Coming off the blockbuster success of her 2018 Grammy Award-winning album “Golden Hour,” Kacey Musgraves released her highly anticipated follow-up, “Star-Crossed,” Sept. 10, along with a 48-minute long “Star-Crossed: The Film” visual, exclusively on Paramount +.
While Musgraves notoriously pushed the sonic and lyrical boundaries of country music in her past music, listeners will find that “Star-Crossed” is a complete departure from the genre altogether. Musgraves signaled to fans months ago that there would only be a “fairy sprinkle of country” on the record, with new sonic inspirations like Weezer, the Eagles and early 2000’s pop and R&B.
Musgraves is also partaking in a new, unexpected trend in the music industry: the resurgence of the concept album — where an album purposely holds a specific thematic throughline or dramatic storyline throughout the tracklist. It’s been a marked staple in the past year of music. A myriad of popular artists have released their own respective concept albums to great fanfare — Halsey released a critically acclaimed industrial pop album regarding the “joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth,” while Doja Cat crafted an entire album and series of music videos based around the fictitious, candy-coated, intergalactic “Planet Her.”
Musgraves follows suit in “Star-Crossed,” conceptually staging the album as a modern take on a classical, three-act Greek tragedy, with the tracklist being divided into five-song “acts.” The “tragedy” in question is Musgraves’ heavily publicized divorce from country singer Ruston Kelly in 2020.
“I want the chance to transform my trauma into something else … even if it's painful,” Musgraves said in an interview with Zane Lowe promoting the new record. “I think [audiences] saw my highlight reel with ‘Golden Hour,’ and this is the other side of that.”
Musgraves’ lyrical content on the album is surprisingly desolate and disillusioned — a stark contrast to the butterfly- and rainbow-laden “Golden Hour” — dealing with one’s romantic expectations and nostalgic memories in contrast to a harsher reality.
Kicking off the first act, Musgraves positions herself as an omnipresent narrator on the title track, beckoning the audience to let her “set the scene” over theatrical Spanish guitars combined with heavy 808 beats. The track is instantly anthemic, campy and melodramatic in all of the best ways.
Musgraves is thankfully smart enough not to tackle the Greek tragedy format with a completely straight face. Instead of keeping the album’s lyrics bold and grandiose, the tracklist shifts between focusing on the universal and the personal, leading to some tonal inconsistencies.
Musgraves harkens down on the specifics on the track “good wife,” detailing insecurities in a new marriage. The singer lists the various things she could do to repair her relationship, ultimately confessing a sneaking suspicion that she “could probably make it on [her] own” through warbling layers of Auto-Tune.
The song “simple times” is a chirpy lament on how adult life “kinda sucks,” with the singer comparing her existence to a video game she wants to quit. The somber existentialism continues on the track, “if this was a movie,” where Musgraves compares her life to a glorified, idealistic film version of reality.
The album’s crown jewel is the heart-wrenching lullaby “camera roll,” in which Musgraves recalls a late night, self-subjected expedition into a digital photo album of her relationship — a shameful pastime that audiences can undoubtedly relate to.
Although dewy-eyed lyrics are one of Musgraves’ staples, the non-stop, overly sentimental lyrics grow monotonous after a while. The overall theme of “tragedy” is often too overarching, with broad strokes being used throughout the record.
Additionally, lines like “what doesn’t kill me better run” and “healing doesn’t happen in a straight line” feel more like Instagram captions than Grammy Award-winning songwriting.
The album fares far better when experienced alongside the corresponding film, with the trippy, outlandish visuals and fashion adding an edge to the sometimes schmaltzy songwriting.
The highlights of the album lay in the second and third acts’ uptempo, celebratory tracks, where Musgraves can be found experimenting with more daring sonic choices. She combines folk guitar, disco beats and a funky flute solo on “there is a light” and sticks the landing.
The album concludes with a cover of “gracias a la vida,” a Chilean folk song the singer said she first heard during a guided psilocybin trip. The song begins with Musgraves seemingly singing on a vintage, fuzzy microphone. The production takes the listener through various soundscapes, eventually ending the classic song with a futuristic vocoder effect on her voice, perhaps representing the universal nature of tragedy.
“Star-Crossed” is an exciting mark for Musgraves’ artistry. The songstress has shown her fearlessness in experimenting with production and genre, but her next album would benefit from less time traversing the stars and more time coming back down to earth.
Contact Jake Dodohara at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.