How Kelsea Ballerini Brought Runway Style to the CMT Music Awards

Kelsea Ballerini is ready for her fashion moment. For country fans, the chart-topping 27-year-old singer

Kelsea Ballerini is ready for her fashion moment. For country fans, the chart-topping 27-year-old singer is a household name, but last night as she hosted the annual CMT Music Awards, Ballerini appealed to the catwalk crowd via daring outfits from designers like LaQuan Smith and Elie Saab. The playful palette of candy shades, chosen by Ballerini and stylist Molly Dickson, added to the evening’s spirited vibe and allowed the star to step outside her comfort zone. “We wanted to lean into bright pops of color to capture the summertime party-esque feel of the show,” shared Ballerini post-event. “Fashion is another creative outlet and way of expressing myself. The way I dress depends on the day and the mood I’m in—that’s the fun of it all.”

Playing emcee had Ballerini feeling exceptionally upbeat. The gig was a special opportunity to celebrate the talents of her peers and showcase another side of her persona. “Hosting lets me be a fan as well as an artist,” says Ballerini. “I get to do what I do, then wear a sick outfit to introduce amazing artists’ performances and stand side stage starry-eyed and pretend I’m still sixteen. I love nurturing that part of me and just being surrounded by the music I find inspiring.”

A longtime watcher of the CMTs, Ballerini found herself reminiscing while she was getting ready to hit the stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. “I grew up finding inspiration in videos on CMT and MTV,” she says. “Celebrating that art form and visual extension of music is exciting, [and] being a part of Nashville’s music community has been a warm hug. Hosting a show I grew up watching is a full-circle moment, something I will remember for a long time.” The event’s focus on the audience added to that feeling. “This is the only award show in country music that is voted on by the fans, so it feels special,” says Ballerini. “The farther I venture into my career, the more I realize how the relationship with the fans is everything.”

As a treat to her fanbase, Ballerini found time to debut a brand new song, ‘I Quit Drinking’ with LANY frontman Paul Klein. The pair performed the soulful ballad on a rooftop with Ballerini in an electric blue gown with metallic sparkle. Just one of the five looks she wore that evening, the star had fun keeping the audience at home on its toes by changing every other commercial break. “I love showing a range of different styles and textures in a one-night snapshot like this.” Ballerini’s switch from acid yellow Elie Saab pantsuits to barely there Raisa Vanessa minidresses, and a pastel sequin vintage number certainly kept things interesting. 

Though her outfits varied in silhouette and mood, each had a tactile element that kept things interesting. Ballerini’s most daring of the evening? A glossy patent LaQuan Smith catsuit that made her look like a futuristic Barbie. A true departure, Ballerini admits she’s never worn anything like it before. “It felt very 90s, and I always feel strong and sexy changing it up from a typical dress and going for a pants moment—especially when it’s hot pink.”

Much like the iconic crossover artists who eschewed old ideas about how a country star ought to dress, Ballerini doesn’t mind shaking things up. “[Nashville] is definitely a hub of western wear and Southern-inspired trends and tends to be more conservative,” she explains. “ I’ve always been influenced by women like Shania Twain that have pushed boundaries not only sonically, but also through their style.”