Following a critically acclaimed and deeply loved third album, Kacey Musgraves’ most recent album star-crossed exhibits the power of music and art in rebuilding yourself after personal tragedy.
Kacey Musgraves’ third album Golden Hour listens like the feeling of looking up at a clear blue sky on a warm summer’s evening. It changed and solidified her sound, incorporating disco-esque production to accompany the familiar country melodies. Upon release, critics called the album magnetic, with Rolling Stone magazine deeming it the second best album of 2018. In 2019, Golden Hour won the Grammy award for album of the year, which saw an emotional Kacey thank her husband, her fans and the music itself.
Inevitably, the profound success of such a bold offering left fans wondering what’s in store for Kacey’s future releases. As this year’s summer came to a close, star-crossed – the album, and film – were announced. A video teaser with the then-new song ‘star-crossed’ in the background was posted online; a preview of what looked like a cinematic odyssey of colour and drama with an all-star cast by her side, slung over a soundtrack and LP of fifteen new songs.
Much like the loved-up Golden Hour, star-crossed cannot be viewed in isolation or as separate from Kacey’s own life. From the release of the album art showing two golden half heart charms, separate yet captured together on the same chain, it was clear that where Golden Hour basked in the joy of marriage, star-crossed would ruminate on the sun-set of said marriage – getting into the nitty-gritty of Kacey’s experiences going through a divorce during a global pandemic.
‘star-crossed’ may be one of the most atmospheric album openers country-pop music has ever seen, following an isolated acoustic guitar solo with a chaotic upwards spiral of synths and vocal chorus. ‘good wife’ stresses the anguish of never feeling like a ‘good enough’ spouse, hoping that she can adequately “Listen to his problems / Tell him that I understand”.
This kind of raw hope is mirrored in ‘angel’, where Kacey laments on what life would be like if she was a more “perfect” partner, singing that “It’d be easy to be grateful / For everything I had” if she was. The melancholic tone of this acoustic ballad alongside a clap of thunder in the background acknowledges the fantasy behind this kind of longing, however: blaming yourself for relationship failure can only serve you for so long.
Kacey reiterates this on ‘justified’, a track in which Kacey explores her feelings no matter how confusing they may be. Prior songs such as ‘cherry blossom’ and ‘simple times’ express the nostalgia of being young and in love, mimicking the rose-coloured sweetness present in Golden Hour, before leaning heavily into the bittersweetness that comes with such nostalgia.
The cynicism of ‘breadwinner’ and ‘camera roll’ mark the end of the less hopeful parts of the album, whilst also displaying Kacey’s advice to herself and other heartbroken singletons. Warning off power-hungry men in ‘breadwinner’ and discouraging doom scrolling through your old loved-up photographs in ‘camera roll’ Kacey stands in solidarity with love-lorn listeners.
Following a non-linear path to acceptance, ‘keep lookin’ up’ and ‘what doesn’t kill me’ acknowledge the pain of a break-up while sincerely promising to work through it. Perhaps the biggest nod to her deeply loved disco-infused sound is ‘there is a light’, a funky self-love anthem stuffed with groovy basslines, affirmative declarations and flute solos.
The album ends with a cover of Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa’s ‘gracias a la vida’ (‘thank you to life’), which progresses to a dissonant and deeply layered, Imogen Heap-style rendition of an otherwise touching acoustic piece.
star-crossed overflows with the charm present in all the great romance films, before crashing back to the realities of heartbreak in the real world. Most importantly, Kacey understands that the latter isn’t always such a bad thing, reminding listeners and herself that “There is a light at the end of the tunnel”.
With a tour of North America beginning early next year, an album as diverse and personal as this one will certainly make for an interesting and undoubtedly emotional show.
Words by Emma Frith
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