Upon walking into your friend’s house, it’s not the doorknob that your fingers brush first or the smudged corner window that captures your gaze, nor is it seeing if a mesh of tangled curls unfurls around your peripheral. Rather it’s the welcome mat that your feet linger on. Maybe it’s decorated with flowers. It could even have a lyric. But either way, it lets you know that there’s a space for you. Perhaps for that reason, Kelsea Ballerini naming her EP and first written/directed short film Rolling Up the Welcome Mat gives the visceral reaction that the memories flooding its four walls are no longer of a positive nature.
In fact, it’s laced with divorce and the blooming of a newly found independence that comes with walking away from the fairytale ideas and accepting that, in the end, you only truly have yourself, and that’s enough. However, we won’t speak for Kelsea. We’ll instead let her grab the microphone as she prepares for three American pitstops that will act as screenings of the short film. They’ll take place in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York during the month of August (we’ll be spilling all of the deets later on!) centered around fans.
Every step of this Rolling Up The Welcome Mat chapter has been a new experience, which you helped make feel not scary by being alongside me every step. Now, I need to move on now – and maybe you do, too – but before we do, these three events are all about being in one space, together, sharing all of it.
California House Tour
Suppose the housing metaphors didn’t completely go over your head already. In that case, there’s something to be said about Kelsea’s ability to paint a contrast between a fracturing relationship and the molding of a house that should’ve been its long-term home. Particularly in the short film, like we’re taking a dysfunctional house tour around her Californian crib, Kelsea guides us to an individual room that captures the essence of the song she’s decided to deliver there. We wanted to delve more into this, speaking of the relevance of the room itself during a relationship and the poetic symbolism she has beautifully portrayed.
The Living Room
The living room could perhaps feel impersonal, it’s an open space for one, having any visitor be able to walk through it, but within it, there’s also the scattering of sentimental objects. There are frames with photographs once taken lining vanities, your favorite movies that you’ve watched together billions of times kept in cabinets. While you could find yourself on one side of the couch and them on the other, there’s also the intimate dance of sneaking closer together until their hand wraps around your shoulder. It shows that your relationship is loud and lively, but it also creeps on the borders of outside views.
Something which Kelsea captures perfectly for chapter three of Rolling Up the Welcome Mat: ‘Penthouse.’ It starts with him waiting for her on the couch, her taking his hand when she walks into the frame, only to start slow dancing together. What’s compelling here is that both of them break the fourth dimension in some manner. Kelsea looks directly at us, narrating as well as confessing her side of the story. Whereas when the outside starts flashing to represent the paparazzi, he puts on a show, making the public believe they have the perfect relationship, snuggling more into her with this smug grin. She’s none the wiser to it, her eyes are closed, but she’s still slow dancing with him, unable to see his facial expressions.
She puts on her forced smile when she pulls away for the dance to end. So perhaps there was a mutualness between them playing parts? Speaking of playing, the board game Life has its moment with the career card showing, and this contextual knowledge to know when Kelsea is solo in front of the glass, aka paparazzi, being successful by herself. He notices and then quickly shows up beside her. It is a point of contention and perhaps some toxic competition.
It sounds pretty straightforward, but if we were to list the most favorable rooms in a house to least depending on one’s intimate relationship, then the bedroom would be at the top! Yep, your imagination is going to that place first (and we don’t technically blame you.) Still, it’s also one of connectivity through other ways, such as accidentally sharing toothbrushes through the moonlit hours; while you should be drifting off into endless zs, the conversations you need to have been given airtime. There may be escaping each other through hanging in different rooms or even sleeping on the couch for a night or two, but it’s there in the bedroom where you can genuinely sense each other’s energies.
It’s then interesting how Kelsea chooses the bedroom to portray ‘Blindsided,’ a song about how it’s so apparent to see the signs of a dying relationship, no? This clip starts with Kelsea creeping into bed while her partner is fast asleep. He’s coiled into himself, having his back to her, giving her no invitation to snuggle into him. The light remains on, indicating that the signs are always in sight. She even breaks the fourth wall, looking at us through the camera’s gaze, as if if we looked closer or backtracked on the timeline of their relationship, we’d be able to see the cracks too.
During the second verse, they switch positions, she turns to the right-hand side, and he becomes more open to her, showing that they were at least trying, but there’s never an embrace. Kelsea even uses atmospheric sound, the backing track dying out, to spotlight a fight between the two. Their intimacy is lost, from an attraction standpoint and communication-wise.
There’s such a definitive start and end for the closet per a relationship. Say, if you move out of the home to be with your partner, they start in your childhood room’s drawers, a progressive mesh between your earlier years and your later ones. When the relationship fizzles out, those same clothes end up in boxes scrawled with your name, sticky taped, and ready to become yours again. Because remember the middle? Yeah? It’s messier. It’s in stealing your favorite shirts of theirs, wondering if they’ll fit, and sneakily adjusting them if they don’t. Then somehow, what was once their draw and yours becomes mangled, bearing no separation, but acting as an “ours.”
Kelsea choosing ‘Leave Me Again’ to be played in the closet shows the transition between that middle and the end, and outside of the short film itself (because hold on a sec!), it becomes even so when she uses its association for the line: “For a while the shoe fit / But then I outgrew it.” This song isn’t malicious or full of hostility, it’s just the simple admittance that she wishes him well, but she’s putting herself first, and in this case, it means separation. For and in another perfect lyric, Kelsea solely wrote in her own Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) moment, “I hope I learn to love myself like I loved you then / And I hope I never leave me again.”
As for the short film, because we told you we’d eventually get there, it starts in pure silence, exempt from Kelsea’s bare feet shuffling on the wooden tiles. Unlike them not hearing each other like in ‘Blindsided,’ there’s no one there to hear, as she’s now by herself, him having gone, and it shows in the haphazardly placed missing hangers and storage cubes. There is, however, a guitar, and she crouches down to pull it out. What’s also noticeable is that her own suitcase lays on the floor, half-open with clothes spilling out, perhaps showing that she wanted to be the one to leave first.
Melodies Echo From These Four Walls
After feeling and hearing the response on tour every night these last few months, I wanted to make sure to honor this musical chapter more fully. So, while Subject to Change was out there doing everything it’s supposed to do, you supported me with this project that I needed to make for myself and my heart loudly. I can’t thank you enough, but these three events are me trying.
Even though we won’t have living room access to the screenings as all tickets are sold out, that doesn’t mean we can’t peek through the windows via YouTube videos and Kelsea’s social media to have our own little glimpse into the commentary of Rolling Up the Welcome Mat. It’ll honor the month of August by starting in Los Angeles on the first; there’ll be a screening of the short as well as an additional Q&A with fans before its moving van leads us to Nashville on August 8th, where she’ll switch views from a penthouse to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.
Then lastly, on August 11th, Kelsea will fill out Rockefeller Center plaza with the NBC Today Show Citi Concert Series. ‘IF YOU GO DOWN (I’M GOING DOWN TOO)’ will take rent in her set list as well as personal favorites off Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, providing a perfect hybrid between her EP and her fourth album SUBJECT TO CHANGE.
Which room of Kelsea’s house in the short film attaches to your favorite song off Rolling Up the Welcome Mat? Is it mentioned above, or have we yet to explore it? Let us know where you’re moseying off to through our Twitter @thehoneypop, and then if you find yourself staring at the ceiling after an hour or two, our Facebook and Instagram pages have even more country-stylized articles for you to flick through!