The KB4 era is here. Or better yet known as the Subject To Change era. Kelsea Ballerini’s newest record has hit streaming platforms and stores, and no one is more thrilled than Ballerini herself. When I caught up with the “Heartfirst” singer, the first thing I did was congratulate her on the new record and how cohesive it sounded along with it being her best work yet, and her excitement was crystal clear and infectious. Ballerini said, “Thank you! I love that you said its cohesive. That was one of the intentional pivots I wanted to take from my last album,” she shares of Subject To Change.
“Because my last album, it was the first time I felt confident enough to play so each song had its own identity and it ended up kind of being like a quilt and I just really was experimenting with sound and different collaborators. For this record I wanted it to feel like you were stepping into a role for 15 songs and even though there is variety on it I wanted it to feel like you weren’t leaving this certain world. The way I did that was I had Shane McAnally and Julian Bunetta produce the whole thing and they oversaw sonically how to streamline the songs that were really country, the songs that are more pop and figure out a way to make them work on the same record where it didn’t feel jarring,” she continues.
It’s only fitting to name the album Subject to Change because the singer is truly embracing change and finding joy in doing so. The album opens up with the catchy track which is the perfect introduction to what’s to come on the rest of it. The song describes how you can be consistent in some aspects of life, yet have the ability to adapt and change in other aspects which is definitely a healthy balance and quality.
Another track featured on the record is “The Little Things” which helms from the poem of the same name from her debut collection of poetry Feel Your Way Through that came out in November 2021. The songwriter thanked me for saying how clever it was to turn the poem into a track. “I knew that I wanted one line from the book on the record. I think writing that book really unlocked this creative, honest piece of me that I hadn’t really explored in my songwriting yet, only in that book. I knew that I wanted to keep pushing that direction through the whole songwriting process and I thought the easiest way to do that would be to start taking with an actual poem from the book and going from there,” she says.
“I think one of the things I’ve learned over the past couple years is to take inventory of what matters to you and that’s a theme throughout the whole record and the most obvious songs. ‘The Little Things’– taking inventory of how I feel loved, what I have, and taking inventory of the things that bring me joy,” Ballerini shares of what she learned over the past couple years.
The pandemic took a toll on live music and touring. The singer really had to mourn the loss of not being able to tour Kelsea and releasing it in such a hard time for the world as a whole. Although, she found it hard to say whether her newest record would’ve turned out differently if it wasn’t for the pandemic because she only knows what happened the last few years and what she’s experienced.
“I think that the forced stillness that we all experienced was probably the hardest and most necessary season of life that I’ve had as an adult. I just think I’ve learned in therapy that my coping mechanism is busyness which is really convenient for me because I’m always in motion, but I wasn’t able to be in 2020 and most of 2021. I think in that forced stillness I was able to take inventory of my life and feelings and really process how my life has changed in my 20s. I think you hear a lot of that self-discovery in the book and also on the album,” Ballerini shares.
“What I Have” really reflects on the self-discovery that she mentions. With lyrics like “I got a jeep, I got a dog / I got what they call a dream job / Plenty to want, nothing wrong with that / But I’m happy with what I have,” it’s the little things that do matter and always being grateful for what you do have.
Some of the biggest takeaways from the creation of Subject to Change is the fact that its a time capsule over the last two years of Ballerini’s life and a processing album, more-so than she has even realized when writing it.
“I was really doing a lot of work on myself and also going through a lot in my personal life and I was actively processing that while I was writing these songs, so you hear a lot of that throughout the record and that’s why at the end of the day it is called Subject to Change because we’re supposed to. That’s a necessary part of growing up is evolving, changing and growing. Sometimes it’s looked at as a bad thing, but I think it’s a really beautiful thing and I think when we stop fearing change and we just welcome it cause we know it’s inevitable that’s when living happens,” the singer explains.
For Ballerini, she processes her emotions through writing rightfully so as her craft shows throughout the record. She knows how to be emotive and relatable when listeners need it most. She never stops writing and is even currently writing. “I don’t really do it for the point of making a record or not making a record…I just do it for me because it’s always been the most pure part of what I get to do. It’s the way I process my life and it’s the way I express myself and it’s just pure and it’s mine until I decide if it makes a record or not.”
“You’re Drunk, Go Home” is a full on country bop that features powerhouse vocalists and songwriters Carly Pearce and Kelly Clarkson which was a total dream come true for Ballerini. It’s a trio we never knew we needed. “It’s so funny because I swore I wasn’t going to collaborate on this album just because a lot of my recent successes have been with other people, you know Kenny Chesney (‘Half of My Hometown’) and LANY (‘I Quit Drinking’) and I’m so proud of those songs but I kinda wanted to be able to stand on my own two feet on this album and then I wrote “You’re Drunk, Go Home.” I couldn’t not get the image of me and two other collaborators on the song. I went in my head, I’m like who has wit and sass and yeehaw,” Ballerini giggles as she explains.
“My first call was Carly and we go way back and we are sweatpants friends, so she signed on. And then I reached for the stars and texted Kelly Clarkson and I sent her the song in the morning and she did vocals that night. It was just they both added such a grit and magic to that song. I’m hoping we can perform it live sometime.”
