‘Yeah Boy’: Why Kelsea Ballerini Is Country Radio’s Gutsiest Songwriter

Originally posted on Billboard.com written by

Kelsea Ballerini

“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” Tammy Wynette croons on the first line of her 1968 classic “Stand By Your Man.” In recent years that’s proven particularly true in commercial country, where a fairly anonymous army of beer-swilling dudes in plaid shirts have dominated the charts. The crest of so-called “bro-country” even earned seemingly infallible stars like Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton the dubious distinction of being the lettuce in the country “salad,” while the women are the tomatoes (far less plentiful, on purpose) — at least according to one guileless country radio exec, who recently used that ill-advised metaphor to explain the lack of women on his playlist.

But this past week, it’s been the women who are making the news. Kacey Musgraves, darling of blogs and mainstream country fans alike (how many artists can say they debuted their Redbook cover and did an in-store performance at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade the same day?) released her highly anticipated sophomore album Pageant Material to generally glowing reviews, and KelseaBallerini‘s very first single “Love Me Like You Mean It” hit the top of the Country Airplay chart. This is the first time a woman’s earned the top slot with her debut since 2006, when Carrie Underwood (who had just won American Idol) scored a hit with “Jesus Take The Wheel.” The last time a solo (indie, no less) female artist reigned? None other than a pre-crossover Taylor Swift, with “Ours” in 2012.

At first glance, the two artists seem to represent completely opposite visions of what being a woman in country means in 2015. Kelsea, with her long blonde hair and perma-cutoffs, could easily be the “Girl In A Country Song” recently described by Maddie & Tae in their tongue-in-cheek single. Her commercial appeal is matched by the textbook Nashville production on her debut album The First Time(released this May), a shiny veneer that almost (but not quite) disguises the depth of her songwriting talent. Kacey, on the other hand, has a nose stud, brown hair, and a decidedly “not like the rest” attitude — and it’s earned. Her standout songs about everything from friends with benefits to how small-town life can be a little rougher than the barbeques and bikinis made her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park one of 2013’s most acclaimed, across all genres. Though she’s not “Miss Congenial,” as she told Billboard, her songs are bright enough to bring her a mainstream audience as well as indie cred.

But they’re actually much more similar than first impressions would suggest — both got their start with songwriting deals in Nashville, precocious talents who wrote hits for other people before eventually proving they had the appeal to take the stage themselves. And Ballerini’s songs, even with their commercial bent, have the same level of depth and thoughtfulness that brought Musgraves to the forefront — depth that seems to, for Musgraves, fallen victim to the notorious sophomore slump.

“Oh hey,” Ballerini sings in the opening to “Love Me Like You Mean It” — “Boy with your hat back/Mmm I kind of like that/if you wanna walk my way.” This is “Call Me Maybe,” minus the hedging (no “this is crazy” here). Ballerini is reigning country radio with a song about being a young woman who’s openly expressing interest in a man — something that shouldn’t be a declaration of radical feminism, but kind of is, even in 2015. The song continues like a country version of the TLC classic “No Scrubs” — “I don’t have time to waste on the boys/That are playing the games/And leaving the girls crying out in the rain.” This is the genre’s much-needed pro-hollering/anti-asshole anthem.

Ballerini’s next single, “Dibs,” is another song about hitting on guys, which Ballerini seems to do almost effortlessly. Instead of seeming insane or desperate, which women who make the first move are often portrayed as, it’s a welcome addition to the country come-on canon. “Hey baby, what’s your status, and tell me are you tryna keep it?” she sings to some anonymous man, whom she sums up as tidily with her “blue jeans and ball cap” description as all those oft-lauded country heroines in cutoffs and sundresses. She is, more or less, Cam’ron on “Hey Ma.” “Yeah Boy” is yet another variation on the theme — “Yeah, boy, I wanna take a little ride with you/Yeah, boy, I wanna spend a little time with you/Yeah, boy, I wanna sip a little wine with you,” she asks with a wink. It’s not that she’s consciously rebelling against the status quo, it’s that she’s smoothly stepping over it with so much skill that no one’s the wiser. She’s not perturbed by the idea of approaching a man — why should you be?

Her frankness and honesty are rooted in country’s long tradition of storytelling, a tradition that she deftly adapts to both 21st century and timeless concerns. “First Time,” “Sirens,” and the album’s strongest track, a post-divorce lament called “Secondhand Smoke,” have powerful narratives and are sung with the kind of conviction that’s earning Ballerini comparisons to her biggest cosign yet: Taylor Swift.

