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Female Fridays: Featuring Kacey Musgraves

I debated about whether or not to do a Female Friday over Kacey Musgraves because she’s probably the most known female in country music besides Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. But being known and being appreciated are two vastly different things, and I think Kacey Musgraves is certainly underappreciated by country radio and many times by country listeners themselves. It’s one thing to know her as the controversial singer of “Follow Your Arrow” and “Biscuits” and quite another to know her as one of the writers of “Fine.” So with that in mind, I decided that Kacey deserves a Female Friday.

How You Might Know Kacey

I’m sure you all know “Follow Your Arrow,” but I’m not going to post that for the aforementioned reasons. Many of you should also know her debut single “Merry Go ‘Round” which won a Grammy for Best Country Song in 2014.

Bio

From a 2013 interview with PrideSource, on her musical influences,

I’ve always loved Dolly Parton and I used to sing her songs when I was little. She’s a great storyteller and that’s probably where I got a lot of my influence from. I love Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson and his truth telling. I love Glen Campbell and a lot of old-school country. I’m really all over the map, but the country I seem to like is a lot older.

From a 2013 interview with The Guardian, on her controversial lyrics,

“Certain kinds of people will always have an issue with my music,” says Musgraves. “But that’s fine, it’s OK. I don’t want to be the McDonald’s of music. I don’t want to not turn anyone off. If you were everybody’s cup of tea, you’d probably be boring.

“I don’t feel that the songs I sing and the music I make are very subversive, but I can see how it would be to some people,” she goes on. “The things I sing about are just what inspires me and what I’ve been exposed to in my life. It’s not like I’ve thought, Ooh, this is a button pusher!”

Kacey Musgraves (born August 21st, 1988, from Golden, Texas), grew up singing and songwriting. She sang western swing music in the clubs around Texas and listened to the aforementioned country artists, along with The Spice Girls and Tom Petty, among others. She dreamed of leaving Golden and eventually did, after placing seventh on Nashville Star in 2007, an experience for which she is glad few remember her. Kacey had self-released three albums before her appearance on the show. In 2008, while living in Austin, she was signed to independent label Triple Pop and recorded two songs, “Apologize” and “See You Again.” She eventually moved to Nashville and was signed to Mercury in 2012.

Kacey Musgraves has released two excellent, critically acclaimed albums, Same Trailer Different Park (2013), and Pageant Material (2015), along with a single called “The Trailer Song” (2014.) Additionally, she can be found singing backing vocals on Dierks Bentley’s 2013 single “Bourbon in Kentucky,” was featured on Josh Abbot Band’s 2011 single “Oh, Tonight,” and is credited with writing many other songs, including several for ABC’s Nashville. Same Trailer Different Park won a Grammy for Best Country Album in 2014, as well as an ACM for Album of the Year. Pageant Material is nominated for this year’s CMA Album of the Year. Kacey’s debut single, “Merry Go ‘Round,” won a Grammy for Best Country Song and charted inside the top ten on Billboard Country Airplay, a remarkable achievement for a woman, a debut single, and a song of such substance. “Merry Go ‘Round” has been certified platinum and “Follow Your Arrow” has been certified gold. “Follow Your Arrow” also became the 2014 CMA Song of the Year.

But it was “Follow Your Arrow,” as well as Pageant Material‘s lead single, “Biscuits,” that typecast her as the controversial singer who supports gay rights and/or anti-religious lyrics. “Follow Your Arrow” does exactly that, with its “Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls, if that’s what you’re into,”–but that’s not all Kacey is about. She’s been classified by many as the singer who supports casual sex, (“It is What it Is,”) homosexuality, (“Follow Your Arrow,”) anti-religious lyrics and/or lyrics concerning hypocrisy, (“Biscuits”), and smoking pot (“Follow Your Arrow,” “Pageant Material,”) and that’s drawn both criticism and praise. Many praise her for her outspoken, progressive values while others typecast her as only singing about these things and don’t even bother to check out the rest of her discography. That is highly unfortunate, especially if you claim to love country–Kacey is a traditional country artist if I ever heard one, and she shouldn’t be overlooked either because of her values or because of some ill-conceived belief that “controversy” is all she sings about. In fact, her current single, “Dime Store Cowgirl,” is the most personal and least socially controversial song Kacey has ever sent to radio, so hopefully it will get a chance.

