Kelsea Ballerini is learning to love the chaos in her life — and she’s showing fans that it’s okay to not have it together all the time.
Ahead of the release of her fourth studio album Subject to Change, Ballerini opened up to PEOPLE about the “beauty” and “messiness” in her soul searching that inspired the record.
“It’s really my post pandemic project. Like everyone else in the world, I was forced to sit in stillness and I’m not good at that,” the singer, 29, tells PEOPLE. “I like to be in full sprint all the time, working and playing shows and making records. And that wasn’t an option. In that time I kind of woke up and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not 19 anymore. That’s weird.’ And I have a lot of life to process and a lot of time to do it.”
She continues, “I think in that unraveling of all these beautiful, amazing experiences that I had gotten to have over the years in my career and my personal life … it really unlocked this honesty and more so than the honesty, the guts to go there in some ways. And I think that’s heard throughout the whole project.”
The album features 15 tracks, including her previously released singles “Heartfirst,” “The Little Things” and “Love Is a Cowboy.” In its entirety, the album is meant to take her listeners through a journey and make them “feel seen.”
“I really want there to be something for everyone, which I know that’s a cliché term, but if you’re just experiencing growing up and the beauty of that, there’s something for you. The messiness of that, there’s a lot for you,” she says. “If you’re experiencing love, there’s something for you. If you’re experiencing turmoil, there’s something for you and everything in between. It’s really a lot of self-discovery. And then within that, there’s a lot of juxtaposition of dark and light on the journey it takes you through.”
And even though each song was written with love and care, Ballerini is particularly excited about the first one she wrote for the album, titled “Marilyn” — which coincidentally drops on the same day Blonde premieres on Netflix.
“It was summer of 2020, and I just used her as a metaphor for someone who presents whimsy, is beautiful, confident and poised, but has a lot of layers going on,” the “I Quit Drinking” singer explains. “I just feel like as we all become internet famous and [are] in this weird state of the world, we all relate to that character a lot. I certainly do. And I really put my heart into that song. And it’s ironically to me, the only sad song on the record.”
Similarly, Ballerini — who recently filed for divorce from singer Morgan Evans — shared a vulnerable video on social media with her fans earlier this month. Recalling the post, the singer says she’s all about being transparent about all aspects of her life.
“I have just always felt like I want to show all the sides of my life, and sometimes that’s really complicated to do because I am a human that is trying to navigate a lot of stuff. And I am also going into a promo time where I’m promoting this record that I’m really proud of, but I’m also going through a lot,” she says.
She adds, “I just feel like it’s my responsibility as someone that people look to and little girls look up to to show all the sides of the human condition and all the sides of being a grown up, that experiences life as it happens. And I’m happy on days that I’m happy and I’m sad on days that I’m sad. And I just want to feel that as it comes.”
The main way she processes those feelings is through her songwriting — something she learned to do when she was 12 years old and her parents got a divorce.
“The catalyst for music for me was that divorce, and through every season of my life, and growing up in change and celebration and everything, it’s how I’ve processed my feelings. And I think this album is a true processing album.”
To celebrate the release, Ballerini will kick off her 10-night Heartfirst tour on Saturday in New York City — and she’s positive there’s no way she won’t burst into tears of joy. After making stops across major cities, the tour will wrap in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
Subject to Change is out now.