Kelsea Ballerini has worked from three different time zones in the past two days, but you would never know it by looking at her. The country superstar is all smiles as she floats onto set at the Sunset Strip’s Mondrian Hotel for her 6:30 a.m. call time, sipping her coffee (black, “with a big splash of oat milk”) and reviews her stacked schedule for the upcoming week (even her stylist has brought a whole lot of “extras” to prep for for what’s coming).
Early mornings and long nights don’t faze Ballerini—neither does a very cold dip in the shallow end of the hotel’s pool as she’s wearing a very heavy gown and getting glances from guests)—who has recently been named the latest CoverGirl, an addition to an already lengthy list of accolades, including a two-time Grammy nomination and recent number-one Billboard hit, Half of My Hometown, featuring Kenny Chesney.
Aside from storytelling through song, the 28-year-old is also an author, recently publishing Feel Your Way Through, a collection of stories, thoughts and poetry that further peel back the curtain for fans who have come to expect this level of transparency from her.
“From the very beginning, I’ve really just tried to be honest,” Ballerini shares.
But even while sharing a stage with Dolly Parton or Shania Twain, Ballerini doesn’t let the spotlight change her. “It’s about holding myself accountable to stay honest and trust myself.”
While the star admits her start in music was a “blissfully naive” one, she’s now an expert at carefully planning her next move—wherever that might take her.
You left Knoxville at 15 to pursue your career in Nashville. Looking back, what was that like?
“I’m grateful for the naivety that I had. I think that was my secret weapon. I don’t know if I can blame that naivety on being young or just having this knowingness…I don’t know what I equate it to. But when I look back, specifically on the years between moving to Nashville and having my first ‘break,’ I was just so sure that I was meant to do music.
I look back and many females weren’t on the radio then. It was much harder for women in country music at that certain period of time, especially as a young singer, songwriter and all of that. But I didn’t let myself know that. I was just so blissfully naive, and it was my greatest secret weapon.”
Country music is still a notoriously competitive space for female artists. How do you navigate that now?
“It’s been a journey because I’m a girl’s girl by nature. When I first got a spot on the radio, I realized there was a deficit of more women there. At first I thought everybody had to be best friends, everybody had to know each other and each other’s journeys, and all that. But I think when you do that you can miss out on having really intentional friendships because you’re almost going too broad with it.
The last few years I’ve found a couple of other female artists who are my real-life friends now. We call each other when our songs get pulled from the radio and don’t go number one, or we call each other when they do go number one, or if we have a question about touring or budgets, or any of the things that can be taboo to talk about. I talk to these three or so women and I’ve found having that true, women-supporting-women relationship to be so much more powerful. So I’ve kind of scaled back, but I think it’s been more impactful for me.”
You’ve been honest with your struggles with confidence and body image. Has that transparency come easy to you?
“From the very beginning of my journey of putting out music and becoming more of a public person, I’ve really just tried to be honest. I have days where I have a bikini on and I feel good in my body, and I post a photo. But then I also have days where I look like I haven’t slept in three weeks and I’m insecure, and I post that too. I’ve always tried to have that relationship with my fans and social media. Now that society is wanting to show more of that realness and less of the facade of perfection, that’s been really aligned with what I’ve been trying to do. It’s about holding myself accountable to stay honest and trust myself.
When you see someone else talk about anything from success and failure to body image, to marriage, to heartbreak to abusive relationships, whatever it is, it opens up more space for conversation. And healing comes from conversation because it creates community. You don’t feel alone. And when you don’t feel alone, you can handle anything a lot better.”
You’re also normalizing the therapy conversation.
“Growing up, the idea of therapy was super taboo in my family. No one really talked about mental health in general, it was just not a discussion that we had. But my life experiences have certainly been something that I’ve needed extra help to work through and navigate.
I post videos about therapy to help normalize the conversation, but I’ve also started a fund called the Feel Your Way Through fund. It goes to different foundations and places that help get people access to mental health tools that wouldn’t regularly have it whether it be due to income or anything else. Normalizing mental health and talking about it is one thing, and then being able to take action is the next step.”
You’re the latest CoverGirl. How does that feel?
“The commercial has been out for a few weeks now and anytime I get a text from a friend or family member with a picture of their screens I can’t believe it’s real. Seeing that come out was really the moment I realized that I was a CoverGirl. It’s interesting because my day job is performing, and a lot of time that is on TV, but to be able to do an ad spot for a product that I love and that I actually use, and that also ties in my music in the background, was really cool.
