Kelsea Ballerini is the worst. At least Taylor Swift’s stupid little songs meant something to her and had something to say, which meant thay had enough weight to mean something to someone else. Kelsea Ballerini is the sound of superfluousness. She’s the frothy, vanilla whip floating on the top of a cappuccino. She’s a constant smile, always bubbly and amiable because that’s how conformed young women are supposed to be. There’s absolutely no pain or doubt in anything she does. She’s life seen through the rectangle screen of a smartphone with a sparkly pink cover that smells like strawberries. She’s the bridge between Radio Disney and young teen sex play with boys who learned how to be amateur rapists from Chase Rice songs.
“Dibs” has so much nothing that the background music to a Depends commercial is more compelling. I don’t even know how to describe this, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” in panties maybe? Kelsea says “boy” just as much as we bitch that the Bro-Country losers say “girl,” and she treats objects of affection like objects to call “dibs” on. “Make everybody jealous when I take you off the market, get my lipstick on your right cheek ’cause boy I got to mark it,” Ballerini says in this song. How is this not just as objectifying as the boys? It’s at least as insipid and trite. And of course “Dibs” includes a portion of the chorus where Kelsea does her best to rap with all the soul she attained growing up in her white flight neighborhood in Knoxville.
“Dibs” is already doing very well commercially, and looks to be on the same trajectory as Kelsea’s #1 song “Love Me Like You Mean It.” It only makes sense because sonically, they’re pretty much the same damn song. With all the talk about the value of music these days, rubber stamping out a song like “Dibs” does leagues more damage to monetization efforts than freemium streaming services do because it portrays music as valueless, expressionless, throwaway background noise. “Dibs” wouldn’t be worth the effort to steal. It’s here today, gone tomorrow.
But what bothers me the most about this song is how so commonplace it has become to see a song like this become a big success on country radio without any measurable clamor or concern about where this might be leading country music in the long-term. Kelsea Ballerini has no idea what country music is. At 22-years-old, she’s lived her entire life likely without hearing one authentic country song on the radio. To her, classic country is Taylor Swift. At least Florida Georgia Line knows who Hank Jr. and Alabama are.
Kelsea Ballerini will be headlining arenas before she’s old enough to rent a car. Taylor Swift could say the same thing, but she also spent years slagging it out in bars, on radio tours, and as an opener. I’m not saying Kelsea hasn’t worked hard, but all her efforts have gone into things like choreography and public relations coaching. Kelsea Ballerini is Black River Entertainment’s Taylor Swift. They want her to blow up and take the rest of the label with her just like Swift did for Big Machine. But Taylor Swift had to bust through doors as a teenage pop singer pretending to be country. For Kelsea Ballerini, she’s just waltzed right through them and right into a country pop coronation. And instead of being held back on country radio because she’s a woman, she’s become the token female add on everyone’s playlist.
Kelsea Ballerini seems like a sweet girl and I’m sure she smells great. She’s not to blame for any of this; she’s just the face of a really poor effort by a lot of people with dollar signs in their eyes. She has a couple of songs that actually say something, like “The First Time,” even though just like all of her songs, the production is lazy, formulaic, and terrible. Some will say “Dibs” is harmless, but that’s part of the problem. Music is supposed to make you bleed at times; it’s supposed to make you feel something. The only thing I feel from “Dibs” is sorrow for how far “country” music has slid.