New York (AP) — Country music star Kelsea Ballerini had no intentions of starting a new job as an author in 2020. She did plan to tour her new album, “Kelsea” — then the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the world. As COVID-19 all but stopped the touring industry, the Grammy nominee began to express her feelings through poetry.
“I just kept writing and didn’t worry about the form of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, tag — whatever. I just kept writing. And I quickly realized that it was kind of coming out as an autobiography of me processing, not only my feelings as of current, but a lot of stuff from growing up,” revealed the star country singer. “It just happened to rhyme because that’s always how I’ve written. And it turned into a book.”
“Feel Your Way Through,” released last month, is a book of poetry which touches on a variety of subjects, including learning to love herself.
“I’ve struggled with body image. I’ve had an eating disorder — all these things that I share in the book. I hope that for anyone reading it that is feeling alone in that journey, they no longer feel that,” said Ballerini, who titled the poem “Kangaroo” after a cruel childhood nickname. “That’s my main reason. But also for me, like selfishly, just to get it out of me and go, ‘Man, here’s some truth-telling that I’ve not told before.’”
The Grammy nominee also penned “His Name Was Ryan” which details witnessing her 15-year-old classmate Ryan McDonald get shot and killed by another classmate in the school cafeteria at Central High School in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“I never even knew if it was part of my story that I would choose to share, but again, going back to looking at the puzzle pieces of my life, and if I’m going to explain that this book is my feelings as a 28-year-old woman, I can’t leave it out,” said Ballerini. “It’s something that happened that has really shaped a lot of the way I am and the way I feel.”
Ballerini, who recently experienced a bit of serendipity after wrapping a tour with the Jonas Brothers in October — the same band whose posters she had on her bedroom walls and whose concert she sat in the very last row of after her mom surprised her with tickets — also touched on new music. The “ Half of My Hometown ” singer, who just won her first two CMA awards last month, returned to the studio six months after releasing “Kelsea.”
“After I had time to be like ‘music makes me sad’ and then I started writing the book, then I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get back to music, too,’” said Ballerini, who said some of her poems — or at least the emotions behind them — could potentially turn into songs. “It’s still so early that I don’t know what it’s going to end up being, but I certainly have songs that I love, and I’m not rushing myself.”
As the superstar artist tiptoes along the very delicate line between country star and pop artist, she says the line is not blurred in her eyes.
“I’m a country artist — I will always categorize myself as that. But I listen to everything. And my first concert was Britney Spears, then I went home to literally a farm. So, I’m a product of my life,” said Ballerini, who said she was “very happy… very excited” for the pop princess’s recent conservatorship win. “I’m a product of what I listened to growing up, which was everything. And so, I’d be doing a disservice to myself to not include that in what I make. And I just think it’s silly to box people in. If art is art, then just let it be that.”
While Ballerini’s star continues to rise as country music continues to find its new identity in the wake of #MeToo, gender equality and the social justice movements, Ballerini says she wants to be on “The Right Side of History” herself—also the name of a poem that stems from a tweet she received backlash for after popular singer Morgan Wallen was caught on video using a racial slur.
“There is no room to move backwards. There’s only room to move forward, and I think even if it happens in baby steps, it needs to continue to happen,” said Ballerini. “Every kind of person listens to country and they need to be able to see themselves and hear themselves on the radio. So yeah, I think it’s going to be a process and I think it’s an important process. And I think we all just need to hold each other accountable to keep moving forward.”
Follow Associated Press entertainment journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton with his handle @GaryGHamilton on all social media platforms.
Gary Gerard Hamilton, The Associated Press