Kacey Musgraves performs on the Nation to Nation competition on March 10, 2018, in London.
Burak Cingi / Redferns
Rising up queer in flyover nation, a lot of the world round me felt alien and unsafe. I spent the primary twenty years of my life in Minnesota, “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” every one teeming with fish I by no means felt heterosexual sufficient to catch. Throughout adolescence I mowed farm grass on a John Deere and rode down flat highways on my mother’s Harley Davidson, and one of many first guys I dated took me out for a theoretically romantic night on the again of an ATV — however I so usually felt like I used to be taking part in another person’s function. By the point I used to be out as queer in highschool, I needed to spend weekends in rural Wisconsin, simply down the street from a dusty speedway. Any time I heard the yeehaw-ed exclamations from one its rousing drag races echo out into the silent countryside, I tensed up.
Nation music often accompanied these races, and it exemplified the components of Midwestern tradition that I had the toughest time connecting with. That music was at all times a part of the soundtrack to my childhood — Religion Hill and Toby Keith on the radio as my mother drove me round, taking part in throughout faculty and sporting occasions, marketed on the roadside billboards that towered over cornfields. However like these billboards, it felt out of my attain. As a queer child, it wasn’t for me. The truth is, like a lot of the tradition round me, the style’s conservative politics and gender norms — which you would hear in songs like Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”(“‘Trigger we’ll put a boot in your ass / It’s the American method”) or Hint Adkins’ “Rough & Ready”(“Gun rack, ball cap, don’t take no crap / Ain't a fairly boy-toy”) — have made it appear openly hostile.
However Kacey Musgraves, whose new album Golden Hour arrives on March 30, is a horse of a unique colour. And listening to her music — which is indisputably nation, whether or not nation DJs play her singles or not — I really feel as if she’s lastly inviting me to a celebration I’ve stood on the margins of for therefore lengthy. That is more true than ever on Golden Hour, her most absolutely realized document but, and simply her most boundary-defying. It proves that Musgraves is right here to remain, and that she’s not going to cease being bizarre and welcoming.
The quilt art work for Golden Hour, Musgraves' fourth studio album.
Musgraves grew up in Texas and launched her profession from Nashville in 2013, together with her major-label debut Similar Trailer Totally different Park, which gained a Grammy for Finest Nation Album. It additionally featured the only “Follow Your Arrow,” which made it clear from the start that Musgraves wasn’t attempting to sneak her embrace of queerness within the again door of subtext; she positioned it entrance and heart. That frankness is the main rationalization for why she has never been (and may never be) a darling of nation music’s radio gatekeepers. However she is likely one of the hottest and critically acclaimed nation artists within the wider pop music universe proper now, and notable for being one of many few who’s vocally supportive of queer folks in each her public statements and her music.
Musgraves has by no means recognized as queer herself, however has spoken often concerning the significance of being an ally. Writing a letter to the LGBT community for Billboard in 2017, Musgraves defined that she “wasn’t at all times so open-minded,” however after folks near her got here out, issues shifted: “It began to enrage me that I’d had some earlier misunderstanding a few group of those who I now love a lot and have a lot in widespread with.”
Final week Musgraves joked on Twitter, “I desire a homosexual, collective ‘you’re doing superb sweetie’” — and within the lead-up to her new album, she’s already getting it: Fader’s Myles Tanzer mirrored on her “vocal queer fanbase” in a glowing profile, and BuzzFeed’s Matt Stopera proclaimed her “one of the best factor to occur to music since Britney Spears.”
A part of what units Musgraves aside on the planet of nation and endears her to queer followers is her playfulness and tongue-in-cheek flamboyance, exemplified in songs like “Biscuits,” a single from her second album Pageant Materials (2015), for which she’s dolled up like a magnificence queen on the quilt. She gleefully sends up visible emblems of her style — her hair is big within the “Biscuits” video, which opens together with her in a bonnet, churning butter.
Musgraves performs guitar with a bedazzled band within the music video for “Biscuits” (2015).
Mercury Data / Through youtube.com
However it’s greater than camp; in any case, queer individuals are accustomed to participating within the aesthetic when we don’t discover ourselves within the express. Greater than something, it’s Musgraves’s direct method to celebrating nonconformity — fairly than romanticizing custom.
“Say what you’re feeling / love who you like,” Musgraves sings on the CMA-winning music “Follow Your Arrow,” which she cowrote with queer musicians Brandy Clarke and Shane McAnally. “Kiss a number of boys / or kiss a number of women, if that’s what you’re into.”
