Music » Features

Kacey Musgraves follows her arrow

Country singer's straight-shooting lyrical approach shines



I'm not quite sure how Kacey Musgraves got labeled a "rebel" in country music. Country music has always had rebels — Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Miranda Lambert. The list goes on, yet publications like the New York Times and Dallas Voice continue to throw around the tag "rebel" when referring to the 24-year-old singer.

Maybe it's because she sings about marijuana? Nope. That's been done before. The Zac Brown Band, Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Pistol Annies and a bunch of others all sing about pot.

Her nose ring? I have to think that it takes more than a piece of removable jewelry to be considered rebellious nowadays, as well.

Perhaps it's human nature to quickly define and label a person. Instead of a "rebel" tag that isn't warranted, potential fans should instead focus on what truly makes Musgraves stand out on the music scene — honest lyrics, strong songwriting and approachable music, combined with hints of humor and pop sensibility.

Some media outlets point to Musgraves' lyrics as signs of her rebellious nature: In her banjo-driven song "Merry Go Round," she croons, "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay/Brother's hooked on Mary Jane/Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down." The upbeat acoustic song "Follow Your Arrow" offers the advice to "Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls, if that's something you're into" and "When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight, roll up a joint, or don't."

But let's be honest. Those songs offer bigger messages of not being stuck in the same day-to-day routine and to follow your heart. It's her honesty and down-to-earth relatability that is winning over legions of fans across genre lines — she recently performed on one of the main stages at the 2013 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

When it comes to crossover artists hitting it big on the national radar, don't think of Taylor Swift, who is far more pop than country these days. Musgraves, who is currently on tour opening for Kenny Chesney, including the Aug. 1 concert at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, isn't worried about radio playing her music and, while she loves being labeled a "female country singer," isn't preoccupied by where she fits on the music landscape.

"People are drawn to truth and something that comes from a real place and not something contrived," Musgraves says by phone. "I feel like the majority of people are into honest stuff. Regardless, I didn't really care if radio would play it because it feels good to me. If radio was the bar or meter on how I made my music, I wouldn't be making the music that I've made. There are people who love it and if radio wants to play it, cool. If not, I'll still be doing the same thing. It's therapeutic to me."

Musgraves isn't new to music, as her 2013 ACM Awards nomination for Top New Female Artist might lead you to believe. She released three albums independently in her early teens before her Mercury Nashville debut, Same Trailer Different Park, earlier this year. But if you ask her, she's fine with people thinking the latest album is her first. "I'd say it's my first as an artist and person who really knows who they are," she says.

Her songwriting developed after the Texas native moved to Nashville when she was 20 years old, shortly after appearing on the reality TV competition Nashville Star (she placed seventh). She got a job as a staff songwriter with Warner Chappell Music, finding people whom she enjoyed writing with and "tapping into something that was me, but kind of unique."

"I'm inspired by a ton of different things and life in general," Musgraves says. "My favorite music is the kind that's truthful, simple. The things that I sing about aren't controversial to me. You won't have everyone agree with you — if you did, you'd probably be really boring."

Over time, and just by growing up, Musgraves learned more about who she was as an artist and found the right people to bring along for the ride, so to speak. She let everyone working with her know, "This is what I have, this is who I am and this is what I'm comfortable doing. If you're into that, awesome. If you're not, then OK, go somewhere else, or I'll go somewhere else." That way, she knew from day one who was in her corner and they knew exactly what was on her mind.

"It wasn't like someone 'kinda' liked my voice, or signed me and tried to get me to change my ideas," Musgraves says. "It was like, 'This is who you are and we like it, so let's roll with it.' I'm thankful for that."

All of this is not to say that she doesn't have a little bit of that rebel spirit. Musgraves says whether a song is about something that happened to her or is based on a story she heard, it has to be something that coincides with her beliefs or her life, or she simply won't sing it. As she sings on the unreleased song, "John Prine," "Grandma cried when I pierced my nose, never liked doing what I was told/Don't judge me and I won't judge you, 'cause I ain't walkin' in your shoes."

While Musgraves admits all of the attention on her in recent months — touring with big-name artists, multiple award nominations, countless interviews with everyone from CBS' Sunday Morning to NPR and Elle — has been a bit overwhelming, it's also what she's worked toward for more than a decade.

When you take a step back, any tags put on her are sure to be more about marketing. A true rebel wouldn't tour with Kenny Chesney and offer beauty tips in Self magazine. She also wouldn't work so hard to get to where she is today, with her honest identity intact. Rebels come and go. Musgraves is a singer/songwriter I'd much rather see stick around for a while.

Add a comment