Per Ballerini, the Sheeran session for Kelsea involved “the stars aligning and my ass getting on a red-eye."

By Marcus Jones
March 20, 2020 at 10:30 AM EDT
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Kelsea Ballerini has already had many of what she likes to call "mountaintop moments," from having her first three singles go No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart to being a special guest coach on NBC's The Voice.

Her latest highlight? Nabbing big-name features on her new album Kelsea. Ballerini had collaborated with other artists before, like The Chainsmokers and her husband Morgan Evans, but her previous records The First Time and Unapologetically had her singing all by her lonesome. "I never want to do a collaboration on one of my projects unless it's someone that I really love and admire," she tells EW. "I never want to do it just because the person has a hit."

But for Kelsea, Ballerini found the right collaborators in one of her pop peers and one of her country idols, which helped elevate "two of my favorite songs on the record." She jokes she finally feels like she's "growing up." Read on to see how the 26-year-old star recruited Halsey and Kenny Chesney, plus how she ended up co-writing a ballad with superstar singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.

Ed Sheeran

The pairing of the duo for the ballad “Love and Hate,” co-written by the “Perfect” singer, involves “the stars aligning and my ass getting on a red-eye,” she tells EW. When collaborator Ross Copperman messaged that the Brit was in Nashville, Ballerini sacrificed her one day of rest in between a TV shoot and her tour to book it from L.A. to Tennessee for a writing session. She pitched Sheeran the hook, then sat awestruck when he said, “‘Oh, I love that, but what if that was the verse, and we write something even better for the chorus,’ and the chorus just fell out of his mouth.”

Halsey

“The Other Girl” — her duet with the “Without Me” singer — is, she jokes, both “the country ‘The Boy Is Mine’ and the pop ‘Does He Love You.’” “The song was written around the idea of [collaborating] with her, with a story that I know that we both relate to,” says the 26-year-old, who wrote the track on her tour bus. Ballerini notes that Halsey is “a prolific, wonderful songwriter,” so it was a big deal to her that she “respected me enough to tell the story...and didn’t change any of the lyrics.” The pair will perform the song live together for the first time on their episode of CMT Crossroads airing March 25 at 10p.m. ET.

Kenny Chesney

The first time Ballerini connected with the country icon was when he texted her “Proud of you, hometown girl. Love, Kenny,” along with a photo of her name on a marquee in Times Square. So who better to guest on the song “Half of My Hometown” than her fellow Knoxvillian, who would understand the track's theme of “having a major respect for your hometown, and the people that stay there, but also having a major respect for the people that don't”? Though it did take some prodding from Copperman and co-writer Shane McAnally for the collaboration to actually happen. “They both said, ‘It sounds like his story. It sounds like everything we know about him. Just send it to him, the worst he can say is no.’”

To read more from the April issue of Entertainment Weekly, pick up a copy beginning on Tuesday, March 17, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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