Country singer/songwriter Kelsea Ballerini is known for her introspective songwriting and music. Now, she can add author to her ever-growing list of talents.
Ballerini’s first collection of poetry, Feel Your Way Through, is divided into five sections exploring body image, self-love, sexuality, family, and lessons of youth. Humble, honest, and conclusively hopeful, it finds her opening up in ways she never has before.
“It’s interesting, the whole book came about because I put out a record March 20, 2020,” she tells EUPHORIA. “The week the world shut down and music for me not only is it technically my job but it’s my therapy. It’s very therapeutic for me to write music and it’s my dream. When I put out a record, there’s a lot of dreaming and planning that goes into it. Not even of just of the making of the project but the tour and how to get it to people, and how to connect with fans through it.”
“When I put out the record I almost had a grieving process of all those things that my team and I really had worked on and got excited about for a long time,” she continues. “Not only could I not listen to music for awhile, I certainly couldn’t write it … it felt sad. It just was not a place of freedom and of expressing myself for a moment, but writing has always been that and so I disconnected the two. I really detached music from writing for a solid six to eight months and I ended up writing this book of poetry.”
Although the bulk of the book was written during the peak of the pandemic, it doesn’t touch on it at all, which she found very interesting. As everyone did, it gave her space and time to step back and not be so busy. “I didn’t think about my life,” she shares. “I just could only think about my life and the world and what was going on, and how I felt about everything. This ended up being the way I processed it all.”
Writing comes with difficulties, and for the singer/songwriter turned author, she had to make the decision of whether this would be a book of whimsy poetry or a biography that rhymes. Ultimately, she decided to blend the two by inserting more life into it with topics that she hasn’t discussed before. “I just felt this freedom and sharing parts of myself that hadn’t felt confident or ready or share yet,” she says.
After Penguin Random House sent a couple options for the front cover of the book, Ballerini saw it wasn’t exactly what she wanted, so she decided to take things into her own hands and paint something that was close enough to her vision to send in as inspiration. The art team ended up loving her design and used it as the final artwork.
“I wish the music industry wouldn’t be so scared of things that feel different and things that feel boundary pushing, and things that feel unexplored,” she says in reference to her poem “Edges,” which dives into the music industry.
“Jumbled” is an easily relatable poem in every sense, especially to new college graduates struggling to find their footing and a job. No one talks about life after graduation enough. For those feeling lost about their life, Ballerini says, “I think it’s really normal. What I found from my personal, close relationships in my life is that when you acknowledge the fact that it’s messy and confusing, it takes the power away from it and then you can just kinda laugh through it. I think if you try to make sense of life all the time, you’re going to have this quandary in your mind that you’re never going to solve. If you just lean into it, let it be wonderful when it’s wonderful, shit when it’s shit, you’re going to feel it all and that’s the point.”
“When It Rains” almost feels like an allusion to Taylor Swift’s track “Clean,” but for Ballerini it was totally unintentional. “The point of that poem to me was I like to be busy, and sometimes I like to be busy to the point where I’m not present,” she explains. “I’m not experiencing the moment. ‘When It Rains’ was this day I happened to be home and it was pouring out and I went and sat outside. It was this thought of, ‘These are the moments that make you stop.’ I even love rain shows — people don’t worry about how their hair looks, they stop taking selfies. They put their phones away and it’s just the actual music connecting. It’s the heart of that and what I wanted that poem to be. It’s the things that make you stop and just be there. I have a hard time with that, but it’s something I’m really working on.”
Out of all the poems the artist wrote for Feel Your Way Through, Ballerini really enjoyed writing the ones for people in her life. “I wrote one called ‘Growing’ for my friend Kelly,” she says. “It was her 30th birthday and I wrote that for her. I wrote one called ‘My Mother,’ which was a letter to my mom.”
In creating the collection of poetry, Ballerini learned that writing is her favorite part of what she does. “I love making music and I’ll make records as long as people want to hear music from me, but I have this peace knowing that when the radio stops playing me one day, I’ll still get to write,” she shares. “Whether it’s music or books or both, that will always be something that I get to do. That gives me a lot of peace of mind.”
Earlier this year, she got involved with clothing brand Aerie for the #AERIEREAL campaign, which focuses on not retouching photos. The poem “Kangaroo” focuses a lot on body neutrality, so it was only fitting for the singer to get involved.
“I’ve loved working with Aerie,” she says. “I’ve had a very checkered past with my body. ‘Kangaroo’ to me is not so much about body positivity as much as it is body neutrality of accepting yourself as you are. I think that’s obviously what Aerie stands for. I’m really proud that this book is coming out alongside the Aerie campaign because truthfully probably not even two years ago, would I have volunteered to be in a campaign in my underwear without retouching and that’s just the truth. I was not there in my life. I was still very much posting photos that were altered, and I’m proud of the progress I’m continuing to have with my body, with what healthy means. … I’m doing it for how I feel and maintaining a lifestyle I want to be able to have. I’m growing in that journey.”
“I write in ‘Kangaroo’ that it’s a journey that’s never-ending and I really believe that,” she says. “I think it’s something that rears its head up for a lot of women and men and I think as soon as you say it out loud you realize you are not alone. It takes the power away from it and it ends up being a conversation you can have with people. You can grow together.”
Ballerini hopes that readers get whatever they want out of the book. “I hope if they want to find out more about themselves, they get that,” she shares. “I hope that if they want to find out more about me, they certainly get that. I hope if they want to have something to share with their friends on a Friday night and get wine drunk and stumble through, I hope they get that. I hope that it’s a friend to whoever needs it.”