In 2023, country-pop standout Kelsea Ballerini surprise-released a six-song EP entitled Rolling Up the Welcome Mat centered around her very public divorce from Morgan Evans (ironic, since the EP was released on Valentine’s Day). This release was accompanied by a twenty-minute short film that depicted her experience song by song. On Aug. 1, 2023 she revealed to fans that she would be releasing an extended version of the EP, and on Aug. 11 Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good) hit all platforms. I don’t ordinarily consider myself a country music fan, but I was absolutely blown away by the nuance, lyricism and just plain talent Ballerini exhibited in the original EP and short film as well as the extended version.
Both releases start with “Mountain With A View,” in which a pondering Ballerini begins to recognize that she has outgrown her relationship with Evans. The song starts out slow, with spaced-out, thunderous beats serving as a representation of Ballerini’s awakening dissatisfaction. She alternates between powerful expressions of her thinned patience and more subdued declarations of her unhappiness, addressing Evans directly: “I’m wearin’ the ring still, but I think I’m lyin’ / Sometimes you forget yours, I think we’re done tryin’.” The visuals in chapter one of the short film complement these lyrics nicely, as they show Ballerini walking into a big, empty penthouse and accidentally dropping her keys on the welcome mat. She sits down at a large table, watching the cloudy sky through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and looks extraordinarily lonely, underscoring her perception of Evans’ absence in their relationship.
The second song on both the original EP and extended version is “Just Married,” a melancholy retelling of the couple’s fall from being in love to getting divorced. While the repeating somber melody is somewhat simple, this is essential in her emphasis of the multidimensionality of the phrase “Just Married.” She begins by reminiscing about the beginning of their marriage: “A fairytale start, crossing our hearts / Rode off in a car that said, “Just Married.” Throughout the song, however, this nostalgic quality gives way to Ballerini’s experience of falling out of love: “Yeah, it was love, it really was / Then it was just married.” Chapter two of the short film visualizes this, depicting Ballerini and a character meant to portray Evans in their kitchen. Ballerini is wearing a silky white wedding dress, embodying the hope and newness present at the start of her marriage. She is washing the dishes by the sink, and Evans’ character keeps handing her more and more dishes until finally she lets them fall to the ground and break, supposedly representing her breaking point in her relationship.
The original and extended versions of the EP diverge with the song “Penthouse.” Rolling Up the Welcome Mat includes a studio-recorded ballad iteration backed by confident piano. When compared to the newer version, it is especially clear how fresh the divorce was when it was recorded, and not only due to the way she manages to sound gracefully pained by the lyric “I kissed someone new last night / But now I don’t know where you’re sleeping, baby.” This is different from Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good)’s “Penthouse (Healed Version)” from a live show, where she maintains a rougher quality in her voice and demonstrates that she is moving on with the changed lyric: “I kissed someone new last night / And now I don’t care where you’re sleeping, baby.” The short film shows Ballerini and Evans’ character slow dancing in their penthouse, with Evans’ character only smiling when the paparazzi arrive, pointing to the toll being in a public relationship had and the facade they were forced to put up.
The twists on the two versions continue in further songs, the original EP features a 44-second interlude with R&B influences, revealing Ballerini’s thoughts in a more blatant way. The extended version of “Interlude” is longer, exposing even more of Ballerini’s thoughts in a particularly artful way, allowing Ballerini to share more of her side of the story and help set the record straight about her relationship.
“Blindsided,” perhaps one of the most popular songs from the album, is transformed into “Blindsided (Yeah, Sure, Okay)” in the extended EP. This song is beautiful in its directness, forcing Evans to look his complicity in the end of their relationship squarely in the eye. An entire verse has been added to the end of the song in response to Evans’ songs about their relationship: “Now you’re singing it loud on the radio, you couldn’t say it to my face / You would’ve searched the whole world over? Yeah, sure, okay / Now you’re singing it loud on the radio, like you’re the only heart that breaks / You would’ve searched the whole world over? Yeah, sure, okay.”
Rolling Up the Welcome Mat ends on “Leave Me Again,” a final farewell to Evans and her relationship with him. In the short film, Ballerini sits alone on the floor of an emptied-out closet, sending the best to Evans with simple, scaled-down production and honest, intimate lyrics. After spending the rest of the EP exploring her feelings and telling her truth, this is her way of sending a personal message to Evans while reinstating her own sense of self-worth in the aftermath of this divorce.
Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good) ends with a new song called “How Do I Do This,” a relatable, poppy song about being nervous to start over and be vulnerable again. “How Do I Do This” perfectly aligns with Ballerini’s vision for this extended EP; as she stated in a press release, “…we move on. The best part of Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good) is knowing I don’t need to talk about this stuff anymore. My whole life is ahead of me, so this expanded version is to let people know there’s real freedom in breaking down, in facing the emotions because it gets you to where your life can really shine.”
All parts of the Rolling Up the Welcome Mat project remind us of the fact that while there are multiple sides to every story, sometimes the most effective method of catharsis can be to tell our side, honestly and completely, and with the utmost vulnerability. Kelsea Ballerini has set an example for her fans in this way, and through her thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and artistry, has shown us that we all deserve the opportunity to move on and grow.
Sydney Levinton is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].