This concurrently radical and informal embrace of queerness is a part of how Musgraves makes the outdated appear new once more. In her music, it’s the values of nation which have been given the replace, not simply the sound. Her themes draw deep from Americana, trailer parks, and small cities — acquainted nation music imagery — and but the lyrics take the style someplace obligatory and new. Because the New York Instances’ Jon Caramanica wrote in 2016, she is “each the keeper of the style’s outdated guidelines and likewise its main inside dissenter.”
A lot of mainstream nation music indicators or valorizes the virtues of rigid gender roles; Brad Paisley’s late-2000s nation smash “I’m Still A Guy” is likely one of the extra ridiculous examples — “Yeah, with all of those males lining as much as get neutered / It’s hip now to be feminized / However I don’t spotlight my hair / I’ve nonetheless acquired a pair / Yeah, honey, I'm nonetheless a man” — however even current hits like Blake Shelton’s nation radio chart-topper “I’ll Name The Dogs” embrace traces like “you be the beautiful and I’ll be the humorous.” Musgraves, however, makes it amply clear she shouldn’t be right here to inform different folks the right way to stay their lives.
Whereas she’s extra overt than simply about anybody who has come earlier than her, Musgraves joins a lineage of nation artists who’ve provided estranged queer folks a channel again into the style. Most have been heterosexual girls, whose music is much less prone to make use of chest-beating masculine tropes — singers like Wynonna Judd, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, and naturally Dolly Parton (whom Musgraves known as “an enormous icon for me” in a recent GQ interview, noting Parton’s affection for her personal drag imitators and her experiments with musical style crossover).
From left: Kacey Musgraves, Reba McEntire, Jennifer Nettles, and Dolly Parton on the 50th annual CMA Awards, honoring Parton with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, on Nov. 2, 2016, in Nashville.
Taylor Hill / Getty Pictures
Musgraves’s friend Willie Nelson has additionally been outspoken, and by releasing a canopy of a comparatively unknown music known as “Cowboys Are Incessantly Secretly Keen on Every Different” in 2006, he successfully provided the primary explicitly LGBT-affirming music by a significant nation artist. A few of Musgraves’ friends within the realm of extra experimental or pop-friendly up to date nation, like Sturgill Simpson and Maren Morris, have additionally been vocal about supporting homosexual rights.
In fact, along with allies, there have lengthy been necessary queer figures within the style. All the way in which again in 1973, Patrick Haggerty, a homosexual man, released Lavender Country, which has since come to be thought to be the primary homosexual nation album. It barely offered 1,000 copies on the time, however in 2014 it was reissued, and he continues to tour. In 2010, Chely Wright grew to become one of many first brazenly LGBT nation stars when she came out in an interview with Folks journal. And as we speak nation is maybe queerer than it’s ever been, with artists like Trixie Mattel — a preferred drag queen, whom Musgraves adores — providing earnest submissions to the style. In the meantime, queerly beloved pop stars like Girl Gaga, Kylie Minogue, and Kesha are drawing on the sounds and elegance of nation music, usually as a technique to reinvent themselves and undertake a extra “genuine” method to their music. Amongst queer folks and lots of of our favourite musicians, nation is scorching proper now.
Album art work for Trixie Mattel's Two Birds (2017).
However up till the previous a number of years, moments that made nation fandom really feel extra accessible to me had been few and much between. Probably the most memorable was the general public political awakening of the Dixie Chicks in 2003. Whereas introducing their music “Travelin’ Soldier” throughout a live performance in London, lead singer Natalie Maines said, “Simply so you recognize, we're ashamed the president of the USA is from Texas.” The backlash from nation radio and followers was instantaneous and intense, inspiring CD-destroying parties and death threats. The week the controversy broke, “Travelin’ Soldier” was the No. 1 song on nation radio; two weeks later it had dropped off the chart fully. Regardless of happening to win quite a few Grammys, together with Track and File of the 12 months, with later releases, the Dixie Chicks haven’t had a high 20 music on nation radio since. They paid an enormous value, however their willingness to defy nation music’s deeply ingrained nationalism and custom gave me hope that the style’s norms would possibly sometime be extra extensively subverted.
Their blacklisting nonetheless speaks to the reactionary, narrow-minded tendencies which have made so many queer folks, folks of colour, and ladies really feel unwelcome on the planet of nation. The style wants explicitly queer-affirming artists as a result of it has been explicitly anti-queer within the current previous, and far of it continues to be anti-queer today. And that’s why Musgraves performs such an uncommon and obligatory function as an entry level and advocate for the varieties of people that have usually felt unwelcome in nation fandom, otherwise from anybody who got here earlier than her.
Kacey Musgraves and her nana pose backstage with Joey Taranto (heart), star of the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, on Feb. 25, 2018, in New York Metropolis.
Bruce Glikas / Bruce Glikas / FilmMagic