Her “Golden Hour”
THIS GENRE-BENDING COUNTRY STAR HAS WON SIX GRAMMYS, TWO CMA AWARDS, AND THREE ACM AWARDS ON HER JOURNEY TO THE TOP. HER 2018 ALBUM GOLDEN HOUR WAS HUGELY SUCCESSFUL, INTRODUCING HER TO AUDIENCES ALL OVER THE WORLD. NOW SHE’S PREPARING TO DROP A FOLLOWUP TO THE MUCH-TALKED ABOUT PROJECT SOMETIME THIS YEAR.
Kacey Musgraves was born in the humble Texas town of Golden on August 21, 1988. Her father, Craig, owned a small printing business, and her mother, Karen, was an artist. She also has a younger sister, Kelly, who grew up to become a photographer.
Because artistry runs in the family, Musgraves started her career very young. She began to explore music at age eight, writing songs in her bedroom and practicing singing. She wrote a song called “Notice Me” for her elementary school graduation. She became so skilled at songwriting that her parents paid for her to record her own independent album at 13 years old called Movin’ On (2002). Her grandmother also helped her to book shows, calling nearby venues to sway them to let her granddaughter perform. Musgraves learned how to play the mandolin, harmonica, and guitar, setting her up to become a well-rounded musical talent. She released one other album during her adolescence, titled Wanted: One Good Cowboy (2003).
After graduating from Mineola High School in 2006, she moved to Austin, Texas at 18 years old. In 2007, she released her first self-titled EP titled Kacey Musgraves. She was still widely unknown so it didn’t pick up much traction but today it stands as an example of how much talent she was harvesting at a young age. She was able to hone in on her writing skills during her time as a professional songwriter. As she wrote for other artists, she also kept her best songs for herself, forming a collection of heartfelt songs she hoped to release one day.
Also in 2007, she competed on the singing competition show Nashville Star in season 5 but was the fourth contestant eliminated, placing seventh overall. “It’s probably a good thing that people don’t remember me from that time period,” Musgraves said, laughing. “I was very young and figuring myself out musically and personally.”
After turning down her first record deal, she finally signed with record label Mercury Nashville in 2012. By the end of that year, she was touring with Lady Antebellum on the European leg of their Own the Night Tour. It was that same year that she released her solo debut single “Merry Go ‘Round,” which became a Top 10 hit.
It wasn’t long after this that Musgraves released her debut album, Same Trailer, Different Park in early 2013. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 and produced additional successful singles “Follow Your Arrow” and “Blowin’ Smoke.” Rolling Stone even went on to list “Follow Your Arrow” at number 39 of its list of 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time. She also won CMA New Artist of the year in 2013.
When the following year’s award season came around, the album won big as well. In 2014, she snagged the Academy of Country Music Award for Song of the Year (“Follow Your Arrow”) and Grammy Awards for Best Country Album and Best Country Song (“Merry Go ‘Round”). She was also nominated for two other Grammys that year.
Same Trailer, Different Park propelled her into stardom, clearing the way for the rest of her career to flourish. The album made an impact in the country music scene for many reasons, including Musgraves’ more liberal approach to her wordplay. She supported same sex marriage in her songs and casually mentioned recreational marijuana use. This was groundbreaking at the time due to country music’s tendency to remain conservative and rule-abiding when it comes to lyrics and style. It became clear to her peers that Musgraves was both a risk taker and a rule bender.
Not slowing down her momentum, Musgraves went on to release her second album, Pageant Material, on June 23, 2015. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200. It was fruitful and received great reviews from critics, with Pitchfork rating it a “8.0” and calling it a “sigh of relief.”
But nothing could prepare critics or even Musgraves herself for her greatest body of work yet, Golden Hour. The genre-bending album arrived on March 30, 2018 with Musgraves deeming it a new type of country, “galactic country,” due to its psychedelic guitar riffs and wavy production. The album was special for many reasons: it was inspired by her first true love, it represented Musgraves tackling the topic of genuine love for the first time, and she just so happened to write a few of the songs while on a micro dose of acid, or LSD.
Prior to the album’s release, Musgraves had met Ruston Kelly, a fellow alternative country music star, in 2016 at Nashville’s Bluebird Café. Musgraves and Kelly had attended separately for a songwriters’ night the café was hosting. Kelly was performing and Musgraves admired his music. She decided to go up to him and suggested they write together sometime. During their writing session, they “had an instant connection,” according to Musgraves.
As typical love stories go, the two fell deeply in love and quickly began dating that year. Their relationship moved fast and by October of 2017 they were married. This was a huge deal for Musgraves because prior to Kelly, she hadn’t been in any healthy relationships. She was used to toxic relationships—in fact, they helped spawn the majority of the inspiration for her last few albums.
“I used to justify my terrible relationships thinking I could get good songs out of them, but what kind of personal torture is that?” Musgraves asks. “When I met Ruston, I was like, ‘F*ck, now that I’m happy, I’m not going to be able to be creative.’ But the opposite happened—I got inspired by it.”
Her newfound love ended up being the inspiration for Golden Hour, and it’s apparent throughout the critically-acclaimed album. “Now you’re lifting me up ’stead of holding me down,” she sings on “Butterflies,” the lead single from Golden Hour. “Stealing my heart ’stead of stealing my crown.”
The album also had some psychedelic influence, as noted earlier. Songs like “Oh, What a World” and “Slow Burn” touch the topic of humanity’s place in the universe—an idea that came to Musgraves after she took an experimental dose of LSD. It was under the supervision of a doctor and was a tiny, micro dose, but Musgraves was still able to experience some effects from the hallucinogen, which allowed her to broaden her mind.
“It opens your mind in a lot of ways,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be scary. People in the professional world are using it, and it’s starting to become an option for therapy. Isn’t that crazy?”
Golden Hour allowed Musgraves to sweep categories at the Grammys during 2019’s award show, proving just how far she has come musically. She won Album of the Year, Best Country Album, Best Country Song, and Best Country Solo Performance. At the CMA’s she won the International Artist Achievement Award and at the ACM’s, Female Artist of the Year and Album of the Year.
“Leading up to [The Grammys], you have a little hope that maybe you’ll win,” Musgraves said. “But I was fine with not winning because it was just such a crazy compliment to be nominated alongside such giant albums… [When I won] it was a really beautiful moment, and I was somehow able to find the words to get out what I wanted to say.”
After all of the awards and the celebrations, Musgraves had to make a tough decision. Her marriage wasn’t working out the way she thought it would, and she would have to part ways with Kelly. The two decided to separate and divorce in September of 2020. Even though it has been tough to go through the divorce, it has also provided material for her next album. She plans to release her new album (which as of now is still untitled) sometime this year. It will take inspiration from the great tragedies of Shakespeare and some classic Greek tragedies as well.
“This last chapter of my life and this whole last year and chapter for our country — at its most simple form, it’s a tragedy,” she shared. “Portraying a tragedy is actually therapeutic and why it is a form of art that has lasted for centuries. It’s because you set the scene, the audience rises to the climax of the problem with you, and then there’s resolve. There’s a feeling of resolution at the end.”
By Selene Rivera