Photo Credit: Adrienne Raquel
Texan songstress Kacey Musgraves has been categorized mainly as a country artist since her 2013 debut album Same Trailer Different Park (her last one, Golden Hour, even won a Grammy for Best Country Album in 2018). However, Musgrave’s fifth (this is counting her 2016 Christmas album) studio album Star-Crossed finds her exploring a variety of different musical styles, with mostly favorable results.
Opening cut “star-crossed” (none of the song titles are capitalized, just be warned) begins the album with some synthesizer and vocal chanting and then a bit of Spanish guitar, before arriving at the song’s main section, which could have been the theme to a recent James Bond movie. This extends to the lyrics (“Let me set the scene // Two lovers ripped at the seams // They woke up from the perfect dream // And then the darkness came”), and the sinister-sounding minor notes that arrive like paid ninja assassins in the last third of the song.
The inevitable retro sounds emerge on Star-Crossed. “cherry blossom” is the obligatory nod to ’80s pop, which in this case hones in on Japanese themes (“I’m you’re cherry blossom baby // Don’t let me blow away // I hope you haven’t forgotten // Tokyo wasn’t built in a day”) and sounds which were briefly trendy and utilized by groups like the Vapors and the Thompson Twins. Musgrave also sings the track in the style of dance-pop divas like Kylie Minogue. The appropriately-title “simple times” is framed very much with twenty-first-century production but reflects the intimate and introspective approach of female singer-songwriters of the ’90s.
On the subject of retro, some of the other lyrical themes on the album are an interesting – if a bit confounding – mix, particularly those that depict romance in some form or other. “good wife” describes the desire for a marriage union which is traditional to the point that the woman is happily subservient (“God, help me be a good wife // ‘Cause he needs me // Even when he’s not right”). It’s difficult to imagine if – or to what degree – this is meant to be ironic. Oddly, the track is a companion piece to another song here, “hookup scene”, an acoustic ballad that conveys the emptiness of having relations with someone you’ve just met. Female independence, however, is expressed on “breadwinner”, which serves as a warning from one woman to another about a man who’s clearly just looking to sponge off of her.
Star-crossed actually gets even more ambitious with exploring musical styles as the record’s fifteen tracks wind down. “there is a light” is a modern dance-pop song on which Musgrave even raps, albeit the same lyric repeated (“There is a light inside of me, uh-huh // There is a light inside”). The album then closes with “gracias a la vida” (“thanks to life”), which Musgraves sings entirely in Spanish. But will listeners ultimately thank Musgraves for Star-Crossed, particularly those who still want to see her only as a country artist? One thing that obviously translates to any musical style is Musgraves’ voice, which is strong and appealing, projecting a vulnerability that is at once vulnerable but also a clever disguise for an underlying strength. It probably remains to be seen whether the artists’ ultimate goal is to go full pop the way Taylor Swift did, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.