The country music star, 30, opened up in a cover story with TIME for their TIME100 Next series about inclusivity in the genre. In the interview published on Wednesday, the singer-songwriter explained what her vision is for the future of country and why she’s committed to using her platform.
“I wish I could change a lot of things,” Ballerini told the outlet when asked about divisions between progressive artists like her and recent controversies in the genre, like Jason Aldean’s viral, conservative song “Try That in a Small Town.”
While she insisted “one person” can’t speak for all of country music, she also added, “I am in control of standing in what I believe in — and being a kind, good person who works towards making the world a more heard, safe, and inclusive place in whatever capacity I can do.”
“I can just change myself and the community around me. And I am making sure that my intentions are good and pure,” the “Penthouse” artist continued.
The Grammy nominee explained what she hopes to see going forward. “It’s a process, and we’re undoing a way that, specifically, country music has done things forever,” she said. “It's making sure that we're giving a voice to new artists; we're giving a voice to unsigned artists who represent underrepresented groups in Nashville because they're not getting a chance to be signed.”
The “How Do I Do This” singer continued, “Nobody says people don't want to jam out to guys on the radio. I do. I also want to hear from women. Just as much, maybe more. I also want to hear from people of color, from the LGBTQ+ community. I want to hear all the voices we hear on pop radio on country radio.”
Earlier this year, the singer-songwriter hosted the CMT Awards and performed her song “If You Go Down (I'm Goin' Down Too)” with a group of drag queens to send a message about anti-drag legislation in Tennessee.
She also talked to TIME about the decision. “I realized that that would be a really good, important, loud, big stage to make that statement on,” Ballerini said.
Shortly after the performance, the “Half of My Hometown” artist also spoke to Entertainment Tonight about it. She said, “I love performance, and I love self-expression, and I love inclusivity."
Along with the cover story, fellow country star Shania Twain shared a statement to TIME about how much she admires Ballerini.
The “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” artist specifically referred to the way the rising star uses her platform. “At this year’s CMT Awards, she performed with a full troop of drag queens as her back-up dancers, which was fabulous,” Twain shared in a write-up. “She has a powerful sense of self in those moments: she knows exactly where her heart is, and she always leads with love and inclusivity.”
“She’s an old soul in many ways,” Twain also said. “She isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and really brave with her songwriting.”