Interscope Records / UMG Recordings
Release Date: September 10th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- good wife
- cherry blossom
- simple times
- if this was a movie
- camera roll
- easier said
- hookup scene
- keep lookin’ up
- what doesn’t kill me
- there is a light
- gracias a la vida
Here’s something profound that I’ve just realised over the past few days and weeks. It is that the sacred art of the album, the journey that the artist invites us all to undertake along with them, to journey along with them, to laugh when they laugh, to cry when they cry, to be frustrated just like they were in that moment, to curse, to shout, to scream, to be joyful, to be hopeful… all of those emotions that we all experience when partaking in the listening of an album, a shared communal experience… well I reckon it’s pretty much died at the moment. People are so consumed with the now and with the moment, and how is this music making me feel in the moment (myself included) and we gloss over the singles, and we consume music like it is water. When really, we forget that artists have bared their souls and have been honest and vulnerable to a degree with their projects. They’re taking a risk and showing us all parts of themselves that they may not be comfortable with showing, but they do it anyway all of the love of making music and the fact that creating albums is somewhat of a therapy session. Artists have resonated greatly with us at times, because of their emotional high that we receive from listening to powerful songs here and there; however I think we’ve lost the art of trying to sit through an album from start to finish.
As a reviewer I listen to tons of albums. From all across many different genres. Some near-flawless. Some totally littered with flaws. And everything else in between. And what I’ve realised is that an album’s ‘flow’ hardly matters anymore in the age of digital streaming. And some artists right now seemed to have designed their albums to be listened on shuffle and their songs to be listened to in any order that the consumer and listener chooses. However, recently I’ve come across an album that has blown me away entirely, so much so that I can’t help but encourage you all to listen to the songs on this album in order because it matters. There’s a story coming from this album… and maybe from many albums previous from all different artists. Singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves’ star-crossed is 15 songs of heartbreak, vulnerability, honesty, raw emotion, life lessons, inspiration, and encouragement. It is about Kacey’s life since her ground-breaking album Golden Hour in 2018, and is as thought-provoking, comforting, and confronting an album as any in 2021. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and Kacey shows this with her album. Part country, part folk, part alternative, Kacey’s musical genre is seemingly ‘all-over-the-place’. However star-crossed is a must listen, and has reinvigorated my love for listening to albums in general from the first track to the last track, trying to find the message and the story from the way albums were meant to be listened to in the first place. You don’t need to be a Kacey Musgraves fan to appreciate this album (I certainly wasn’t, and still am not that much of a fan!); so what are you waiting for? Kacey’s latest effort is one of the most underrated of the year, and no doubt, we’ll all find something here that resonates with us.
I think that all albums are kind of an amalgamation of where you’ve been since people last heard from you. And for me, that was about that. So, so much has happened. It’s almost hard to even encapsulate everything that I’ve experienced and learned through this last chapter. But at first I was like, OK, so people may know me as “the Golden Hour girl.” I think that a lot of people got to know my music through my last record, and it was shaped by this point in time where I was falling in love and it’s really beautiful. I think that the magic of that album does not have to end with that relationship. I can still find a lot of gratitude and a lot of beauty and meaning in that record. And I’m going to keep singing it for years to come. This is no different, I think that this album is full of love and gratitude.
I think it’s interesting that we’re all taught that the success of a relationship has to somehow correlate with the length of it – in that it could be a friendship, a business relationship, a marriage or whatever. I just don’t think that that’s fully accurate. You can easily say it is a post-divorce album, which yes, it is factually on paper. But this album is full of a lot of love and gratitude for that person, for Ruston, for my life and my ability to explore all the emotions as a songwriter.
My life has changed quite a bit since Golden Hour in largely beautiful ways that I’m very thankful for. I feel like mostly that record allowed me to get closer to total creative freedom and just feeling the confidence in following my creative gut and not feeling the need to stick to one sound or anything. I think that it was really gratifying to change up the game sonically for myself so much and have it received so positively. It made me feel, at the very least, following what makes you feel really good will always connect with people, you know.
If you want to find out about Kacey’s life and musical career, there’s Wikipedia for that. If you want to read everything there is to know about her, so that you’ll be better prepared for this new album, then so be it. But if you’re like me and have daringly and maybe naïvely dived deep into star-crossed without much prior knowledge to Kacey and her life, then I’d say that the album still speaks and that it’s equally as compelling, moving, hopeful and inspiring. The title track opens the album, and is an ethereal, mystical, piano led ballad, whereby Kacey eloquently relays to us that she tried her best in her marriage, but something was missing, and she and her now ex-husband agreed to amicably split up. While this song doesn’t endorse divorce, it does speak about the realities of stepping headstrong into something which may or may not be good for you in the moment; and as Kacey laments that maybe she and her ex are star-crossed lovers: people who can’t be together for one reason or another, we are encouraged to not rush into things very quickly and to give time and space to things which may or may not eventuate. Was Kacey meant to marry her ex? I guess we’ll never know, but this introspective album openers has Kacey lamenting on her life’s choices and wondering whether she will ever be happy.
