She beat Taylor Swift at the Grammys – is Kacey Musgraves Country’s next superstar?
It’s half way through the 56th Grammy Awards. By this point, Beyoncé has already done the chair routine, Katy Perry has pole-danced around a broomstick and Robin Thicke has replaced Miley Cyrus with Chicago.
Enter Kacey Musgraves, a slightly unassuming woman in luminous cowboy boots. She stands in the middle of a few neon cactus trees, singing a song about self-empowerment. Unlike the swarm of saccharine ‘be yourself’ anthems from the past few years, this one has a sense of humour.
This was only the start of her night. She went home with ‘Best Country Song’ and ‘Best Country Album’, beating Country heavyweights Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert in the process. In doing so, she became the first female artist to receive both awards in one night for a debut album.
Born in Golden, Texas, Musgraves entered USA Network’s now defunct TV talent show ‘Nashville Star’ in 2007. Aged just 18 at the time, she finished in seventh place. To put this into some perspective, Miranda Lambert (who is now one of Country’s biggest stars) placed third.
But is Kacey Musgraves Country’s next heavyweight?
The critics definitely think so. Chris Richards from The Washington Post said that “she’s dropped one of country music’s strongest debuts in forever.” The album, Same Trailer Different Park was also put first in their ten best albums of 2013. Rolling Stone said that she “makes the country sound artistically fertile again,” before calling her “the millennials’ Lorretta Lynn.” High praise indeed.
She’s unquestionably the critics’ darling, but worldwide commercial success has yet to reach her. Despite debuting at Number 2 on the Billboard 200, the album has yet to chart in any other market in the world (apart from the UK, where it scraped in at 39).
She is also yet to find ‘the hit’ to launch her into the stratosphere. She is often likened to Taylor Swift, who has become a singles heavyweight. Similarly, Shania Twain and LeAnn Rimes have worldwide hits under their belts.
Her position right now almost mirrors that of Esperanza Spalding, who beat the likes of Florence + the Machine and Justin Bieber to win the ‘Best New Artist’ award at the 2011 Grammy’s. Spalding was even more of an unknown on Grammy night, with her jazz album Esperanza peaking at 138.
Spalding’s rise from then perhaps best illustrates the power of the Grammy. Her latest album Radio Music Society peaked 128 places higher than Esperanza. Zack O’Malley Greenburg of Forbes wrote that “Spalding’s nightly gross jumped $20,000 to $32,000, a 60% boost,” which perhaps suggests that chart success will happen post-Grammys for Musgraves.
She has already won praise from her contemporaries, including pop behemoth Katy Perry. Not only is Musgraves supporting her on her North American ‘Prismatic Tour’, they collaborated recently. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she mused “working with her was amazing. She’s undeniably a huge pop star, but there’s incredible substance and wit there, too.”
It’s this wit that is what sets Musgraves apart from her contemporaries. The song ‘It Is What It Is’ is about no-strings-attached sex, for example. Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone described her writing as ‘young, female, downwardly mobile, fiercely witty’, which perhaps positions her as the country Lily Allen.
The biggest challenge facing Musgraves though is ‘the death of country music’. Well not quite (‘country’ is still a big seller), but there is an argument that more traditional forms of country are less common than, say Taylor Swift’s bubblegum country-pop.
Country artist Clay Walker said (in an interview with Taste of Country) “Change is inevitable…Traditional country music is dead.” This could signal trouble for Musgraves as her music veers into the traditional country lane musically. Having said that, her lyrics are wholly modern.
So who the hell is Kacey Musgraves? If you don’t know yet, you’re about to. At the time of writing this, the song she performed at The Grammys (‘Follow Your Arrow’) is in the Top 30 on iTunes.
She’s just been nominated for five American Country Music Awards too, putting her in direct competition with the likes of Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Keith Urban.
Is she country’s next superstar? Don’t bet against her.