As Kelsea Ballerini celebrates her 30th birthday today (Sept. 12) and gears up to perform at tonight’s Video Music Awards, she also celebrates nearly a decade of notching hit singles on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts, showcasing her bravura as a singer, entertainer, songwriter and hitmaker.
From her debut album, 2015’s The First Time, Ballerini cemented herself as an adept songwriter, one capable of absorbing pop-fueled optimism and fusing it with heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics. The album garnered Ballerini a trio of Country Airplay No. 1 hits: “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Dibs” and “Peter Pan.” She also earned a best new artist Grammy nomination, while her sophomore album, Unapologetically, earned a best country album nod.
That album title proved prescient, as she’s forged a career based on proving that vulnerability can be an audience-uniting super-strength. She offered a glimpse at the myriad emotions behind the concerts, fashion-forward styles, bright smile and effervescent personality, on songs such as “homecoming queen?”.
In 2021, Ballerini earned her first two CMA Awards, for musical event of the year and music video of the year, both for capturing the wanderlust of ambition that battles with the draw toward the comforts of home, as she honored her Knoxville, Tennessee hometown through her collaborative work with fellow Knoxville native Kenny Chesney, “half of my hometown,” a song Ballerini wrote with Jimmy Robbins, Nicolle Galyon, Ross Copperman and Shane McAnally.
That same year, she let fans further into her instincts as a writer, and her personal journey, when she released Feel Your Way Through: A Book of Poetry, a collection of poems that contemplated her musical ambitions, struggles with body image, and her own experience in 2008 of watching a classmate die from a shooting when she was in high school. In 2022, she also offered up the project Subject to Change, which contained her current top 20 Country Airplay hit “If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too).” Another song from the album, “Heartfirst,” earned Ballerini a Grammy nomination for best country solo performance.
Through song and performance, she also stood for her convictions, as evidenced by a pair of 2023 CMT Music Awards appearances: She opened the show by addressing the mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School earlier this year, which left six dead, and called for change. Later in the evening, she performed “If You Go Down,” and welcomed several drag queens — including Manila Luzon, Kennedy Davenport, Jan Sport and Olivia Lux — to perform with her, using music to address a recent Tennessee anti-drag bill.
This year, Ballerini released what is arguably her creative magnum opus to date, the EP Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, which distills the complex range of emotions and experiences she navigated through a dissolving marriage, weathering a divorce as a public-facing person, and ultimately, finding personal freedom and reconnecting with her true self. The vulnerability and elegant writing funneled into Rolling Up the Welcome Mat was recently recompensed when the project earned an album of the year nomination for the upcoming Country Music Association Awards; Ballerini picked up her sixth female vocalist of the year nomination as well. She also shared her story with fans through discussions and screenings of her Rolling Up the Welcome Mat short film.
On Nov. 2, it is this mature, bold Ballerini, fully in control of her artistic capabilities, who will bring her music and journey back to her Tennessee roots, when she headlines her first headlining arena show in the city where it all began (and the city she has often referenced in her songs) — her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee — when she performs at the Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center.
Here we look back at Ballerini’s top Country Songs hits.
Kelsea Ballerini’s Biggest Billboard Hits chart is based on actual performance on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, through Sept. 9, 2023. Songs are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at lower ranks earning less. Due to changes in chart methodology over the years, eras are weighted to account for different chart turnover rates over various periods.
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