Ballerini grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her father Ed, a former sales manager for a country radio station, is of part Italian descent. Her mother Carla, has worked in marketing for Thomas Nelson Bible publishing and a sponsorship company. She is an only child. She started taking dance lessons at three and stopped ten years later. She sang in the church and school choirs. She wrote her first song at 12 for her mother and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, three years later. She attended Centennial High School, in Franklin, Tennessee and then Lipscomb University for two years until she pursued a musical career.
At 19, she signed a deal with Black River Entertainment. In late 2014, she released her debut single "Love Me Like You Mean It", which debuted on the Country Airplay chart in October 2014. She released a self-titled extended play for the label in November. She was named one of CMT's Next Women of Country in 2014. She performed for the first time on the Grand Ole Opry on February 14, 2015 and sang "Love Me Like You Mean It". For the chart dated July 4, 2015, "Love Me Like You Mean It" reached number one on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, making Ballerini the first solo female country music artist to score a number one hit with her debut single since Carrie Underwood did so with "Jesus, Take the Wheel" in 2006, and only the eleventh in history to achieve the feat. Ballerini also became only the fifth solo female country music artist to score back-to-back number one hits with her first two singles when "Dibs" reached the top of the Country Airplay chart. She became the first to do it since Jamie O'Neal in 2001. The album's third single, "Peter Pan", was released to country radio on March 21, 2016. "Peter Pan" reached number one on both the Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts in September, making Ballerini the first solo female country music artist to top both country music charts simultaneously. This achievement also made her the first solo female to send her first three singles to number one since Wynonna Judd accomplished the same feat in 1992. The album's fourth single, "Yeah Boy", was released to country radio on October 10, 2016. In early 2017, Ballerini was named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 – Music list at number two. In 2017, Ballerini received two Academy of Country Music Award nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year and Video of the Year for "Peter Pan." In June 2017, Ballerini released "Legends" as the first single from her second studio album.
Ballerini has been influenced by both artists in the pop music and country music field. Originally influenced by pop music, Ballerini states "I grew up on top 40 pop. I didn’t know what country music was, which is so funny because I grew up on a farm in East Tennessee."Ballerini lists Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and NSYNC among these early artists influencing her. It was not until Ballerini heard "Stupid Boy" by Keith Urban that she decided to delve deeper into country music by listening to albums by Taylor Swift, Sugarland, and Dixie Chicks. Ballerini cites Shania Twain as her greatest influence. She also frequently performs songs originally recorded by Alison Krauss.