Great music knows no boundaries, whether they are defined by gender, genre or the reaches of the galaxy. With her new record Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves brings listeners through a magical, emotional journey through life as a woman in today’s problem-ridden and anxiety-driven world.
Although some critics have focused on the record as being from the millennial point of view, the real driving force is its unapologetic femininity. In country music, being a female artist is still only widely accepted if you stay in a certain box. Although greats like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette are still celebrated for their grit and guts to take on taboo subjects, few within the genre will openly admit that country radio still mostly shies away from the non-formualic.
But Kacey Musgraves doesn’t live her life by country radio standards. With Golden Hour, she taps into the complexities of human relationships and the everyday wonders of the world we live in. During her album release party, which was fittingly held inside a planetarium, Musgraves said that she wanted her record to be defined as “futurism meets traditionalism.” By joining plucky banjo and steel guitar with synths and piano, she has created a soundscape that taps into the rebellious hopefulness of the 1970s.
The release of her disco-country bop “High Horse,” a playful highlight of Golden Hour, drove many listeners and critics to the tired argument of what can and can’t be defined as “country.” But when you create an album as innovative, imaginative and truly needed as Golden Hour, those preconceived notions of genres should be thrown out the window.
In many ways, the record feels like a slow, deep breath that brings a reflective calm to anyone in its path. The characters she brings to life, from the woman longing for her mother to the dreamer wondering about what happens when it’s all over, lend a perspective so desperately needed in country music today. Women so often feel everything all at once, but are regularly shoehorned into simple charactatures. We can be heartbroken and accepting, calm but overwhelmed, defiant yet vulnerable.
With Golden Hour, Musgraves uses her immense talents as a songwriter to tap into that beautiful complexity. With “Wonder Woman,” she pokes a gaping hole in the stereotyped role of the strong, archetypal male in a relationship. It’s a celebration of being equals, of supporting each other without having to bear the weight of anyone’s expectations.
“Space Cowboy,” which is arguably one of the best country songs released in the last ten years, is powerful because of its simplicity. With just a few lines, Musgraves describes the pain and strange comfort of finality that comes when you realize your partner is ready to leave.
“You look out the window while I look at you,” she sings. “Saying I don’t know would be like saying that the sky ain’t blue.”
The female character confronts the situation head-on and chooses to “open the gate,” letting her partner walk away. Once again, Musgraves places the power in her hands. Yes, it’s the cowboy’s choice to leave, but she’s letting go on her terms.
In contrast, songs like the infectious “Butterflies” and “Velvet Elvis” are playful, sweet and filled with personality. The soaring and expertly-led production bring the optimism and joy that comes with love into every note and chorus.
The upbeat but somewhat melancholy “Lonely Weekend” tackle the realities of having a social life (or lackthereof) in today’s world. With social media all but written into our DNA at this point, there’s an expectation to always have, or at least look like you’re having an amazing time, all the time. “Lonely Weekend” is a welcome anthem for the everyday introvert who is comfortable with being alone, even if you still get pangs of jealousy as you scroll through your feeds.
And at just one minute and eighteen seconds, “Mother” stands as one of the most powerful tracks on the record. This poignant slice of life examines the relationship dynamics of a mother and daughter with honesty and grace. Few songs so expertly describe the pain of feeling the physical distance from the matriarchal figure in your life as powerfully as Musgraves does here.
There’s a shimmering hopefulness and a sense of optimism throughout Golden Hour that is desperately needed in times like these. Musgraves stays grounded by connecting with Mother Earth and the cosmos, whether it be by taking a psychedelic trip or a simple walk through the flowers.
Golden Hour defines a pivotal point in Musgraves’ career that also comes at an important time in country music. Authenticity, at its core, is the act of staying true to yourself. Kacey Musgraves has created a piece of art that is authentic not only to herself but also to female listeners who are starving for songs that they can connect with on a cellular level. Even if country radio doesn’t opt to reward creative brilliance from another unfairly ignored female with airplay, Golden Hour will likely go down as one of the genre’s most important releases in years.