Kelsea Ballerini’s debut album was the sort of collection whose success seems foreordained only in hindsight. Released by an unproven independent label into a country landscape dominated by majors, The First Time was the product of an artist with only the slightest résumé, and its lead single, the winsome “Love Me Like You Mean It,” gained radio traction only slowly.
Though subject to its own evolutions, country was and is a genre where adherence to established song structures remains an article of faith. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. What the genre lost in innovation and national resonance it gained in internal coherence.
Still, the two are clearly different, and the difference between them lies in demeanor. Swift specialized in retribution, turning the tables in a romance after its end; Ballerini, fittingly enough on an album titled The First Time, zeroed in on love’s commencement in infatuation.