GOLDEN, TEXAS, native Kacey Musgraves has always followed her own arrow and challenged convention. So she may have been the most surprised person in the room when she won the music industry’s biggest prize — Album of the Year honors — at the 2019 Grammys for Golden Hour.
Since the iconoclastic performer released her first single in 2012, she’s stood out in Nashville. When so many singers were embracing the pop and rock-leaning, party-centric songs that commercial radio programmers craved, Musgraves’ first effort was pure country. “Merry Go Round,” a breathtaking, sharply written track, was a bleak look at feeling suffocated in a small town. It’s still her highest-selling song to date and earned enough acclaim that people outside the genre took notice. In 2013, Musgraves said the one thing she heard all the time was, “I don’t like country music, but I love you.”
A version of that label, the “country singer for people who don’t like country music,” has stuck with Musgraves. Her debut album, the Grammy-winning Same Trailer Different Park, was also a hit, and her third single, “Follow Your Arrow,” became an instant classic among her steadily growing fan base. The references to marijuana use and same-sex relationships were highly unusual for a country artist and only brought her more attention outside Nashville.
However, “Follow Your Arrow” proved too controversial for country radio — and although Musgraves seemed a bit frustrated by the snub, she appeared uninterested in playing the typical industry games. That included speaking out against country radio, which is normally taboo for Nashville artists, as airplay can often make or break stars. “I just hate that people are scared of it,” Musgraves said. “But I don’t want to be begging. I don’t want to be at the mercy of country radio. The song will have its own life regardless, so I don’t really want to ask their permission.”
All of Musgraves’ singles since “Merry Go Round” have received little attention. Yet it hasn’t matteres. She’s sold boatloads of albums and concert tickets and took her career to another level with the release of Golden Hour. The dreamlike album was a risk, sonically, as Musgraves worked with new producers and mixed everything from pop to disco into country. As it turned out, critics loved it, and Nashville industry types also had to grudgingly appreciate her unique sound.
“I just started imagining this land, musically, where it was possible to keep these elements of country music that are really intrinsic to my music, like pedal steel, banjo,” she said. “But I wanted to explore this new frontier for myself.”
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