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Meet the singer Taylor Swift calls 'little sis'

Meet the singer Taylor Swift calls 'little sis'
From BBC - November 1, 2017

Earlier this year, Kelsea Ballerini got to go to the Grammys for the first time.

The 24-year-old was up for best new artist, and scheduled to perform with Lukas Graham - but she was still a little star-struck.

"My mum was my date - and we were both sitting there fan-girling like, 'Oh my God, that's Adele! Do not look! Do not look!'"

Ballerini, it turns out, is not the sort of person who keeps her cool when she meets an idol.

"The first time I met Carrie Underwood was at the Opry, before I had a record deal," she recalls.

"I was waiting backstage with a bunch of people to say hello and finally it was my turn.

"I was going to say something normal - but then I saw her and went "Girl! You got so much sooouul!".

"Of all the things I could have said, that's what I chose," she grimaces. "It was very weird."

Awkward celebrity encounters aside, Ballerini has been living in a fairytale for the last few years.

She released her debut album, The First Time, in 2015 and watched its first three singles go to number one on Billboard's country airplay chart - an historic achievement for a female artist.

The bubbly, vivacious melodies and autobiographical lyrics of Love Me Like You Mean It and Peter Pan won comparisons to Taylor Swift, who quickly befriended the artist (she calls Ballerini her "little sis") and invited her onto her 1989 world tour.

That led to her Grammy appearance and, at next week's Country Music Association Awards, a nomination for female artist of the year.

All told, it's turned out pretty well for someone who was shunned by the establishment when she first arrived in Nashville.

"I could not get into a room with a hit writer to save my life," she recalls of making her first album.

"I was a new girl, on an independent label and those were two strikes against me. No-one would write with me."

It turned out to be a blessing. Left to her own devices, Ballerini, whose first concert was Britney Spears, channelled her love of pop and R&B into the album, giving her songs a vitality and immediacy that's sometimes missing from traditional country.

The star's co-producer, Forest Glen Whitehead, even refers to her as a "country Beyonce".

"I grew up on a farm in Eastern Tennessee and country is where my roots are," explains the singer, "but I listen to rap and I listen to R&B and I love pop.

"I have always been open about that because, as a songwriter, I always want to make sure that I am trying new things."

Despite the strength of her singles, Ballerini still faced an uphill struggle in the insular world of country.

Her debut came out in the midst of what's been called "tomato-gate", where radio consultant Keith Hill advised stations not to play too many songs by women and not to play two women back to back.

"If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out," he told trade publication Country Radio Aircheck. "They are just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."

Like many others, Ballerini was perplexed by his comments.

"When you think of country music history obviously you have George Jones, Garth Brooks, George Strait - all these iconic males. But you cannot talk about the history of country music without Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain. I mean some of the biggest artists in country music history are female."

No more love songs?

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