Musgraves, by contrast, seems to have let Pageant Material get away from her. Stuffed full of poor knock-offs of songs she’s already written (the only “mind your own business” anthem anyone should be listening to is “The Trailer Song”) and smug odes to coupledom (there’s a reason being happily in love is a topic most songwriters avoid), the new album lacks the bite of her earlier work. She commented during her Bonnaroo performance that the lead single “Biscuits” had been “pulled from radio” — considering the song’s fairly innocuous (if chiding) content, it seems unlikely to have been a moral issue.

Her laidback vibe, a strength in the consistently overwrought realm of Nashville, turns laissez-faire with didactic tracks that rely on dusty cliches, but shy from giving them any real-world context. All that on top of the fact that Musgraves insisting she’s not “pageant material” is about as believable as Beyoncé saying “pretty hurts.” “Die Fun,” “Dime Store Cowgirl” and her duet with Willie Nelson (which he wrote) “Are You Sure” show her spark — which will hopefully be brighter on her next release.

The very fact that there are two such incredible women leading the country discussion (maybe for just a week, but even so) is ultimately a sign of the genre’s vitality, and that it deserves more credit than the broader music community has been giving it. Kacey isn’t an anomaly, she’s one talented artist out of many — so it’s probably time to stop treating her like one.

Best of the BET Awards 2015

Last night, (June 28), the BET awards celebrated its 20th anniversary.  The night was full of reunions and tributes making for some very interesting and amazing moments. Watch the best performances below.

Kendrick Lamar — Alright
Smokey Robinson Tribute Feat. Tori Kelly, Robin Thicke and Ne-Yo
Empire Cast

Continue reading

27 Songs That Fueled Your Teenage Rebellion

Originally posted on BuzzFeed

1. Marilyn Manson – “The Dope Show”

youtube.com / Via Nothing/Interscope

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Hanging out at the mall on a Saturday trying to shock as many families as you can with your massive, reflective baggy pants, long black hair and oversized Orange Julius cup.

2. Rage Against The Machine – “Killing In The Name”

youtube.com / Via Epic

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Telling the man, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” before buying a $200 ticket to see Rage at Lollapalooza.

3. Limp Bizkit – “Break Stuff”

youtube.com / Via Flip/Interscope

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Walking into your local Wal-Mart and threatening to break stuff.

4. Public Enemy – “Fight The Power”

youtube.com / Via Def Jam/Columbia

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Fighting the power by wearing an oversized clock around your neck to gym class.

5. The Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the U.K.”

youtube.com / Via Virgin

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Writing “Anarchy in the U.K.” on your Trapper Keeper despite never actually visiting the U.K.

6. Korn – “Falling Away From Me”

youtube.com / Via Immortal, Epic

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Complaining to the school administration that you were being discriminated against because the marching band wouldn’t let you play bagpipes.

7. Tool – “Schism”

youtube.com / Via Volcano Entertainment

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Taking “interesting” black-and-white photos of bugs with your mom’s digital camera.

8. The Prodigy – “Firestarter”

youtube.com / Via XL/Maverick

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Upsetting your parents by threatening to go to a rave.

9. N.W.A. – “Fuck Tha Police”

youtube.com / Via Ruthless

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Considering yelling “fuck the police” at your school lunchroom police officer, but deciding against it.

10. Slipknot – “Duality”

youtube.com / Via Roadrunner

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Knocking over a trash can for no reason in particular. Bonus points if the trash can is located somewhere in Iowa.

11. Rancid – “Ruby Soho”

youtube.com / Via Epitaph

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Affixing an unnecessay safety pin to your clothing.

12. DMX – “What My Name”

youtube.com / Via Ruff Ryders/Def Jam

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Begging your parents for a pitbull puppy so you could name it “Mimi.”

13. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem”

youtube.com / Via Epic/Daylight

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Quitting the school basketball team because it was full of “conformists.” (Also, you didn’t make the cut.)

14. Cannibal Corpse – “Hammer Smashed Face”

youtube.com / Via Metal Blade

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Looking up naughty words in the dictionary.

15. Eminem – “The Way I Am”

youtube.com / Via Aftermath, Interscope, Shady

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Swearing at your parents for the first time.

16. NOFX – “The Separation of Church and Skate”

youtube.com / Via Epitaph

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Reminding your friends that George W. Bush wasn’t your president, despite you not being of legal voting age.

17. Bad Religion – “American Jesus”

youtube.com / Via Atlantic

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Announcing to your family that you wouldn’t be going to church this Sunday.

