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 at the Grand Ole Opry on February 14, 2015, and sang "Love Me Like You Mean It". On May 19, 2015, Ballerini's debut album The First Time was released through Black River. For the chart dated July 4, 2015, "Love Me Like You Mean It" , the album's first single, 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", the second single from the album, reached the top of the Country Airplay chart. She became the first to do it since Jamie O'Neal in 2001.