Kacey Musgraves Dares to Challenge Country Music

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Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves is the modern equivalent of Loretta Lynn. Bold lyrics, traditionalist spark and penchant for the working class is only scratching the surface of 2013’s breakout singer-songwriter, who cites such influences as John Prine, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. On her acclaimed “Same Trailer Different Park,” the 24-year-old shovels her songbird vocals into “Coal Miner’s Daughter” stylings found on Lynn’s 1970 hit record. Both accomplished songwriters and vocalists, the similarities between these two revolutionary artists are uncanny, considering Lynn’s particular brand of country has long been retired at radio.

Musgraves and Loretta Lynn: Country’s Ardent Feminists

Musgraves’ debut single “Merry Go Round,” rather autobiographical in nature, is a gripping look at the ideals of small-town life, where people get “bored so [they] get married.” With a realistic inflection, she delivers the tongue-in-cheek tale with charming angst dipped in hopeful expression. Hailing from Mineola, Texas, she is all too familiar with conservative thinking, but she goes against the grain with the expectation that others feel the same way. Inevitably, the track finished at No. 10 on the Mediabase radio airplay tally, the first Top 10 entry by a new female in over a year — following Jana Kramer’s Top 5 finish with “Why You Wanna” in 2012 — a rather adventurous choice for a lead single. Like Lynn before her, Musgraves’ forward thinking paid off.

Comparatively, Lynn’s earlier work is primarily crafted around a feminist point of view, such as 1967’s “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and 1975’s controversial “The Pill.” On other notable works, like “Fist City” (1968) and “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” (1978), Lynn was audacious with the material she chose to cut, even if she didn’t write it; at the time, she dared to push the envelope for the independent and strong female performer. Even later, when she began a professional relationship with Conway Twitty, she remained stalwart and continued to challenge society.

Stand by Your Man? Not So Much

While Musgraves’ debut isn’t as outright and candid on women’s affairs as Lynn’s, she does get her fingernails dirty with the working class, heartache and social issues. “Follow Your Arrow,” for example, her newly announced third single, explores human rights — a choice that is equally risky, fearless and admirable. While country radio has a history of being conservative, the Texan is banking on the more progressive mindset of her younger fans and with the release, hopes to initiate a conversation along the way. On other album cuts, such as “Step Off” and “Keep It To Yourself,” she also makes her independence known. The latter, in particular, is an answer song to Lady Antebellum’s crossover smash “Need You Now,” a track that broods over a former flame (under the influence of alcohol). But on Musgraves’ response, she sings on the chorus, “If you’re looking for someone, make it someone else. When you’re drunk and it’s late and you’re missing me like hell, keep it to yourself.”

A capable and working woman doesn’t need a man to define her, Musgraves asserts. It isn’t especially new territory for female singers, but with very few ladies filling the radio airwaves these days, it is a breath of fresh air. On this simple point, her songwriting (and potential trajectory) lines up entirely with Lynn’s. While her career is in its infancy, she is, perhaps, one of the most promising female performers to breakthrough in years. Radio, you better get ready.

Got a favorite Musgraves lyric? Share it in the comments.

Kacey Musgraves

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