The Nashville star dropped her third album, kelsea, on Friday

By Jeff Nelson
March 20, 2020 11:00 AM

Kelsea Ballerini’s new album is here — and all we have to say is, “Yeah, girl!”

“The first one was the handshake, the introduction; the second one was my chronological story; now we’re on a first-name basis, we’re friends at this point,” Ballerini, 26, says of her third LP, kelsea.

The Nashville star opened up to PEOPLE ahead of the release of kelsea. Here, Ballerini discusses her A-list collaborators and her influences behind some of the standout tracks on the genre-spanning set.

For more on Kelsea Ballerini, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

Kelsea Ballerini
Peggy Sirota

“Half of My Hometown,” feat. Kenny Chesney

“We’re both from Knoxville, Tennessee, which is why he’s on the song,” Ballerini says of teaming up with a childhood idol. “Growing up, he was the hometown hero. A couple of years ago I was about to play [in Times Square], and he took a photo of my face on the marquee, got my number, texted me and said, ‘Proud of you, hometown girl, love Kenny.’

Kenny Chesney
Rick Scuteri/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

“When I wrote ‘Half of My Hometown,’ I sent it to him because I think we grew up really similarly, and there’s no one else I’d want on this song — and I can’t believe he did it,” Ballerini adds.

“The Other Girl,” featuring Halsey

“I had never had a collaboration on my albums before. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I asked a lot of people, everyone said no,” she says. “And so I on this album was like, ‘I only want my friends to be a part of this. If it feels right, then I’ll ask a friend. But I don’t want to go out and try to get some crazy, amazing pop star that’s going to say no to me and make me feel like s— about myself.'”

Halsey and Kelsea Ballerini
Christopher Polk/Getty

Ballerini and pop star Halsey (real name: Ashley Frangipane) have been friends for a couple years; in fact, the first night they met, they bonded over beers and Dixie Chicks karaoke. And when Ballerini wrote “The Other Girl,” she knew Halsey had to be a part of it.

“I wrote this song as a duet and played it for her at her house,” Ballerini recalls. “She was able to relate to it: We’ve both been in relationships where we’ve been cheated on. It was so fun.”

“Needy”

Ballerini reveals that this track is about her marriage to fellow country singer-songwriter Morgan Evans, whom she wed in December 2018.

Morgan Evans and Kelsea Ballerini
Kelsea Ballerini/instagram

“I think as we’ve settled into marriage we’ve hit kind of the comfortable phase. I’m so independent by nature; I like to be able to be self-sufficient,” she says. “Now I’m finally like, ‘Needing someone else is not you being codependent.’ It’s a real vulnerability that I’ve had to get to, to allow myself to get there. But that’s why I love that song so much. It’s like, it’s also the windows-down song on the album; it feels like a breezy, sunny day — but the meaning of it is just saying like, ‘All right, my guard’s down. I need you.'”

RELATED: Kelsea Ballerini Opens Up About Social Anxiety, Insecurities: ‘I Don’t Know Where I Fit in the Celebrity Culture’

Ed Sheeran
Luca Piergiovanni/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“Love and Hate”

Ballerini teamed up with Ed Sheeran to co-write “Love and Hate.” Today she’s happily married to Evans, so she tapped into past heartbreak to inform the lyrics of this breakup tune.

“I was in a couple relationships, obviously, before I was married,” Ballerini says. “It brings a different perspective to other relationships that I’ve had, things that I haven’t thought of before, like love and hate.”

The singer adds: “I started therapy, and one of the things that she was saying to me is, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference.’ That was the inspiration. From a place of indifference now, I was able to identify the love and hate switch — so that was different perspective that I wasn’t able to write about before.”

Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“Bragger”

Ballerini was at a writing retreat in Florida when Nashville’s go-to hitmaker, Songland star Shane McAnally, came up with the idea for “Bragger” — which was inspired by, of all people, the Jonas Brothers and their hit “Sucker.”

“He was like, ‘Sucker! You hear the word on the radio, and it just cuts through because you’re like, ‘I know that word, but I never thought I’d love that word. Now I love that word,'” Ballerini recalls. “He was like, ‘Bragger’!”

As for who Ballerini is bragging about on the funky song?

“I do have a hot husband,” she quips.

“Club”

On this early release, Ballerini sings, “I don’t wanna go to the club.” So what’s a perfect night in for this happy homebody?

“I am kind of boring. I love having my friends over. We have a lot of nights where everyone brings a dish and we just kind of set up my table and just graze and play games — we get very competitive — and drink wine. That’s what I do with my life,” she says. “The two most-used words on this album are ‘home’ and ‘friends,’ which is very telling of where I’ve been in the last two years of trying to ground myself.”

“LA”

Ballerini says her insecurities — and social anxiety — informed this album closer.

“Part of it is I don’t know where I fit in the celebrity culture because [I think] I’m a D-list country singer and I find myself in a room with A-list people and I don’t know how to navigate it or how to talk to them,” Ballerini says. “It makes me go in my head.”

The singer adds she was worried, at first, about how fans would receive her more pop-leaning tracks.

Kelsea Ballerini
Peggy Sirota

“There are a lot of pop and country elements on this record. It made me scared; I was like, ‘If there’s as many beat drops as there are banjos on this album, are people going to think that I’m not a country artist anymore? Are they going to lose respect for me in this journey that I’ve built in Nashville?’” she says. “But I never will jump ship. I am rooted and I’ve built my foundation [in country], but I’m allowed as an artist and a musician to explore and create.”

Ballerini also compared the pros and cons that come with both Los Angeles and Nashville.

“L.A. has great sunshine consistently and great healthy food, and it’s a healthier lifestyle. It also messes with my head,” she says. “Nashville is comfortable and small and creative and covered in bacon grease, which I love. I love them both so much, but Nashville is forever where I’ll live. I could never live in L.A.”

Kelsea Ballerini‘s new album, kelsea, is out now.

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