There’s a nostalgia to it for me because CoverGirl was the brand and the products that taught me how to do makeup, but it’s also such an iconic brand. So just to be a part of it and aligned with it is incredible.”
Do you have any favorites from the brand?
“The Exhibitionist Mascara is kind of ‘my’ product that I got to launch with. It’s cool because what everyone loves about CoverGirl is that it’s ‘Easy, breezy.’ It’s makeup that meets you where you’re at. It’s accessible, it’s affordable, and it’s easy to figure out how to apply it. But the cool thing about Exhibitionist is that it’s kind of the next step. So if you wanted to get a little more glam for a special occasion, or for me, a show, it’s the mascara that takes you to the next level. I’ve used it for shows—the commercial was filmed at an actual show that I did in Oklahoma, and I used it to get ready for that—and everything can be a little bit more dramatic on stage. So it’s definitely my go-to.”
Your new record is hitting soon. What can we expect?
“My last record was kind of a collage. Every song had a different songwriting group and production team and you feel that when you listen to it—it’s almost different snapshots of what I was influenced by. And, for this next record, I’m working with two producers I’ve never worked with before and they’re overseeing the entire project. So, it’s much more streamlined in the sound and production, but also in the content.
I think that comes from the storytelling, but it also comes from the music itself. Every instrument is played by a live musician in a studio, which sounds simple, but I’ve had lots of 808s and synths on other records and those come out of a computer. And there’s nothing wrong with that, certainly, but this time, I really wanted it to feel warm and settled and with a hint of nostalgia. I was heavily influenced by 90s country and 90s pop, and I think you’ll hear that throughout.”
What does your songwriting process look like?
“The reason songwriting is my favorite part of what I do is because it’s different every single time. It keeps me on my toes when something’s going to strike. Whether I’m reading a book and there’s a phrase that jumps out, or whether I start humming a melody in the shower, I never know when something’s going to spark. You just have to be ready to catch the magic. That’s what I’ve always felt songwriting is: magic.
Sometimes I’ll save an idea and I’ll bring it into a room with specific people that I know will help take care of that concept with me. And sometimes I’ll just have a random title, and I don’t know what it means, and I’ll walk into a room and I’ll be like, ‘What are the three different ways we could take this?’ It just depends, and I think that’s the cool part. There’s a smaller group of people that I worked with for this record than in the last few and that was on purpose. I just wanted to dig in with a couple of people that I’m really comfortable with, and just really collaborate together, get to know each other and create something that feels streamlined.”
All eyes are on you. What’s your secret to staying grounded?
“I value balance now more than ever. I’m a better artist, wife, friend, whatever I have to be that day, if I feel balanced. I love being busy and I love being in a full sprint all the time, but that just means if I have one night off, I’m going to spend it with people that let me refill my tank. I think for a long time, especially when I was starting out, I kept my head down and said yes to everything. And I think there is something to be said for that, to keep showing up for your dream, but I also may have neglected my personal life a little bit. I don’t want to fall back into that even though it’d be easy to do. It’s just a constant, really intentional search for balance.”
Go-to drink: “Cabernet.”
Hype song: “Man! I Feel Like a Woman! By Shania Twain.”
How do you relax? “I usually find a new show. I just finished Dexter, now it’s Life & Beth. Or I listen to Crime Junkie. The way I relax is very crime-related. Is that normal?”
Ideal day off: “I’d sleep in, make a big breakfast cook up, go hang out with some friends. Get outside, go on a walk with the dog. And then have a game night and cook a big Italian dinner. And then watch a show and snug.”
Always in your bag: “CoverGirl has these Clean Fresh Tinted Lip Balms that I’m obsessed with. I think they have five colors but my favorite is made for Peach. They remind me of the old school Chubby Sticks but they’re all natural and it has this really pretty pink hue to it. I love it.”
I treasure… “Growth, so whatever stimulates that is what I value at the time. And it’s always changing. I was just thinking about that. The other day, I was talking with my girlfriend and I said, ‘Man, the things that challenge me and make me grow now as a 28-year-old are so different from what they were when I was 25 and 20 and all that.’ So I think just always finding those things that kind of push us out of our comfort zone to be better.”
Most-used app: “TikTok. I’m so addicted.”
Current beauty obsession: “Vitamin C. I use my Skin Pharm Vitamin C serum every single morning.”
Photography: Frankie Batista at Mondrian Los Angeles; Styling: Molly Dickson; Hair and Makeup: Kelsey Deenihan