18. Anti-Flag – “Turncoat”

youtube.com / Via Fat Wreck Chords

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Interrupting Thanksgiving dinner to give statistics about pollution.

19. Rise Against – “Give It All”

youtube.com / Via Geffen

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Refusing to partake in the class field trip to the zoo because the animals are likely very unhappy.

20. Evanescence – “Bring Me to Life”

youtube.com / Via Wind-up/Epic

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Writing a damning LiveJournal screed about your teacher’s unfair treatment toward you because of your lack of conformity.

21. Deftones – “Change (In the House of Flies)”

youtube.com / Via Maverick

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Whittling down your wardrobe to exclusively black t-shirts.

22. Fiona Apple – “Criminal”

youtube.com / Via Clean Slate / Epic

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Using your graduation speech as an opportunity to remind the gathered parents, teachers and students that, “The world is bullshit.”

23. Rammestein – “Du Hast”

youtube.com / Via Motor Music

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Telling people you know “some” German in order to freak them out. (It doesn’t work.)

24. Tori Amos – “Cornflake Girl”

youtube.com / Via Atlantic

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Really bringing down the mood in your creative writing class.

25. Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”

youtube.com / Via Nothing/Interscope

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Pulling the school fire alarm so you and your girlfriend can go make out in the parking lot.

26. The Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”

youtube.com / Via Virgin

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Starting a rock band with your friends, then kicking all of your friends out of the band and and replacing them with yourself

27. Green Day – “Longview”

youtube.com / Via Warner/Reprise

Ideal Rebellion Scenario: Skipping the pep rally to go smoke weed in the faculty parking lot instead.

Jenny Lewis Revisits Her Childhood Acting Days in “She’s Not Me”

Jenny Lewis’ fantastic new video for “She’s Not Me” does an amazing job spoofing Lewis’ previous life as a child actor. The video starts with Lewis in jail and the headline: “Former Child Actor Arrested.” Then we see Lewis and friends recreate her most infamous roles. Said friends are Fred Armisen, Feist, Saturday Night Live‘s Vanessa Bayer, Girls‘ Zosia Mamet, and Leo Fitzpatrick (Kids, Bully, Storytelling).

“She’s Not Me” is taken from Lewis’ 2014 album The Voyager.

Kelly Clarkson Slays Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’

Kelly Clarkson can sing anything. The Original American Idol effortlessly showed talent on Rihanna’s on Rih’s latest anthem, “Bi**ch Better Have My Money.”

On this weeks’ (June 3) BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge, Clarkson SLAYED the cover, with the help of two backup singers.

On the way to the studio, Clarkson teased fans with an Instagram video, which she captioned, “On the way to @BBCR1 to record my #LiveLounge!! So excited for this! Here’s a hint of my cover song choice. 😉 #ballinonabudget.”

63 Songs You Need In Your Life This Month

Originally posted on BuzzFeed

Def Jam

1. British singer-songwriter ROMANS’ soulful, euphoric “Uh Huh.”
2. Little Mix’s unapologetically bubblegum “Black Magic.”
3. Hit-Boy’s woozy twilight anthem “Go All Night (ft. Travis Scott).”
4. Reggae meets pop-punk on Twenty One Pilots’ genre-bending “Ride.”
5. Country singer Kelsea Ballerini picks up where Taylor Swift left off on the twangy “Xo.”
6. Years & Years continue to rule the dance floor with the effervescent “Shine.”
7. French-Canadian singer Cœur de pirate gets an assist from Peter Bjorn and John’s Björn Yttling on “Carry On.”
8. Synthpop trio Wet’s breathy, delicate “Deadwater.”
9. Bebe Rexha’s bittersweet EDM ballad “Sweet Beginnings.”
10. Major Lazer’s latest synth-heavy dance-hall banger, “Too Original (ft. Elliphant and Jovi Rockwell).”
11. Willow Smith continues her alt-R&B experimentations on “WEEPINGWILOUGH/LETSGOTOMECCA (ft. Mecca Kalani).”
12. Grunge queen Courtney Love returns to her roots on the snarling “Miss Narcissist.”
13. Ascendant grime star Jammz’s hard-hitting “Final Warning.”
14. ASAP Rocky’s wobbly, intoxicating ode to psychedelics, “L$D.”

