Kelsea Ballerini Performed With Drag Queens at the CMT Awards: "I Love Self-Expression"

The performance made a powerful statement.

Manila Luzon, Jan Sport, Kelsea Ballerini, Olivia Lux and Kennedy Davenport perform onstage during the 2023 CMT Music Awards at Moody Center on April 02, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
(Image credit: Photo by Kevin Mazur / Getty)

Sadly, country music is often—correctly—associated with exclusivity, racism, and homophobia. But a new generation of artists is determined to make country music a safe space for everyone regardless of their background.

Kelsea Ballerini made this clear at the Country Music Television Awards (CMTs) this past weekend, when she performed her amazing song "If You Go Down (I'm Goin' Down Too)" with a cast of drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race.

In traditional country style, Ballerini's hit song charts the story of a murderous housewife (see also: Carrie Underwood's Two Black Cadillacs, The Chicks' Goodbye Earl, and even Taylor Swift and Haim's no body, no crime).

In the music video, the singer and her girlfriends—dressed as '60s housewives à la Don't Worry Darling—plot murders and essentially promise to go to prison together if they're caught.

At the CMTs, Ballerini recreated the spirit of the video with drag queens Kennedy Davenport, Manila Luzon, Jan Sport and Olivia Lux, and it was completely joyous—not to mention an important step towards better representation.

The performance also comes at a particularly poignant moment. While the CMTs took place in Austin, Texas, Ballerini's home state of Tennessee (which is also the historical home of country music) had temporarily blocked a ban on drag performances just days before the Awards show. Texas has also been trying to restrict drag shows.

Asked about the significance of performing with drag queens, Ballerini told Entertainment Tonight, "I love performance, and I love self-expression, and I love inclusivity."

Kennedy Davenport, Kelsea Ballerini, Olivia Lux, Jan Sport and Manila Luzon perform onstage during the 2023 CMT Music Awards at Moody Center on April 02, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

(Image credit: Photo by Jason Kempin / Getty)

The publication also caught up with the queens themselves, and they had many amazing messages to share with the audience. "Just like all these amazing country music artists, we drag queens are also artists," Luzon said. "And we deserve a space to be ourselves, express ourselves, and create something wonderful for everyone to enjoy."

Asked what it was like to be asked to perform at the CMTs, Sport said, "It means so much, because any opportunity for us to share our gifts with the world is a blessing. So, it's more of us having a message to bless other people. It's not bad. It's all good. It's all love. It's all total liberation—that's what the arts are all about."

Lux added, "As a drag queen of color, it really meant a lot to me getting this call, because sometimes you don't get those opportunities. It feels like sometimes that kind of the world and the industry can be against you. And Kelsea made it really clear in the rehearsal room and even right before the stage that she was like, 'Take up that space. This is your time as well, and amplify the fact that you're here.' I'm really thankful and appreciative of that."

This makes me all kinds of happy.

Morning Editor

Iris Goldsztajn is a London-based journalist, editor and author. She is the morning editor at Marie Claire, and her work has appeared in the likes of British Vogue, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29 and SELF. Iris writes about everything from celebrity news and relationship advice to the pitfalls of diet culture and the joys of exercise. She has many opinions on Harry Styles, and can typically be found eating her body weight in cheap chocolate.