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With her third single, “Peter Pan,”a clever country-pop hit about boys who never grow up and enchantment lost, rising star Kelsea Ballerini is living out a true-life fairytale. The Knoxville-area native is barely old enough to buy a glass of magic potion, yet she’s traveling in luxurious coaches, wearing the finest gowns, and gaining an allegiance of dedicated fans.
“Peter Pan” has even put her in the history books, soaring into country radio’s top 10 and making Ballerini the only solo female artist to send each of her first three singles to that lofty list. And it didn’t need any pixie dust.
“I think because it was such a good concept and title, everyone relates to that, whether you’ve been in a relationship with someone who can’t grow up, or they just know the story of Peter Pan from the fairytale,” she says of the song, co-written with Jesse Lee and Forest Whitehead and appearing on her debut album, The First Time. “It’s honestly my favorite song on my album, so to see that it’s getting to have a life now is amazing.”
Just like “Peter Pan” and her previous singles, “Dibs” and “Love Me Like You Mean It,” Ballerini’s connection with country fans has grown swiftly (no pun intended). After becoming close with country-turned-pop superstar Taylor Swift, she learned to treat her loyal subjects like best friends, sharing herself fully on social media and filling the songwriting void left in the genre by Swift’s absence—the one where young girls feel like every song is about them and is a look into the real life of a star.
“I think country fans just want to know you,” Ballerini explains, “and I think I know that because I was, and still am, a fan. The thing that I loved the most about the artists was that I felt like I knew them through their music and through the way they make themselves super available and approachable to their fans, so that’s what I try to be now.”
In fact, she’s been more than available—she’s been almost inescapable. She’s touring amphitheaters with Rascal Flatts, once-upon-a-time heroes she still carries meet-and-greet photos of from long ago, and her first-ever headlining tour is set for this this fall: 15 intimate club dates she calls a dream come true. Plus, over the summer, she co-hosted ABC’s prime-time musical revue Greatest Hits with Arsenio Hall, and she showed a graceful sense of purpose by helping launch a new Musicians On Call bedside concert program at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
All of this is new and exciting for Ballerini, whose adventure seems to bring new firsts with each turn of the storybook page. “It’s definitely outside my comfort zone, but everything right now is outside my comfort zone,” she quips. “I’m 23 years old, life is really fun, and I’m getting to experience a lot of things I never thought I’d get to, so I’m just really trying to push myself and expand my horizons.”
Wise beyond her years, Ballerini already seems to understand the importance of establishing an image that’s all her own—it makes the story easier to follow along with in a world full of distractions. The same goes for her sound, and, to that end, she’s already starting her next quest: returning to the studio for her second album and promising an even more revealing look into her charmed life. The First Time captured her journey from age 12 to 21, she says, but the follow-up will focus on two short years, meaning it will have a much higher-definition plot.
“I get to be a little more detailed, a little more raw and honest, and it’s totally the story of my last two years—extreme highs and then some times of darkness and discovering who I am and who the people around me are,” she says. “It will still be confident and encouraging, and it definitely still has that pop-country flair, for sure.”
Sounds like another fairytale in the making—especially for those who love a happy ending.