Why Kacey Belongs on Country Radio

Kacey Musgraves started out with a top ten hit, but now she has been all but blacklisted from country radio. Why? She’s too “country.” She’s too “controversial.” She supports drug use, gay rights, etc. Well, for one, they played “Merry Go ‘Round” and that was country. Secondly, so she’s controversial…at least there’s something to her lyrics besides “calling dibs” on some “boy.” Thirdly, so it’s okay for Luke Bryan to promote “Strip it Down” on Tinder, for the bros to objectify women–and sing about casual sex, I might add–and for virtually everyone in mainstream country except Carrie Underwood to glorify excessive drinking, but Kacey Musgraves can’t talk about getting high? Talk about hypocrisy. And one more thing: Kacey Musgraves is actually doing something that radio programmers want to do–she’s bringing in a younger audience with her “controversial” brand of country. And guess what? Unlike the people coming to “country” through Kelsea Ballerini, the bros, Sam Hunt, and Taylor Swift–with some exception for early Taylor Swift–these people are being introduced to actual country. We traditionalists advocate balance. We don’t want everything to sound like Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn–we just want some actual country on country radio. Kacey Musgraves is an answer; she brings in a younger demographic while keeping her completely traditional sound.

Tracks I Recommend

For this, I’ll pick the standout tracks from each album separately, in order of awesomeness. I recommend both albums equally; each had highs and lows, and I listen to each one far too much.

Same Trailer, Different Park

1. “It Is What it Is”
2. “Merry Go ‘Round”
3. “Back on the Map”
4. “Silver Lining”
5. “I Miss You”
6. “Follow Your Arrow”
7. “Blowin’ Smoke”

Listen to album

Pageant Material

1. “Pageant Material”
2. “Good Ol’ Boys’ Club”
3. “Somebody to Love”
4. “Dime Store Cowgirl”
5. “Fine”

Listen to album

This was the most country moment of last year’s CMA’s, complete with Loretta Lynn herself.

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material

Rating: 9/10

Kacey Musgraves took the country world by storm in 2013 with her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park. Fans fell in love with singles like “Merry Go Round,” a painfully accurate portrayal of life in rural towns, and “Follow Your Arrow,” which was much celebrated for embracing liberal values. In light of the success of Same Trailer, Different Park, her sophomore album has been highly anticipated by many–and here’s where I’ll be honest, not by me. I only bought two songs from Kacey’s debut album and considered it to be highly overrated (I have since changed my mind.) But since I first heard the lead single from Kacey’s second album, I have been looking forward to this release, and I was not disappointed.

Pageant Material opens with “High Time,” a lighthearted track about getting back to the simple things in life. It suits Kacey’s voice, and I am glad to hear her higher register. Next is “Dime Store Cowgirl,” which will be the second single from the album. Kacey sings about how even though she left Golden, Texas, she will always be just a “dime store cowgirl.” This will be a great choice for a single, not that radio will do her any favors.

“Late to the Party” is a weak point on the album, and is basically just about Kacey wanting to be seen coming late to a party with her man. The album’s title track is my favorite and is about growing up in the South and not being “pageant material.” Kacey sings: “I ain’t pageant material. I’m always higher than my hair, and It ain’t that I don’t care about world peace, but I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage.” Next is “This Town,” a song about the secrets in small towns that just felt like a worse version of “Merry Go Round.” “Biscuits,” the lead single, advises us to “mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy.” I think this is a great hook, and again, if radio would do her any favors, it would be doing better on the charts.

“Somebody to Love” is a beautiful song about how we are all struggling for acceptance and love. I can’t say anything about this, just listen to it. “In “Miserable,” Kacey complains about people who are only happy miserable. It’s a decent song, but it’s not one that stood out. “Die Fun” is a pop country song that would make a great single–“Let’s love hard, live fast, die fun.” “Family is Family” is (sadly) a picture of everyone’s dysfunctional family.

Next, Kacey protests the “Good Old Boys Club” and says she doesn’t want to be “another gear in a big machine.” Enough said. “Cup of Tea” is a copy of “Follow Your Arrow” but it is just as good. “Fine” is a love song about telling people you’re “fine” when obviously you aren’t. There is a “hidden” track with Willie Nelson to end the album called “Are you Sure.” This was a great choice from Kacey, again enough said.

This album has made me a Kacey Musgraves fan, and I hope radio will actually play her next single. But even if it doesn’t, she obviously doesn’t care, and that’s what I love about her. Oh and one more thing I love: in a world of hip-hop and rap and pop and rock disguised as country, Kacey Musgraves is just country–and Pageant Material is a great country album. I highly recommend it.

Listen to Album