A$AP MOB WORLDWIDE

15. Tori Kelly’s good-girl sass is front and center on the ’90s-esque “Unbreakable Smile.”
16. Long Beach native Vince Staples’ sparse, ominous “Señorita.”
17. Sage the Gemini’s sultry, pulsating “Good Thing (ft. Nick Jonas).”
18. Tink pays homage to R&B goddess Aaliyah on “Million.”
19. London-based rapper Tinie Tempah’s joyful Jess Glynne collab, “Not Letting Go.”
20. Albert Hammond Jr.’s breezy, guitar-driven “Born Slippy.”
21. British electro outfit’s Hot Chip sneaker-inspired meditation on the passage of time, “Huarache Lights.”
22. Luke Bryan makes a bid for pop radio with his latest tailgate anthem, “Kick the Dust Up.”
23. Paul Thomas Zito’s spacey, NASA-sampling “Cosmonaut (ft. Phil Jacoby).”
24. Rita Ora’s “Poison” is a deceptively sweet track about the appeals of toxic relationships.
25. U.K. producer Hudson Mohawke’s relentlessly bright party-starter, “Scud Books.”
26. Country star Jake Owen’s quirky, Sugar Ray–inspired “Real Life.”
27. “Cerulean,” a slow, seductive bit of alt-R&B from U.K. producer Maths Time Joy.
28. The rollicking, stream-of-consciousness ramblings of Courtney Barnett’s “Dead Fox.”

63 Songs You Need In Your Life This Month

milkrecordsmelbourne

29. EDM wunderkind Zedd teams up with YouTuber turned pop star Troye Sivan on this ambitious, seven-minute epic “Papercut.”
30. Alex Winston’s charging pop anthem “Careless.”
31. Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) [ft. Young Thug and Popcaan]” sounds like its inspiration: a summer drive over the Williamsburg bridge soundtracked by New York hip-hop station Hot 97.
32. Swedish pop rapper Elliphant’s glossy, genre-defying single “Love Me Badder.”
33. Kopecky’s dance floor-ready “Talk to Me.”
34. Singer Grace combines classic, Adele-style vocals with Rihanna’s bad-girl swagger on the swooning “Feel Your Love.”
35. Hitmaker Ester Dean finally has a smash of her own with the irresistibly catchy “Crazy Youngsters.”
36. “All I Need,” a soaring devotional from über-producer The-Dream.
37. Icona Pop’s shout-sing over a trumpet sample on the feverish “Emergency.”
38. Twenty-three-year-old Hunter Hayes gets nostalgic for the recent past on the summery “21.”
39. Rationale’s lush, unpredictable “Re.Up.”
40. Disclosure’s soulful, house-inspired “Holding On (ft. Gregory Porter).”
41. Romantic uncertainty has never sounded more appealing than on Flor’s “Unsaid.”
42. The dreamy, lo-fi “I Can’t Explain” from West Palm Beach–based rockersSurfer Blood.

Surfer Blood

43. Rudimental’s subdued drum-and-bass single “Never Let You Go.”
44. Waterbed’s warped, bubblegum-y “Do2Me.”
45. Montreal-based quartet No Joy’s genuinely sad shoe-gazer “Moon in My Mouth.”
46. Fight Like Apes’ arch take on the everyday, “Pop Itch.”
47. Moresounds’ skittering “Dead and Bury (ft. Fracture).”
48. The distorted funk rock of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s “Ur Life One Night.”
49. “Darker,” a mournful ballad from the electric, genre-defying Shamir.
50. Destroyer’s bombastic, saxophone-heavy “Dream Lover.”
51. Multihyphenate Lane Moore falls head over heels on It Was Romance’s boisterous “Philadelphia.”
52. Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval’s fragile, incisive “That Battle Is Over.”
53. New Jersey punk rockers Titus Andronicus’ howling comeback single, “Dimed Out.”
54. The Mynabirds’ melancholy synthpop stunner, “Semantics.”
55. Danish singer-songwriter Kwamie Liv’s fiery, slow-burning “Higher.”
56. Indie rockers PHASES’ infectiously upbeat “I’m in Love With My Life.”

PHASES

57. Patrick Watson’s shimmery, spaced out “Places You Will Go.”
58. R&B godess Lianne La Havas’ gravity-defying love song, “Unstoppable.”
59. Allen Stone’s funky, irresistible “Upside.”
60. Anti-Flag’s riotous “Brandenburg Gate (ft. Tim Armstrong).”
61. The Civil Wars’ Joy Williams wrestles with regret on the plaintive “What a Good Woman Does.”
62. The Weeknd continues to make the most out of his menacing midnight confessions on “The Hills.”
63. Alessia Cara defiant anti-party anthem, “Here.”