A lot has already been made about Kacey Musgraves’ place in music. Her output is at odds with much of country's well-known conservatism and many of its more restrictive sonic conventions, so she's been ruffling feathers in Nashville since her debut in 2013. A clear symbol of the genre’s generational clash, she built a cool-girl reputation on critical praise even as radio all but ignored her. But this year, a plot twist: her (relative) openness—with regards to gay rights, drug use, the current administration—has fused with newly disco-flavored kiss-offs and vocoded love songs to introduce an unlikely, refreshingly contemporary country star to an audience that wasn't looking for one. And I'm sure she'll be as awkward in New York as she is in Nashville.
But there is more still to be made about her evolution. Her first two albums made her name synonymous with snappy small-town critiques that took pleasure in subverting some of country’s favourite tropes while abiding by others. (To illustrate, her previous album is best known for the line "Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy".) With the dreamy Golden Hour, she slips out of that box. It’s new territory for Musgraves: she’s in love, she’s earnest, and no longer interested in punchlines. She sings about the World with a capital W, about the butterflies in her stomach, about the melancholy she hasn't outrun. In fact she's no longer interested in her small-town neighbours at all; she's looking up, at the sky, instead. Her whole sound opened up and made space for the disco flourishes ("High Horse"), the vocoded hooks ("Oh, What A World"), the breezy echoes and harmonies ("Butterflies"). It's still country, but with an expansive new palette.
Her music has always been good, but now it’s beautiful too. The kind of beautiful that makes you realize beauty has fallen out of favour, and that maybe we’d do well to welcome it back in sometime—at least when it happens upon us, like here.
“Oh, what a world, don't wanna leave
All kinds of magic all around us, it's hard to believe
Thank God it's not too good to be true
Oh, what a world, and then there is you”