Kacey Musgraves Turns Personal Challenges Into Powerful Music

Cover art for Kacey Musgraves' new album Star-Crossed. A gold chain with a heart pendant split down the middle against a red background.

Kacey Musgraves:

Star-Crossed

Genre: Pop

Sounds: Ethereal arrangements of smooth strings, angelic harps and glossy synths intermittently flecked with country flair.
If you like: Lennon Stella, Maggie Rogers, Taylor Swift
Why you should listen: Metabolizing a seismic life event, the clever country-pop songstress pens beautifully sad ballads and comeback tracks alike as she finds her shine again.
Best track: camera roll for heartaches, justified for singalongs.

 

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Divorce isn’t a sexy topic. Yet, somehow, high priestess of country-pop Kacey Musgraves spun hers into a tantalizing Shakespearean tragedy with her emotional fourth album, Star-Crossed.

Born out of the very public heartache of her divorce from fellow country singer Ruston Kelly, the epic three-part narrative is a reminder that life is full of triumphs and tragedies, but the best art is made in response to them.

Not since 1968, when Tammy Wynette wailed D-I-V-O-R-C-E, has another country queen tackled the unfortunate topic so head on. But this time, the six-time Grammy winner is giving it the Musgraves treatment: instead of Wynette‘s thick country twang made for downtrodden roadside jukeboxes, Musgraves created a dreamy soundscape of strings, synths and her sweet mezzo-soprano made for shedding tears under the covers at home — until the narrative arcs in the final act, when she finds her strength in the energy of glossy dance floor beats with tracks like There Is A Light. There’s even a funky flute solo that will have you wondering if Lizzo hopped on the track (turns out she did not. Missed opportunity IMO).

The concept for the record was born from a guided psilocybin trip she took while healing the open wound of her breakup. Like any trip, there can be highs and lows, and this album feels much the same: though the captivating arrangements are polished and set a swelling, Romeo and Juliet-like mood, many tracks lack the’ signature lyrical wit and cheekiness for which Musgraves is so often celebrated (see previous tracks Follow Your Arrow, Space Cowboy, Merry Go Round).

But, at the end of the day, the girl has been through the wringer, and this introspective album is a peek behind the curtain at how she processed it all. Though it won’t be taking home the Grammy like her last album Golden Hour did, it’s honest — and that’s exactly what art should be.

Despite singing about how her “golden hour faded black” in comeback track What Doesn’t Kill Me, Musgraves managed to rediscover her shine in the darkness: joining forces with Paramount+, she created a deliciously glam hour-long visual for the album, sparkling with rhinestones, stripper heels and all-star cameos:  Princess Nokia, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Symone and — yes, you’re reading this right — Eugene Levy.

Mending her broken heart, Levy makes an appearance as an ER surgeon clad in a crisp white Prada lab coat. The high-fashion drip doesn’t stop there: Musgraves rocks a Chanel tweed skirt suit while terrorizing a bridal boutique with medieval weaponry, powder blue Versace heeled loafers while strutting through the mall in Clueless fashion and an oversize Prada headband while attempting to become a good wife in dystopian home ec. classes.

As her music gained critical acclaim over the last few years, Musgraves simultaneously minted her status as a red carpet darling — a title that clearly paid off in Star-Crossed designer cameos.

At just 33, she’s done the origin story in albums Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material, the rose-coloured romantic album Golden Hour and, now, she’s got the divorce album. What follows is uncharted territory: it’s anybody’s guess.

While Star-Crossed is a beautifully sad and comforting record for those going through heartbreak, it’s a harbinger of the greatness to come from this renegade southern songstress. Her golden hour might have faded black, but there’s a supernova waiting to happen.

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