No matter where life takes Kelsea Ballerini, she will always be a storyteller.
She wrote “Miss Me More” with hit-makers David Hodges and Leland’s Brett McLaughlin on a rare morning off in Los Angeles while in the middle of filming the singing competition Greatest Hits with Arsenio Hall.
At the time, she had accomplished so much in her side hustles as a burgeoning television host that she felt an inherent need to return to her roots in songwriting.
That morning through Twitter, Ballerini reached out to Leland, and little did she know he had already been daydreaming of collaborating with her ever since she performed a mashup of “Peter Pan” and “Hide Away” with Daya on the 2016 Radio Disney Awards. The opportunity wrapped a full-circle moment for Leland, who, as a Belmont University alum, had always wanted to prove himself as a reliable hit-maker to the Music Row community that helped shape him.
They looped in David Hodges, a former member of Evanescense and a hit-maker behind Kelly Clarkson’s “Because of You,” several Avril Lavigne songs and Twilight’s “A Thousand Years” (the latter of which was the first dance song for Ballerini and husband Morgan Evans at their wedding reception in December 2017) to complete the session.
The three reconnected Thursday (Oct. 3) at Nashville’s Woodlea at the Kimpton Aertson to celebrate the song’s No. 1 success over an invitation-only party with Ballerini’s label, Black River Entertainment, representatives from PROs ASCAP and BMI and other Music Row insiders. Ballerini told press before the event that “Miss Me More” has connected her with many people who have experienced divorce, abusive relationships and earthshattering breakups in general.
“I realized with every other single that I’ve had, like “Dibs,” people say, ‘This is me and my boyfriend’s song.’ Or ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ – ‘This is the song I want to send to the boy before we start dating,’” she recalled.
Ballerini teared up during the party when she mentioned receiving the testimonies of others who related to the song through their personal heartache.
“This was the first song when people started to say, ‘This helped me through my divorce,’” she said. “Or, ‘This helped me get out of an abusive relationship.’ That’s a heavier thing to be able to connect with someone on, and I didn’t realize how much I appreciated that — that kind of connection and those kinds of stories really until those songs.”
She added the song served as the perfect leadup to release her current single, “Homecoming Queen,” a song she co-wrote with Nicolle Galyon and Jimmy Robbins while on the road with Kelly Clarkson during a season of workaholism that had Ballerini’s work and personal life hanging in an unhealthy imbalance.
“Nicolle was like, ‘How are you?’” Ballerini recalled. “And I was like, ‘Ugh, I don’t think I’m great actually. I think I’m super insecure and weirdly lonely when I have a really beautiful life full of really great people. I don’t know why.’ Writing that song was all about me specifically giving myself permission to be a human — have a bad day, have a good day, celebrate and also cry. ‘Homecoming Queen’ became the metaphor that we use. I was actually not the homecoming queen at all. But the video for me was my way of showing what it meant to me and how I related to it.
“I think ‘Miss Me More’ really just allowed me to take away the nerves and just be excited about making another record,” she said. “I think being able to have that kind of platform to jump off of into a new record, just gave me a lot of confidence and peace about it all. And then ‘Homecoming Queen,’ I’m just excited about it. It’s still a baby. It’s only a month old. But it feels exciting.”
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I’ve learned there’s a lot of strength in vulnerability. I’ve learned that cliche catchphrase “nobody is perfect” is actually true and when we let ourselves believe it we get freedom from ourselves. I’ve learned that I’m allowed to be happy, glittery, bold, sassy, and to never apologize for that side of myself. I’ve learned to also give myself permission to have a bad day, to feel insecure, to still be discovering who I am as a young woman, and to unzip the mess. I was never the literal homecoming queen. But damn, am I this homecoming queen. (link in bio)
During the party, guests drank themed “Miss Me More” margaritas and munched on tomato jam on romaine, empanadas and other delicacies, while the principles behind the song got showered in plaques and praise. ASCAP’s Beth Brinker emceed the proceedings.
During her time with media before the party, Ballerini shared her thoughts on the CMA Awards’ support of women in country music, whether country fans are given enough credit for their personal tastes in music, an official update on her upcoming album and more. Enjoy our favorite revelations from the conversation.
On the amount of time she sees husband Morgan Evans: Minimal. It’s good, though. He’ll be here today, which is cool. I always say we’re both in the building blocks of our career where we have to keep our head down and just go. And we both know that about each other, so we have so much grace for that. And also when we’re not together, we’re with our other love. We’re with music. And we both share that so we can’t be upset about that ever. It won’t be like this forever.
There are two collaborations on her next album: “I’m still working on it. So, it’s still kind of evolving. There’s just more of more. I think that is the best way I can describe it for now. There’s a song with a string quartet. There are two songs with horns. There are two collaborations. There’s just more of more. I just had the time this summer to be super hands-on with it. I’ve never been so involved in making an album before. So, I think I have a different sense of pride about it because I’m super involved from the writing of it, but obviously to the production of it, too. I’m stoked.
On whether she thinks country fans are given enough credit for their taste in radio: From my perspective, and I say this having been embraced by radio, so I’m not shaming them at all. But I think with any trend — which it was, and it was working so well — like, you can’t have a female bro-country. That just doesn’t make sense, so the trend was working, and all these people were adding to it that were men, and it was taking off, and it was really working. Females just can’t do bro-country. It’s bro-country. It’s bro. Ya know? I think that was the beginning of people loving a type of music that just excluded women. And so I think the women who have cut through — myself, Maren [Morris], Carly [Pearce] and Runaway June — I think they have a Top 5 [single] right now. I mean, it’s really identifiable. If you listen to us all back to back, you know exactly who is singing what. And I think that while there is still an issue and a lack of females, it’s making us all sharper. I think you’re seeing a lot of the new females coming through like Tenille Townes. She’s so identifiable and so sharpened, and I think that’s a beautiful thing coming out of something that’s pretty frustrating.
On what people can expect from her new CMT Crossroads with Halsey: I’ve been a fan of hers since I heard “Colors,” which was one of her first releases. She and I had met her briefly at the iHeart Awards. But when she did Ascend Amphitheater two years ago, and I was with my girlfriends, we went backstage afterward to say hi and properly meet her. She was like, “Where [are] we going?” I was like, “Yes!” So, we ended up popping all around Nashville to different like little places and ended the night out at Santa’s Pub.
One of my favorite parts about that night is you’re not allowed to curse at Santa’s Pub if you’re doing karaoke, and so we were singing a song that had the word, “damn,” in it. And we’re singing the song, she sings the word damn and the guy cuts through the microphone, he says, “Famous or not, you’re not allowed to curse at Santa’s.” But then later that night, everyone ended up back at my apartment [and] she played me “Without Me.” And she was like, “I think I’m going to release this. What do you think?” And I was like, “Yeah, you probably should do that. It’s pretty good.” And that became the start of our friendship. It’s nice to be able to share a stage with someone that you have been in sweatpants with and that you can hang out, as well.