Every week at PopCrush, we’re putting the spotlight on one up-and-coming act you need to know about. Why? So you can get on board early before everyone else and their mother jumps on the bandwagon…and so you can be that one friend in the group who’s always like, "Um, actually, I prefer their earlier work."

Trying to fill the country-pop void Taylor Swift left in her wake when she forayed into straight-up pop territory?

Look no further than Kelsea Ballerini.

The Knoxville native's songwriting style is personal enough to be believable, yet she casts a wide enough net to maintain a sense of the every-girl. But make no mistake: Kelsea is no carbon copy of the 1989 singer-songwriter.

On her debut single "Love Me Like You Mean It," Kelsea has a definite twang to her voice, but her melodic vocals make for an infectious pop sing-along. It's a summery ear-worm well-suited for your next cross-country road trip, especially if you've just been through a particularly nasty breakup and you're looking to reinstate some autonomy back into your life. 

"I've had my share of losers, liars and users / Lookin' for a heart to break / So if you're like that, well take a step back / 'Cause I don't have time to waste on the boys that are playin' the games / And leavin' the girls cryin' out in the rain."

That experience of being so over it? Universal. So much so, the song started to climb the Billboard Hot 100 last month — and only continues to rise with each week.

Want to hear even more? You're in luck: Kelsea's debut album, The First Time, is set for a May 18 release. "It’s something I’ve been dreaming about and working for since I was 12 years old," Kelsea told PopCrush about her forthcoming record. "It’s full of stories and memories and snapshots of my life. I couldn’t be more excited about it."

As for what inspires her writing? "Everything! There are fun songs like 'Yeah Boy' and 'Dibs' that are just lighthearted and flirty, and there are songs like 'Secondhand Smoke' and 'Stilettos' that are much more real and vulnerable."

While singling out one track as a favorite is near sacrilege for her ("That’s like picking a favorite child!"), Kelsea did name one on the upcoming album that should resonate pretty strongly with her audience: "'Peter Pan' is definitely one that I’m really proud of and I feel like will connect with a lot of girls."

As for the album's takeaway, Kelsea simply hopes people manage to connect with it in whatever way suits them best. "I just hope when people listen to this record that they connect with something," she explained. "Whether it makes them want to roll their windows down and jam or cry…I just want it to make people feel something."

Check out the music video for Kelsea's latest single "Love Me Like You Mean It" above and pre-order a copy of The First Time ahead of its May 18 release. (If you really mean it, of course.)

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