"I think I could fit my whole band in there," says Kelsea Ballerini, raising her eyes towards Europe's largest glitter ball, which is suspended from the ceiling of a hotel in central London.
"Think about it: We could roll from show to show like hamsters."
The country star is sizing up the mirrored monstrosity just an hour before she performs directly beneath it for fans and the press.
Although it's an acoustic set, the breadth of Ballerini's songwriting is apparent: the 26-year-old, who's the only female artist to have topped the US country charts with her first three singles, mixes the Nashville twang of Peter Pan with the crossover pop of Miss Me More and the syncopated strut of her Chainsmokers collaboration This Feeling.
But the highlight is her new single Homecoming Queen - a simple, heartfelt ballad about facing up to low self-esteem.
In the song's video, Ballerini is seen walking off stage full of confidence, her ears ringing from the applause of the crowd - but as the music swells, her high heels and hair extensions fade away until she is left alone in a darkened room, silently sobbing.
"I was just in this abyss," she says, recalling how the video shoot brought back the feelings of "loneliness and anxiety" she'd poured into the lyrics last year.
The single is the first taste of the star's eagerly-anticipated third album, due early next year. And, just before she played BBC Radio 2's Hyde Park festival, Ballerini talked about the making of the record, being inducted to the Grand Old Opry at the tender age of 25, and the time Beyoncé's sister stole her luggage.
Homecoming Queen is the first taste of the new album. What stage are you at with that?
We have 10 songs done, hundreds written, and we're trying to figure what other colours and textures we need. There's a song with horns, a song with a string quartet, two collaborations that are polar opposites, musically. I'm just having fun.
Lyrically, your last album covered two years, from a horrible break-up to getting married. Is this the next chapter?
It's not. This time, I took the pressure off having a concept and just let myself write. And I wrote like crazy. I wrote more country than I've ever written and more pop than I've ever written. We put the saddest song out first.
You were inducted to the Grand Old Opry earlier this year - at quite an early stage of your career, if I'm right?
I know, I didn't expect it to happen so soon.
How did it come about?
It actually happened on stage. I was playing the Opry the same night as a Little Big Town, and they texted me and said, "Hey, do you want to sing Girl Crush with us?"
But when they brought me out, they sang in four part harmony, "Kelsea, do you want to join the Opry?" and I just sobbed. It's a running theme.
You were inducted by your idol, Carrie Underwood. What was it like to perform with her on that stage?
The coolest part wasn't even anything that people saw. I was rehearsing backstage with Carrie, facing each other with our lyric sheets and working out who's singing what, when all of a sudden we hear a third harmony come in. It turned out Keith Urban had been roaming the halls of the Opry and he just walked in the room, singing.
To me, that was the moment, because it was like, "This is what it means: You're part of this family forever."
You recently wrote on Twitter that you'd decided to "care more about the meal than the bloat". Have you stuck to that?
Yeah. That's why there's a treadmill: Just run it off. It's fine!
Actually, I'm not a treadmill person, I don't know why I said that. I love cycle class, though.
I don't like spin classes because the music puts me off. I prefer to listen to podcasts if I'm at the gym.
Have you listened to Crime Junkie? Oh my gosh, it's so good. I can't watch CSI because I'm such a chicken but Crime Junkie, for some reason, is my obsession. What do you listen to?
Do you know Song Exploder? There's an incredible episode where Solange picks apart the recording of Cranes In The Sky.
Oh, I have a really funny Solange story! She'd been in Tennessee to play the Bonnaroo festival and we were on the same flight to LA, when she accidentally took my bag. We literally had to hunt her down through, like, 70 people before we got it back.
So basically, Solange stole my backpack.
If she'd ended up in your wardrobe, what would she have been wearing?
I was going to LA for one of the collaborations on my album, so I was trying to look cute because I wanted to take photos while we were recording the vocals. But I was also trying to look casual, 'cause I didn't want to look like I was trying too hard. So I had a giant neon sweater and jean shorts and cowgirl boots. Solange would have rocked it.
Kelsea Ballerini has managed to have a couple No. 1 hits at radio over the last few years, including her recent "Miss Me More," which she knows is unfortunately an anomaly in country music. The Tennessee native emerged at a time when "bro country" was reigning at radio, an era that, by its very nature, excluded many female artists from being heard. While that season is, hopefully, coming to an end, Ballerini is opening up about that trend, and the frustration it has caused for her and others.
"I've always said, when people refer to bro country, that was kind of the season where women were more off the radio," Ballerini shared with PopCulture.com and other media."They were starting to be more off the radio. To me, the best way I can describe it from my perspective – and I say this having been embraced by radio, so I'm not shaming them at all – but I think that with any trend, which it was, and it was working so well, you can't have a female bro country.
"That just doesn't make sense," she continued. "The trend was working and all of these people were adding to it that were men and it was taking off, and it was really happening and working, and females just can't do bro country. It's bro country. I think that was the beginning of people loving a type of music that just excluded women."
Ballerini was one of a handful of female artists who managed to break through, which she says makes their music much more unique, and hopefully inspires other rising stars like she was a few years ago.
"I think the women that have cut through, myself and Maren [Morris] and Carly [Pearce] and Runaway June ... it's really identifiable," Ballerini noted. "If you listen to us all back to back, you know exactly who's singing what. And I think that while there is still an issue and a lack of females, it's making us all sharper. I think you're seeing a lot of the new females that are coming through like Tenille Townes. She's so identifiable and so sharpened, and I think that's a beautiful thing coming out of something that's pretty frustrating."
When Kelsea Ballerini and Halsey took the stage together to perform each other's hits for CMT Crossroads, we knew magic would happen. But we had no idea how well their voices would blend on Ballerini's current single, "homecoming queen?," which Halsey admits she wishes she had written herself.
"If there is any song that I wish that I wrote, it is 'homecoming queen?' by Kelsea Ballerini," Halsey shared from stage before the song began.
"Homecoming queen?" is from Ballerini's upcoming third album, Kelsea, scheduled to be released on March 20.
"I think a lot of people do self-titled as the first album," Ballerini told Zane Lowe for Apple's Beats 1. It didn't feel right to me yet. I just feel like writing every song on it, co-producing it, really getting more self-aware on this album, talking about things I haven't talked about before –– it felt like a first-name basis album. It felt like the one that was like, 'Hey, you do know me, but here's really how it is."
Ballerini and Halsey were already friends, thanks to a chance encounter a couple of years ago, when Halsey was performing in Nashville.
“I had met her before, but we’d never really hung out,” Ballerini told PEOPLE in 2018. “I’m obviously a really big fan of her music, so I went to the show with my friends and afterwards said hi, and she didn’t have a show the next day, so she was like, ‘Let’s go hang!’ And I was like, ‘Yep!'”