Kelsea Ballerini gets compared to Shania Twain a lot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, after all, the singer herself cites Twain as one of her biggest influences. At 23, getting consistently compared to your idol is usually a good thing for a musician. But as is often the case when it comes to emerging artist descriptive shorthand, the easy equation to Twain does Ballerini a disservice. She’s completely her own woman, and that’s part of what’s driven her debut album The First Time to the success she’s achieved in just one short year.
Ballerini, who is also a dead ringer for Taylor Swift with long blonde hair and an easy Tennessee smile, writes songs from a strong feminine perspective that often skewer romantic double standards, or get to the heart of a broken relationship with gentle wisdom that belie her young age.
The balance between pop production and heartfelt country story-songs is part of what makes her so accessible and so appealing, but it’s the honest assessment that sometimes kicks men to the curb or demands more from them that has everyone invoking Shania’s name. Still, Ballerini’s voice has its own honey, and her writing has its own kick. As a songwriter, she isn’t afraid to assert her own desires, and manages to have empathy even when she’s walking away.
After a debut self-titled EP in late 2014, Ballerini released her first full-length, The First Time, in May of last year. The record was preceded by her first single “Love Me You Like You Mean It,” which reached number one on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, an extremely rare feat for a female artist in a climate that is less than forgiving to female artists, let alone unestablished ones.
In fact, the last female artist to get a number one with a debut single was Carrie Underwood and “Jesus Take The Wheel,” and only eleven women have ever done it, period. That stat alone should give you a good sense of what a female artist in country is up against, and how incredible Ballerini’s success is. She didn’t stop there, either.