Country star Kelsea Ballerini speaks about her move from Tennessee to California in her new single “la,” the third release off of her upcoming album, “Kelsea,” which comes out in March. This is her softest track in a while and one of her most introspective songs to date. She uses “la” to vent — to express any pent-up anxiety.
The first line of the song provides the hook and the title line: “I’ve got a love and hate relationship with LA.” Ballerini uses this track to describe these contradictory feelings. On one hand, she’s living in one of the most beloved cities in the country. On the other, LA is much larger than her hometown in Tennessee and populated with Hollywood’s elite. She continues, “When I’m lonely and I’m missin’ home / but other times I feel like my blood is runnin’ Cali.” She’s clearly torn between what she views as the two parts of her: her hometown of Knoxville and her new home of LA.
In the second verse, she continues with the pros and cons of each option. “I’ve got some famous friends that I could call / but I don’t know if I’m cool enough / and what’s worse than spendin’ time alone / is one of them not pickin’ up.” For every aspect of LA that she enjoys, there’s a catch. It’s not the perfect world movies make it out to be, but that doesn’t mean Ballerini doesn’t like it.
Moving on to the third verse, Ballerini continues discussing the social struggles of her new city: “I wonder if I’ll get invited to the party / Yeah and if I do, will I go?/ If I go, will I know somebody?” For her, it’s not enough to just be invited. No one wants to attend a party where they won’t know anyone, especially in an environment where it’s hard to break into friend groups.
The fourth verse captures her true feelings best — or maybe it’s just the verse that I can relate to the most. She sings, “But if I let down my hair in the ocean air / will Tennessee be mad at me?” Before coming to college, I had only lived in one place: same state, same county, same house. For college, I moved 1500 miles away from home to an environment unlike anything I had known before. I can’t help but wonder if my love of Boston means that I’m cheating on Florida. If I cheer for the Bruins over the Panthers, or the Celtics over the Heat, does this mean I’ve lost my roots? At what point do I stop considering Florida my home? Who knew that a college girl from Florida would be able to relate so much to country star Kelsea Ballerini?
Between the fourth verse and the fifth verse, there is an interlude. Just a simple “Yeah, ooh / Yeah, ooh,” but it lets the listeners absorb what they just heard. It reminds me of how Shakespeare would often throw in a joke or a light scene after a very intense moment to give the audience time to process everything.
The final verse ties together all of the fears she has been detailing in the previous verses. “Sometimes it feels like it’s all real but nothin’ here is as it seems / I ask myself does it feed my soul or my anxiety?” This is the beginning of her true introspective moment, where she really asks herself if her move was the right decision. Does LA enrich her life — feed her soul — or highlight her fears — feed her anxiety?
Ballerini finishes the verse with “Carpet’s red, ego’s fed, but it’s myself that I have to face/ I’ve got a love and hate relationship with LA.” The whole song, she’s been looking for an external cause for her problems. With this final line, she acknowledges that the problems she’s having aren’t caused by the city or even its people; instead they’re a result of the way she’s handling LA and the people she meets there. At the end of the song she comes to the conclusion that the only thing standing in the way of her happiness is herself.
What’s most interesting to me about this song is how Ballerini diverges from the traditional song format. Most songs have a verse, pre chorus and chorus, second verse, second chorus, bridge, chorus and outro. However, “la” only has verses and an outro. The only repeated line in the entire song is “I’ve got a love and hate relationship with LA.” In the fourth verse, the tune does change, implying a chorus, but Ballerini doesn’t repeat the melody. I’ve been a follower of Kelsea Ballerini for a long time now, and I’ve never heard her create a song structurally like this.
To complement the song, Ballerini released a music video for “la.” The video has no plot, but rather, shows a collection of home videos featuring the beauty of LA: Clips include gorgeous shots of flowers, fountains and beaches. It honestly reminds me most of that one scene from the old Disney Channel original movie, “Starstruck.” You know, the one where they’re walking around LA, doing all of the most tourist-y activities as a pop song blasts?
The video is a bold choice considering the song’s lyrics. While the lyrics focus on the ups and downs in her relationship with the city, the video portrays an idyllic version of it. I guess this does fit with the conclusion reached by the end of the song: LA is a wonderful city, but Kelsea Ballerini has some of her own issues to grapple with.
Ballerini’s new sound is very exciting though. Both of the other tracks that fans have heard from “Kelsea” have also been soft and slow. “Homecoming queen?” and “club” both discuss insecurities that she is working through. Fans have loved this relatable content; everyone feels insecure sometimes.
“La” is a great song, making me so excited for her upcoming album. I’m stoked for March 20 and the release of what must be a fantastic record.