It is not a stretch to say that country music wouldn't have the same image today without the help of Kacey Musgraves. There have been a few country acts that have managed to pull off the trek into pop crossover territory like Dolly Parton and Shania Twain, but Kacey's Texas charm and technicolor aura came at a time when country music's general public was at a lull, when many would brandish their musical tastes as "open to anything... except for country."
Kacey's wit was always a bit disarming from when she first released her debut studio album Same Trailer, Different Park; her songs were personal and genuine, wholesome and whole-hearted, but tongue-in-cheek. She was never afraid to talk about about LGBT+ relationships or her propensity to light up a joint in the face of conservative country image. She camped up her image as failed pageant princess on Pageant Material, but remained in a sound palette that stayed true to her country origins. But by the time she readied the release of Golden Hour in 2018, she had sights on a career much bigger than the country music scene could offer her.
Make no mistake, Golden Hour, which Musgraves co-produced with Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, is a true country album at its core. But after two albums, Musgraves was ready to incorperate more of her inspirations into her sound. In the same breath she'd reference a lineage to country greats like Loretta Lynn and Bobbie Gentry, disco acts like the Bee Gees and pop stars like Cher and Selena that gave a better look at just what level of power and popularity the girl from Golden, Texas was eying.
Kicking off the album with the meditative strum of "Slow Burn," Kacey is clear with her intentions for the album by growing the song from a quiet guitar twang to a blossoming, electronic soundscape by the song's end. She plays with this dichotomy across the track list (the vulnerable "Happy & Sad," the soul-searching "Lonely Weekend" and the stirring, acid trip-inspired "Mother"), keeping the country influences as a main attraction but decorating them with splashes of different sounds and genres -- a cosmic blend of steel guitar and synth-pop. "Oh, What a World" has a humble perspective of looking out on the natural beauty that surrounds us, but with a chilling vocoder track that must be the first time a country artist got inspired by the chilling electronica of Imogen Heap.
Musgraves tried out a plethora of different sounds across Golden Hour, recalling '70s yacht rock on "Wonder Woman" and 'Velvet Elvis," singer-songwriters on the inspirational closer "Rainbow," even a cowboy disco on the standout "High Horse," where you can almost hear her lassoing a disco ball. But deeper than the stories behind the song, Kacey was able to attract such a wide audience by playing with juxtopositions in both sounds and emotions.
Few other than Musgraves would be able to pull of a touching anthem to where love can take you on "Love is a Wild Thing" and the kick-in-the-gut heartbreak of "Space Cowboy" in equal measure, but that's what makes her artistry and Golden Hour in particular such a standout.
Kacey, who released her most recent album, star-crossed, in 2021, became a certified pop star with Golden Hour, taking home the Grammy for Album of the Year even when up against pop heavyweights like Post Malone, H.E.R. and Janelle Monae the same year. Though the country music industry long tried to cover up Kacey's quirks and inconsistencies, they were exactly what made her art so impactful in the first place.
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