Glancing over the monotonous landscape of country music, singer and songwriter Kacey Musgraves proves to be a striking outlier within the industry. Through her integration of diverse genres within her music and her involvement in modern social issues, Musgraves is dragging country music out of its southern comfort zone.
It’s no secret that country music promotes homogeneity, both in the content of its lyrics and the sound of its melodies. White men singing songs that detail stories of heartbreak, parties in the backwoods and drowning their sorrows in seemingly bottomless bottles of whiskey top the country music charts and crowd the waves of country radio.
Despite the current state of the music industry, in which the mixing of genres is encouraged and fusion artists are wildly successful, country music has proved resistant to change and has only tentatively expanded to adopt elements of pop and rap.
Unlike her country music peers, Musgraves refuses to conform to the norms of the country music industry. Her melodies meld seamlessly with lyrics promoting acceptance, the questioning of one’s beliefs and even the use of drugs when other country artists would refuse to touch these topics with a 50-foot fishing pole.
“Same Trailer Different Park”
Kacey Musgraves was already ruffling feathers in the country music community with the release of her 2013 album, “Same Trailer Different Park.” Her hit single “Merry Go ‘Round” offers a critique of the small town life that is often romanticized in country songs by pointing out hidden hypocrisies that occur in marriages, families and even churches.
Musgraves reiterates her disdain for insincerity while simultaneously promoting inclusivity in her song “Follow Your Arrow,” where she sings, “Kiss lots of boys / or kiss lots of girls / if that’s something you’re into” and “Roll up the joint, or don’t / just follow your arrow / wherever it points.”
In her latest studio album “Golden Hour,” which won an impressive four Grammy Awards, Musgraves fearlessly blends country with elements of disco and pop, a move unheard of in the country music arena. By taking advantage of the larger trend of blending music genres, Musgraves appeals to a larger audience, even to those who previously despised country music.
She also manages to stay true to her agenda of pointing out inequalities in country music. For those who were previously apprehensive of country music, Musgraves proves to be a “gateway drug” by breaking down barriers and forming a bridge between country music and other genres.
“Golden Hour” cements Musgraves’ role as an innovator of country music by creating a sub-category of country all its own: “hippy” country music. This album’s musical aesthetic hearkens back to the glittery disco days of the 1970s and includes millennial pink bursts of modern pop.
The trippy visuals of her music videos and the kaleidoscopic pictures posted on her Instagram feed were influenced by her own experiences with psychedelics, a shocking confession in a genre where artists never venture past anything stronger than a couple shots of Jim Beam.
The lyrics of the track “Oh, What A World” enunciate Musgraves’ drug-friendly attitude: “Northern lights in our skies / plants that grow and open your mind / things that swim with a neon glow/ How we all got here, nobody knows.” The song’s airy vocals combined with an underlying Daft Punk influence and the occasional twang of a banjo creates an otherworldly, ethereal feeling.
When questioned about the inspiration behind the sound of the song, Musgraves stated on Instagram, “I refuse to let the ugliness of the modern world make me forget about the mystery and beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis. “Oh, What a World” was the first song we wrote for the album and it set the sonic pathway I decided to chase. Futurism: meet traditionalism.”
The visual music video for the song embodies this futurism by illustrating a hallucinogenic LSD trip, complete with Lisa Frank inspired landscapes.
Another hit single from the album, “High Horse,” is an intriguing mixture of outlaw country and peak 1970s disco. The song transcends musical labels and with its infectious beat and teasing vocals, the ambiguity of “High Horse” works in Musgraves’ favor.
The music video for the song depicts a flurry of sparkles, jumpsuits and Farrah Fawcett feathered bangs; Musgraves is undoubtedly drawing inspiration from her idol Dolly Parton. With the video set in a Japanese karaoke club, Kacey Musgraves could not be farther from the dirt backroads and riverside bonfires so frequently portrayed in mainstream country music videos.
The music video for “Rainbow,” the last song of “Golden Hour,” is a dialogue for acceptance and support of the LGBTQ+ community. Musgraves is an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, and even appeared as a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” She is an outspoken advocate for acceptance and inclusion, which is an anomaly among country music artists.
In the “Rainbow” music video, Musgraves croons “Cause the sky has finally opened / the rain and wind stopped blowin’ / but you’re stuck out in the same ol’ storm again / you hold tight to your umbrella / well, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya / that there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.”
A variety of people are depicted in hopeless situations, including a boy who is struggling with the decision to come out to his father. As the gray skies clear and light pours down onto the boy, Musgraves assures him “It’ll be alright,” conveying her acceptance and indirectly urging her audience to break down their own prejudices.
Kacey Musgraves finds inspiration in highlighting social justice issues that people find difficult to talk about, especially topics that are neglected in the country music industry. By seeking change in areas of inequality in country music, mainly lack of representation of minorities, the LGBTQ+ community and women, Musgraves refuses to conform to the norms of country music.
Her unique blend of pop, disco and country is pushing the boundaries of country music and bringing a level of inclusivity to the genre.
As her following continues to grow, it’s easy to see the future of country music filled with disco balls and colorful jumpsuits.