Kelsea Ballerini’s latest album is appropriately titled Subject to Change, reflecting her ever-evolving emotional condition. She recently went through a life-altering event when she announced she was divorcing her spouse of almost five years, fellow country artist Morgan Evans. While she doesn’t go into specifics about the breakup in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment (conducted days before the couple’s announcement), she does reveal the most vulnerability of her career to date as she embarks on a new phase in her life.
For better or worse, the previous several years have been transformative for all of us… I feel like I’ve matured a lot in my twenties, especially in the past few years. “I’ve learned so much about myself in this additional area that we’ve sort of been pushed into,” says the 29-year-old country/pop singer. In addition, I appreciated how well Subject to Change reflected my experience thus far. It was symbolic of everyone’s existence, and it helped guide me thematically as I wrote. We went back and forth on whether to keep it general or narrow it down to focus on me. And we just ended up delving inside, really intimate, to establish the mood for the whole album.
Kelsea Ballerini opens up about post-divorce
It’s not the first time Kelsea Ballerini has mined her own emotions for inspiration. Subject to Change is a sort of companion piece to her confessional poetry book Feel Your Way Through, which she published in 2021 and in which she discussed topics such as her struggles with body image, her experience of witnessing a school shooting as a teen, and the criticism she faced after posting a tweet in response to country star Morgan Wallen’s use of a racial slur that some deemed tone-deaf and simplistic, albeit well-meaning.
Because “part of it is light,” “some of it is like amusing anecdotes,” and “some of it is things that I’ve simply surely never spoken about before and covers a lot of pain,” Kelsea Ballerini explains, “writing Feel Your Way Through was super-cathartic.” It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders when the book was finally published, and I really believe it freed up a previously untapped wellspring of inspiration in me. The response I got from those folks encouraged me to keep going on that path. So, there are some songs [on Subject to Change] that you listen to and it’s almost a bit shocking, how honest it is.”
Kelsea Ballerini identifies two Subject to Change tunes, “Marilyn” and “Doin’ My Best,” as the ones that “probably the most opened my chest up.” The former, which was motivated by Ballerini’s admiration for Marilyn Monroe, the ultimate idealized/objectified woman, is related to the poetry “Kangaroo” from Feel Your Way Through, in which Kelsea Ballerini discusses her body dysmorphia and prior struggles with eating disorders. ‘Marilyn is a metaphor in this song for me,’ the artist reveals. When I think of Marilyn, I think of a lady who acts one way but really feels another. I absolutely connect to that, and I believe that with social media, maybe everyone relates to that.”
View this post on Instagram
Both “Doin’ My Best” and Kelsea Ballerini’s poetry “The Right of History” deal with the social media issue surrounding Kelsea Ballerini’s relationship with Wallen. After singing about having her “ass kicked on Twitter,” she told Yahoo Entertainment, “Honestly, I haven’t used Twitter since, and that was a wonderful lesson for me.” Being an artist and a public figure has forced me to overcome my tendency to pander to others and instead advocate for what I believe in.
However, it’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes and get things incorrect part of the time. And I didn’t even get it completely correct… Although I completely appreciate the motivation behind [that Wallen tweet], I believe the counter to it was that I failed to recognize the systemic racism that has taken place. I took a backseat, leaned in, and absorbed. I was spanked and it taught me a lot about myself. …and I accept all responsibility for it.”
With a chuckle, Kelsea Ballerini continues, “And I also do not miss Twitter literally at all!”
The news out of Nashville tonight does not represent country music.
— Kelsea Ballerini (@KelseaBallerini) February 3, 2021
Due to her own mental health concerns, Kelsea Ballerini claims she took a break from all forms of social media. “It was perhaps after that occurrence that I understood I had a choice,” she said. Do I simply keep quiet, just share the pleasant moments of my life online, and stop letting anybody into my heart after this? Because I’m so sensitive and I feel it all, and I guess that’s what makes me successful at my work. Or, “Do I work on myself in therapy… and remain open and discover the tools?”
