you take women out? I could go on about how it takes away their perspective in the mainstream, or how it leads to radio being one-sided and favoring music that marginalizes them, but I’m going to answer it from a personal place instead. I grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and one of the first country records I ever owned was a Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces. I fell in love with their music because it was country, but also because I could sing it and relate to it. They were women, and what they sang about appealed to me. I loved Martina McBride and Faith Hill, and later Miranda and Carrie. I sang an inordinate amount back then, so I will say that part of the appeal in their albums was that I could sing them; their ranges matched mine. But more than that, I related to them. I enjoyed plenty of music by male artists–and still do–but I naturally gravitated toward more women artists. Even today, on this blog, I can go back and look at the very few tens I’ve awarded–it’s a subconscious thing, but more of those records are by women. They have nothing in common in production, style, lyrics–but tens are set apart from nines for me because they can connect emotionally, and I have connected emotionally with more women in the history of running this blog, it seems.

The point of all this is that I fell out of love with country radio for the same reasons you all did; it lost its sound and its substance almost overnight. More than that, here in Oklahoma, radio killed Red Dirt around the same time. It had once lived on our radio stations along with mainstream music, but things like the rise of iHeart helped to destroy it. Even more than all of that, though, I became disenchanted with country radio because of the lack of women. I didn’t know then that there was all this independent music floating around just waiting to be discovered, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t relate to anything on the radio or sing along with any of the records. I mentioned that I sang, and I will now say that I grew up wanting to be those women. And I don’t think it’s even possible to do that now. You can’t turn on country radio and hear Miranda lambert as a young girl and say, “I want to sing like her” or get that passion for country music like I did. It’s the same thing I said in my piece about genre awhile back, that it makes me sad that your average young person can’t just turn on the radio and find and fall in love with traditional-sounding country. But even that’s starting to make its way back in, (slowly), with Stapleton, Morgan, Pardi, Midland…while the women are being pushed further and further out. Sure, there are plenty of them out there if you know where to look, but you have to love country first before you go seeking out Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley and Margo Price.

And I’m not saying a girl can’t fall in love with country from listening to men, or anything close to that; I’m only saying that in my case, I don’t think I’d be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t heard all those women on country radio back then, and if country radio’s systematic ignoring of females keeps even one girl from falling in love with this wonderful genre, then that’s the real problem, and the real danger of taking women out.