Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It” made her the first solo female country singer to have her debut single hit Number One since Carrie Underwood did with “Jesus Take the Wheel” in 2006. More than that, she was only the 11th solo female artist in country history to do so.
Fittingly, Ballerini was honored with Billboard‘s Rising Star award at the Women in Music Event, held in New York on December 11th and broadcast on Lifetime December 18th. Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott presented her with the trophy.
“Before I was an artist, I was a fan,” recalled Ballerini, dressed in a textured navy and white cocktail dress. “I stood in line to meet Hillary and I stood in line to meet Taylor Swift and I remember going to Walmart to buy [Lady Gaga’s] Born this Way record. I learned — by watching strong, empowering bold women — how to become one.”
Immediately after her speech, Ballerini was positioning her in-ear monitors for a performance of “Love Me Like You Mean It” and telling the crowd, “I think I get to sing for you now.” Backed by a skeleton crew of two acoustic guitarists and a percussionist, Ballerini’s confidence as a singer was quite evident as was the melodic polish of her songwriting.
Other honorees at the Women in Music event included Woman of the Year Lady Gaga, Chart Topper Selena Gomez and Trailblazer Lana Del Ray.
Ballerini’s follow-up single “Dibs” (from the album The First Time) will end 2015 just outside the Top 10 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. In February 2016, she will appear as the special guest on a handful of Billy Currington’s Summer Forever tour dates.