Kacey Musgraves revitalizes modern country music true to its form


Kacey Musgraves performs "Rainbow" at the iHeartRadio Music Awards on Thursday, March 14, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Kacey Musgraves performs “Rainbow” at the iHeartRadio Music Awards on Thursday, March 14, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

In our current hip-hop dominated culture, it’s easy to have a distaste for country music. With its blue jean, dirt road, pickup truck clichés and overtly sentimental lyricism, not to mention the stereotypical country music fan’s homely, dip-spitting aesthetic, it’s easy to understand the widely espoused attitude toward the genre. However, even if you’re like me and feel the urge to scratch your skin off when almost any Luke Bryan or Blake Shelton song comes on, I urge you not to write off country music as a whole.

Now 30 years old, Kacey Musgraves is one artist doing the genre justice in this modern era characterized by what comedian Bo Burnham termed “stadium country music.” Since her foray into the music industry with the release of “Same Trailer Different Park” in 2013, Musgraves has been widely recognized as a leading voice in the cause of lucid, honest and superbly produced country music.

Originally released as the album’s third single, “Follow Your Arrow” is a song with an inspirational message of individuality contained within a conversation of hypocrisy run rampant, “Follow your arrow wherever it may point”, i.e. do whatever the hell you want (with the important caveat that it doesn’t endanger others). Rolling Stones also listed “Follow Your Arrow” at the 39th spot in their article, however controversially, enumerating the 100 greatest country songs of all time. For her work on “Same Trailer Different Park,” Musgraves was nominated for four Grammys in 2014, tying Taylor Swift and Lorde for the most nominations received by a woman that year.

Her sophomore album, “Pageant Material,” proved to be an impressive follow-up to a nearly perfect debut. While she didn’t reinvent the wheel, critics lauded her ability to extend the genre, at least lyrically. Unlike some of her fellow CMA-hoisting contemporaries, “Pageant Material” is grounded in sincerity despite concerning itself with many of the same themes – small town, family-centric, no-frills Americana. The salient difference being Musgraves’s ability to express humility while straying away from the common ad lib style of merely listing off rural nouns and simple adjectives in attempt to soothe middle America into believing, “Hey, I’m just like you.” She respects the audience’s capacity for critical thinking while staying true to the country format, sans a few slight jabs at the NRA-talking-point conservatism the genre has longingly embraced.

Her most recent project “Golden Hour,” released in March 2018, exhibits a marked shift in style. Many of the weeping slide guitar riffs are replaced in favor of a more pop-ish synth. “Oh, What A World” even ventures so far as to include a Daft Punk-esque vocoded intro. However, in keeping with the otherwise heavily acoustic theme, it remains unmistakably country. Through it all, her articulate, lucid vocals shine center stage. “Rainbow” and “Space Cowboy” exemplify Musgraves’s ability to create a purely addictive dynamic melody-chorus combo. The former is a sweeping piano ballad about recognizing one’s worth. The other is a bit sappier, following the traditioned “right person, wrong time” trope but with a rural flair.

If you’re skeptical, I don’t blame you. But, make no mistake, she is not another prototypical Carrie Underwood wannabe. Before you abandon hope or smash your car radio next time you scan past 92.5, listen to Kacey Musgraves.

Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at mitchell.clark@uconn.edu.

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