Kelsea Ballerini and I first met at a country-­music awards show. I remember thinking back then how talented she was as a songwriter at such a young age. She’s an old soul in many ways. As a veteran songwriter, I’m always looking for authenticity, and I’m really inspired by clever songwriting—songwriting that is not only thought-provoking and meaningful but most of all original. Kelsea writes with all those qualities. She isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and really brave with her songwriting. She’s also a great friend. We have such a special relationship that is just so real, and that can be rare in our industry. I watch her work incredibly hard and challenge herself, but she also has fun, and that is wonderful to see. At this year’s CMT Awards, she performed with a full troupe of drag queens as her backup dancers, which was fabulous. She has a powerful sense of self in those moments: she knows exactly where her heart is, and she always leads with love and inclusivity.

Twain is a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter

Photograph by Caroline Tompkins for TIME

Styling by Molly Dickson and Kate March. Hair by Danielle Priano. Makeup by Kelsey Denihan.

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