Album Review: Kelsea Ballerini’s ‘Unapologetically’

Kelsea Ballerini launched onto the country music scene in 2015 with her debut album The First Time. Her career skyrocketed with three consecutive No. 1 songs including “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Peter Pan” and “Dibs,” making her the only female artist in country music history to achieve this milestone. Her sophomore album Unapologetically further demonstrates Ballerini’s staying power and continues where The First Time left off.

Ballerini wrote each of the album’s 12 tracks and shares the ups and downs of her past two years. Whether she’s dealing with heartbreak or falling in love, Ballerini’s relatable lyrics and captivating music keep the listener intrigued. Following the success of The First Time, Ballerini enlisted the help of co-writers Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman, Ashley Gorley and Hillary Lindsey, among others, for her most ambitious release yet.

“I wrote a lot about the break-up that I had,” she explains. “I wrote a lot about growing up, self-discovery, fighting off some insecurities and discovering some new ones, and then, I wrote a lot about falling in love. I realized that the album fell into three categories and it became a chronological story of my life.”

The album begins with Ballerini struggling to get over a breakup. On the eerie “Graveyard,” she cleverly compares the end of a relationship to the dash between two dates on a headstone. The usually optimistic singer observes, “maybe I was naive to believe you would never hurt me.” Meanwhile, “Miss Me More” is an edgy kiss-off to an ex where she stands her ground alongside slick beats and a catchy chorus. On the song she tells the story of an ex who convinced her to stop wearing red lipstick and high heels simply because he didn’t like either. She soon realizes how wrong she was to allow him to compromise her identity. “I forgot I had dreams / I forgot I had wings / Forgot who I was before I ever kissed you / Yeah I thought I’d miss you / But I miss me more,” she confidently sings.

While a breakup inspired several tracks on Unapologetically, Ballerini ultimately remains positive when it comes to love. The anthemic and beat heavy “Roses” has her looking back fondly on a past relationship even though it’s over. “But seasons have to change / And like flowers they bloom and wither away,” she notes. Her new single “Legends” also showcases this nostalgia and is once again an appreciative look back on a previous love.

Throughout Unapologetically there are plenty of tales about heartbreak and falling in love, all of which showcase Ballerini’s candor. It is on “In Between,” a song she previously told Sounds Like Nashville is the most honest she’s ever written, that best showcases her diversity and ability to take a step away from love and heartbreak and admit her own insecurities. The track features breathy vocals from the singer as she paints the picture of a woman who finds herself straddling the difficult lines of childhood and adulthood.

“Sometimes I play grown up and sometimes I play pretend / Sometimes I’m a princess dressed all ribbons and all curls / And sometimes I just wanna scream ‘I’m not a little girl!’ / Dumb enough to think I know it all / Smart enough to know I don’t / Young enough to think I’ll live forever / Old enough to know I won’t,” she sings on the chorus.

A solid album from top to bottom, additional highlights include the standout “Unapologetically” and soulful “Music.” Ballerini has said the title track is the first real love song she’s ever written. Penned just three weeks after meeting fiancé Morgan Evans, it’s a glimpse at the early stages of a relationship in all its glory. “Unapologetically” is an engaging song bound to become a concert staple as will “Music,” which is unlike anything previously heard from Ballerini. The sultry, bluesy number has the country singer crooning of how her heart stops each time Evans walks into a room and how life is like a symphony when he’s around.

Throughout Unapologetically, Ballerini gives fans a closer look into her life. Whether it’s a ballad or an upbeat number, her vocals shine and her lyrics continue to strike a chord. The added production on each track is equally engaging and, as a result, continues Ballerini’s swift ascent as a powerhouse in the country genre.