Kelsea Ballerini has been vocal about the need of talking about mental health in the country music world for a long time, and she has become her own champion in recent years. In my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, no one ever brought it up. In fact, she admits, she was unfamiliar with the concept of “mental health” until recently. “I was pushed into therapy twice, from two distinct tragedies that occurred to me when I was younger: One was my parent’s divorce, and one was the school shooting that I wrote about in the book. It wasn’t my decision to depart, either.
Therefore, I had a pretty unfavorable view of talk therapy and mental health in general when I was younger. When I got older, and the topic became more commonplace in the media and in conversation, I became curious about revisiting that route again. In the last five years, I’ve really put in the effort to improve my health and wellness. Mind, body, and spirit maintenance has always played an essential role in my life.
The poem “His Name Was Ryan” was inspired by her experience witnessing the death of a student, Ryan McDonald, during a cafeteria shooting at Knoxville’s Central High School in 2008. This poem was written at the conclusion of the book’s production; the poet explains, “I remember emailing versions to a few of my very close friends, and my friend Christina was like, ‘If you’re going to go there and speak about all the huge things that have shaped you, you’re leaving something out. Perhaps now is the moment for you to have that conversation. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.
Kelsea Ballerini’s deep connection with her audience may also be attributed to the impact of her autobiographical writing. “When you’re able to have a discourse about anything,” she says, “you instantly establish community,” whether the topic at hand is “body dysmorphia,” “eating disorders,” “gun violence,” or “families splitting apart.” “And when you have a community, you can get through difficult times in a more healthy and expedient manner. As a performer who is often onstage, I still have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the school massacre. Putting it out there, I hope, would help folks like you understand my response to certain things [onstage] since it’s something I deal with very often.
Kelsea Ballerini has utilized her celebrity to advocate for a variety of causes, including speaking out against the “Tomato-gate” controversy in which radio consultant Keith Hill insultingly compared male musicians to “lettuce” and female artists to simple “tomato garnish” in a salad. Kelsea Ballerini’s success (she has had four No. 1 songs on the Country Airplay chart and is the first female country artist to score No. 1 with her first three consecutive singles off a debut album) may have widened doors for female country singers. In addition, Kelsea Ballerini claims, “I do see it beginning to flip over a little bit and be more inclusive; I’m optimistic.” However, she recognizes that she has a ways to go.
I mean, I want to say [on the radio] things are changing, but then I look at the graph and I have to eat my words. I was curious about the current status of [the Subject to Change track] “Heartfirst,” so I looked it up on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Hence, I am at a loss for words. What I do know is what I can control, and that’s showing up as a woman in country music, supporting other women whose work I believe in, co-writing songs with other women, and assembling a team comprised mostly of women.
I have worked with Carly Pierce, a friend of mine for around a decade, on this album. We’ve known each other for so long and worked together in so many different ways that we’ve always wanted to write a song together to celebrate our long friendship. I then requested Kelly Clarkson, who has been my hero from day one, to contribute vocals to the song, and she did so that same evening. A country little sass bomb, it goes by the name “You’re Drunk, Go Home.”
That makes me really happy. I think it’s great that we have two ladies who represent different artistic traditions and who get along so well. Simply put, I want to fill my professional life with brilliant women. That’s something I can regulate. And I believe that genuine change occurs when more women are given the chance to accomplish it.
Kelsea Ballerini, who is about to turn 30 and is a newly single woman, is astounded by the loyalty of her followers, who have stuck with her through the ups and downs of her career and personal life, including the errors she has made and the less than ideal aspects of both. She reflects, “I simply realize that life is so complicated and so varied. When something excellent happens, we should all enjoy it. When it is, we feel it; when it isn’t, we feel that, too. … For me, it’s all about delving as deeply as possible into the issues I care deeply about.