Musgraves’ journey into heartbreak

Album Review

Alex Hopper, News Editor

 Throughout her last few albums, Kacey Musgraves has solidified her unique standing in the world of country music as being its boundary-pushing, genre-bending, pop-influenced princess. 

While still honoring her sonic influences, Musgraves has always set herself apart from her peers in both sound and theming. 

On her albums, “Same Trailer, Different Park ” and “Pageant Material,” she worked on subverting the traditionalist ideology often associated with country music, preaching instead about the joys of embracing oneself, finding love and mellowing out. 

With her junior major-label release, “Golden Hour,” she lulled her audience to love sickness with thirteen smooth, melodic tales of earth shattering love that exceeded the limits of what a country music album could be. 

Now with her newest release, “Star-Crossed,” she continues to subvert expectations, creating an incredibly open album that doesn’t shy away from the deepest hurt that comes from heartbreak. The album is a growth for Musgraves – that in some areas misses the mark – but is largely a triumph of vulnerability in the wake of suffering. 

Many have coined “Golden Hour” as a honeymoon record. Every song is written with the warmth, hope, and joy that comes from being in the “golden hour” of one’s life. With songs like “Butterflies,” and “Oh, What a World” we get the picture of a woman that is hopelessly and completely in love with everything around her. 

The Musgraves that wrote “Star-Crossed” has lost that rose-tinted view of the world and is now interested in exploring nostalgia, defiance, heartbreak and self-doubt. Over the course of its songs, “Star-Crossed” charts a well laid story of marital bliss, break-up and bouncing back. 

Within the first few lines of the album’s opener, she speaks of “waking up from a perfect dream” and “signing papers.” Right from the beginning, Musgraves is not timid about sharing her experience with divorce. 

Last year, Musgraves split publicly with her husband of three years, singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly. Tracks like “Breadwinner” and “If This Were a Movie” act as guide points to where it all went wrong for Musgraves in the relationship, while later tracks like “Keep Looking Up” and “There is a light” act as a conquering denouement. 

Musgraves exposes her heart even more in songs like “Good Wife” and “Angel,” in which she examines her own faults and accepts culpability for issues in her marriage. 

The album is also a departure from “Golden Hour” as she swaps soft modern country for synthesized, high-pulsed pop. She doesn’t completely leave her country roots behind, especially with “Justified,” the album’s lead single with a quintessential western guitar riff, but definitely continues her run into morphing the country genre into her own. 

One thing I found interesting about this album is Musgraves’ decision to trade spite and anger, found in many break up albums, for true rock-bottom sadness. She is comfortable explaining her heartbreak to her audience without fear of sounding weak. Minus a few empowered songs, she takes the form of a woman grieving a lost love. 

What was a miss for me on this album is the same grievance I often have with Musgraves’ songs – the often cheesy theme writing and vaguely powerless vocals. 

While she does a good job of portraying emotions and stories with her lyrics and performance, I find it is often very surface level and can only be understood one way by the audience. 

I enjoy a song that I can find new meanings and inferences on every listen; Musgraves doesn’t often do that for me. Her vocals can take down the emotions of her songs and instead rely on the production to tell the story. She sticks to a very simple range of vocals that often doesn’t try too hard to be anything different or interesting. This is not a deal-breaker for me, as I do enjoy Musgraves’ music, but it can be an inhibiting factor in liking the music on a first-listen. 

Overall, I really enjoyed “Star-Crossed.” It seems it was an important journey for Musgraves that helped her grow emotionally and as an artist. In an interview for Apple Music, she described vulnerability as “one of the strongest things you can do.” 

“I think there is always a reward in choosing to be the most vulnerable,” Musgraves said. 

Her reward, I think, will undoubtedly be another award-winning, fan-loved album to add to her list of accomplishments.