Staying present and grounded is a major theme throughout the record as heard on “Doin’ My Best” (which is a personal favorite on the album) as well as several others. “I just do my best. It’s really hard. Life’s really busy right now and also I’m processing a lot of feelings right now. I think I take each day as it comes and I show up the best I can for this record I’m really proud of and I show up the best I can for the people that come to shows to celebrate this record with me. In quiet moments, I process how I’m feeling. I’m lucky cause I have such incredible friends. They’re on the road with me. They’re coming to shows. I have an amazing team. I’m also not scared of being alone and having moments of quiet amongst all of this and that’s also a new feeling for me. I’m not nailing it but I’m definitely taking each day as it comes doing my best.”
Although, Ballerini doesn’t remember a comment from the top of her head that made her happy pre album release the fan reaction to the track “Love Is A Cowboy” is incredible. It was released when she got to play two festivals. The singer reveals how there was something about the song that connected in the first week it was out which reminded her a lot of hit track “Peter Pan.” On tour it feels the same way, but there’s something about that song that feels special. It has a little bit of pixie dust!
On the beauty side of things, it was announced that Ballerini is the newest face of Covergirl’s latest campaign. “I’m such a diehard girly-girl and I think makeup is just another way of expressing yourself and I remember as a little kid, my mom was super strict about when I was allowed to wear makeup. If I was home and playing dress-up around the house she would let me play in her makeup. I always remember the iconic mascara and even just the slogan: easy, breezy, beautiful covergirl. It’s just iconic and now that I’m partnered with them…they stand for accessibility, inclusivity and approachability. Those are all things I align with as an artist and as a woman. I am SO proud to be alongside them as a Covergirl.”
Country music on a wider scale has always been iffy to female artists entering the genre. It’s time for them to be more inclusive for women.
Ballerini admits that every artist asked this question will have a different answer but for her she says, “I really had to recalibrate my answer because I used think being a female supporting other females meant we all have to be best friends and have sleepovers and drink wine and know everything about each other and it’s just not reality. What I recalibrated to is two different things, one: I include women in every area of my career as often as possible whether it’s the writing room as a producer credit, on my team…in every way possible, I surround myself with women because I think it’s just not about having women artists; it’s about having women in the whole infrastructure of the music industry. And in the other way, I probably have the least amount of artist friends I’ve ever had. I have the best artist friends I’ve ever had. I have the most genuine, off-camera friendships with artists that I’ve ever had and to me those are just so much more valuable because we can honestly show up for each other. We honestly have each others backs. We know what’s going on in each other’s lives and careers and to me that is women supporting women – that’s a valuable, honest friendship and whether that leads to a collaborative relationship…that’s beside the point. Those are my two ways of showing up for women and showing up for myself as a woman in the music industry right now.”
Ballerini has had many career feats ranging from countless award nominations and wins to joining the Grand Ole Opry which is a dream for every country music artist. Some of the things she hopes to accomplish in her career in the future include playing her hometown arena, win an award for her songwriting and hopes to perform on Saturday Night Live.
Ballerini emotes in absolute glee when asked about her current headlining tour The HeartFirst Tour which kicked off in New York City on September 24. “I’m having a really nice time, I gotta be honest. I haven’t headlined a tour since the spring of 2019 so I had no idea what to expect and especially doing the first show 24 hours after the album came out I was like, am I just gonna sing these songs to people who are like ‘this is new we don’t know it’. Everyone has known every word to every single song. They’re showing up with homemade t-shirts with these new lyrics on them. It feels so connected and kind. It’s a really kind crowd and just being able to celebrate this new body of music at a time in my life that is a bit chaotic and know it’s falling on ears that are celebratory and kind has felt really empowering and safe and I’m so proud of the show. It’s the most production I’ve ever gotten to put in a performance and I’m just really proud of this whole chapter.”
The singer/songwriter has grown such a passionate, beautifully, kind fanbase throughout the years. Special shoutout goes to @KelseaCentral on Twitter who keeps fans abreast on everything Kelsea. What they’re doing is so wonderful and fan accounts in general deserve more credit than they’re given by putting so much time and energy into something they’re truly passionate about. They’re one of my favorite fan accounts to follow.
Ballerini struggles even using the word fan just because she’s such a fan, way before she was even an artist. She was one of many who bought tickets to sit in nosebleed seats and waited in line to meet people. It’s an all-too relatable feeling for every music fan.
“I almost have imposter syndrome to the point where I can’t even use the word fan in reference to me. There have been people who have connected with my music for almost 10 years now. We know each other. Some of them have my freaking number! It’s such a beautiful friendship I’ve gotten to have with these people over the years. The most recent thing that blew my mind was for my birthday– they all donated to my Feel Your Way Through fund. The fact that those are the people that listen to my music, they’re selfless and they show up. That makes me so proud to make music for them.”
“Growing up is messy, beautiful and change is the point. When you welcome it with open arms rather than fear it there’s a lot more living that can happen. That we’re all experiencing the same shit. We’re all experiencing love, heartbreak, and growing up and stress and laughter and drunkenness. When you realize that and allow yourself to connect through that there’s so much joy there,” she explains on what she wants listeners to take away from Subject To Change.
As a whole, this record is the most authentic Kelsea Ballerini has been yet. It’s one of my absolute favorites next to Unapologetically. It was written as therapy, her way of healing in a time in her life subject to so much change. There are your radio friendly hits featured but truly expresses a level of truth unheard compared to Ballerini’s previous releases. It’s a stunning record full of heartbreak, change, and bops that the world needs to hear.