For years, Kelsea Ballerini has been advocating for greater diversity in country music — look no further than her headline-making CMTs performance from earlier this year for proof. Now, in a new interview, Ballerini spelled out exactly what she means by that.
In an interview as a 2023 TIME100 Next honoree, Ballerini said that she wanted to see country music become a platform where all kinds of artists could find massive success. “It’s a process, and we’re undoing a way that, specifically, country music has done things forever,” she said. “It’s making sure that we’re giving a voice to new artists; we’re giving a voice to unsigned artists who represent underrepresented groups in Nashville because they’re not getting a chance to be signed.”
Continuing, Ballerini got more specific, pointing out that the communities finding themselves the least represented in country music deserve to be given a fair shot at stardom. “Nobody says people don’t want to jam out to guys on the radio. I do. I also want to hear from women. Just as much, maybe more,” she said. “I also want to hear from people of color, from the LGBTQ+ community. I want to hear all the voices we hear on pop radio on country radio.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Ballerini said that she was not comfortable speaking as the representative for all country artists. “One person cannot speak for everyone. That is true for country music,” she said. “I am in control of standing in what I believe in — and being a kind, good person who works towards making the world a more heard, safe, and inclusive place in whatever capacity I can do.”
Part of that aim to make the world better and more inclusive came during her aforementioned CMTs performance, when Ballerini brought a group of drag queens on stage with her to perform her song “If You Go Down,” and to protest ongoing legislative attacks against drag artists around the country. Speaking about it now, Ballerini said that if she had the opportunity, she would go back and do it again.
“I was not only hosting the CMT Awards, but I had a performance for a song of mine that is all about friendship and standing up for people that you love, and being ride-or-die for your people,” she said. “I realized that that would be a really good, important, loud, big stage to make that statement on, and CMT was all for it.”