Kacey Musgraves has two new songs out this morning. "Butterflies" and "Space Cowboy" are taken from her forthcoming third LP, Golden Hour, out March 30 on Universal. They're both great, and I'm going to spend the next few hundred words telling you why I find that slightly weird.
Musgraves has always thrived on awkwardness. That's one of the reasons her debut, Same Trailer, Different Park, was lauded as a work of modest genius—she was fearless, proud, unafraid of heartbreak, pro-fun, anti-cliché, somehow never mawkish. The then-24-year-old was an downcast country superstar-in-the-making—"Woke up on the wrong side of rock bottom" was the very first line—and a rebel the next. On "Follow Your Arrow," she sang, "Make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls if that's something you're into," and that was cool. On "It Is What It Is," the final track, she seemed convinced that loneliness was driving her into using a guy for sex and that was even cooler.
For all the same reasons, her 2015 follow-up, Pageant Material, didn't quite work as well—it was either too willing to conform to country norms, or too obviously asking for the listener to buy into its minor rebellions. "Dime Store Cowgirl," the second single, was too simple a play at the wide-eyed, straight-outta-the-trailer-park ideal; the title track was too simple a play at cementing Musgraves's position as a high heel-hating country outcast. The two best songs came right at the end: a beautifully depressive ballad called "Fine" and a cover of Willie Nelson's "Are You Sure" with Nelson himself sharing vocals. They were both, in their ways, troubled and dissatisfied. And, as Musgraves was through most of Same Trailer, they sounded honest enough to be convincing.
Now, three years on, we get the first parts of Golden Hour. Some of the country has faded from her pop-country sound now—there's a little background slide and banjo in the mix here and there, but it's not the backroom sound that Pageant Material strove for. (Musgraves says she was influenced by the Bee Gees, Sade, and Neil Young on Golden Hour, for what it's worth.)
They're both about love. "Butterflies" is about falling into it, not losing it, "just coasting / Never really going anywhere" until something better comes along. It's not radical. Actually, it stands in complete opposition to "It Is What It Is" and all that painful apathy that dragged me in. And "Space Cowboy" is lovelorn, a little banjo in the background while she sings: "You can have your space, cowboy / I ain't gonna fence you in / Go on ride away, in your Silverado." She's not using anyone or screwing with anyone or telling semi-sordid stories about her hometown. She's just really missing this guy who sounds like an asshole, driving around in his big stupid Chevy.
But they both work. They're not subtle or awkward or weird—they're just well-written pop songs. This time around, Musgraves seems fully invested in the ideas and emotions behind them; she's not playing a role or trying to prove her bona fides. She's just getting her heart broken and falling in love and proving that she is, still, the most talented songwriter in mainstream pop-country.
Listen to "Butterflies" and "Space Cowboy" below.
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