Following on from the vulnerable and honest melody, “good wife” dives deep and doubles down into the stereotypes that women are being continually sucked into, with this song speaking about how Kacey on some level still wants to please her husband and be submissive to him even when she feels it isn’t right. It’s a song that subtly speaks about abusive relationships on a whole, and though I don’t believe Kacey was in an abusive relationship; “good wife” still delves deep into her mindset and her psyche while the marriage was still occurring, with this type of thinking of always trying to perform, needing to be banished in every way possible. Wives shouldn’t be ‘good’ because they feel they need to be. In fact, can I say that wives just are, and from that healthy relationship with their husbands… becoming a ‘good’ wife can be a by-product of that. It isn’t the ‘main thing’. “cherry blossom”, a moving and heartfelt ballad, examines Kacey lamenting on the best parts in her and her ex’s relationship, relaying that she longs to get back the feeling of being his ‘cherry blossom’; while “simple times” is a laid back melody where Kacey sings about longing for the simpler times during high school, where she and her friends didn’t have a care in the world, where she wishes ‘…that I could put this game on pause, skip this round, take the headset off, put my lip gloss on, kick it at the mall like there’s nothing wrong, I need to step away, if I don’t, I’m gonna go insane, ’cause being grown up kinda sucks, and I’m really just missing the simple times…’.
“if this was a movie” highlights the unrealistic expectations we place on people and on relationships, that we expect them to adhere to exactly how they look like in Hollywood and in the movies, and Kacey laments that if life was like a movie, she wouldn’t be divorced and that she’d live happily ever after; while “justified” has Kacey combing through her conflicting feelings about her ex, and concluding that she’s more than justified to feel a myriad and smorgasbord of emotions, even if aforementioned emotions of sadness, happiness, love, hate and the like, are all at odds with each other. The acoustic heartbreaking and hard-hitting “angel” is next, and Kacey admits to us that relationships can be broken down in general, because people are messy and humans are flawed individuals; however Kacy also reiterates that being a literal angel in a relationship (physically impossible) can guard your heart and make you impervious to harm and heartbreak, that ‘…I’d pull you out of the darkness, keep you out of the rain, everything would be better, I’d never have to change…’. “breadwinner”, one of the most thought-provoking songs I’ve heard this year, speaks to the heart of the issue of jealousy and coveting, with Kacey reminding young women that men are ultimately threatened by a women’s success at the expense of them, even if they at first seem to be cool with it; and as Kacey eloquently relays that women can be successful, she subtly encourages men to change their mindset and understand that it’s ok for women to be happy in their successful careers.
“camera roll”, a song of advice to people in similar situations, has Kacey earnestly and fervently relaying to us all, that we shouldn’t obsess over the ‘camera roll’ of a failed relationship, because it doesn’t do anyone any good. However, Kacey also admits to keeping mementos and keepsakes of the relationships so as to keep the ‘relationship’ alive, even when she knows in her heart that the relationship is over; and thus, this is essentially a song of advice to herself, telling herself that she needs to make the hard decisions and let the person go, and not hold onto what could have been. “easier said” speaks about the trials and tribulations that everyday people face, and then Kacey speaks about how celebrities and famous people have issues and heartache too; essentially reminding us that even though ‘commonfolk’ place celebrities on pedestals and expect them to be perfect all the time, we all long to be normal, but it’s easier said than done, to have a ‘normal life’, when you’re famous. “hookup scene” actually is a positive and uplifting track whereby Kacey encourages faithfulness and staying true to your partner, rather than ‘hooking up’ with someone for a one-night stand; while the country-twanged uplifter “keep lookin’ up” speaks about searching ‘up above’ for guidance in this life… and is somewhat of a blanket prayer to God or whomever Kacey believes is ‘up there’. It’s a song that is as inspiring as it is frustrating, as Kacey says everything and nothing at the same time. It’s nice that there’s a song about ‘spirituality’ here, but the fact that it speaks about ‘fire in the sky’ and ‘truth step into the light’ without anything of substance… well that does bring my spirits down a tad…
“what doesn’t kill me” is somewhat of a vengeful, spiteful acoustic guitar led track, as Kacey warns the negative people in her lives to watch out because ‘what doesn’t kill me better run’, reminding us all that Kacey’s been burned before and can take it out on anyone that she wants to. “there is a light”, a quasi-spiritual and inspirational melody, encompasses many different genres here, as Kacey fervently and graciously relays to us all that through her experiences, she is now stronger and that there is a light inside her that keeps her going. While not referencing Jesus, I do hope that Jesus’s name is discussed around the dinner table when listeners are dissecting this song… although if this song even only brings up matters of the faith in a more general sense, then I’d say it’s done a great job. star-crossed then ends with the sonically big and grandiose “gracias a la vida”. Translated to ‘thank you for this life’, this prayer of sorts inspires us to live life to the full, and to accept the good with the bad, and know that God can work the bad things for our good and His glory.
I’m pulling from a wider range of influences on this record. I’m playing with a lot of different textures and a lot of different sounds that I haven’t really tried before. And I even learned a little bit of Spanish for this record. It was really fun for me. I grew up in Texas; I’ve been around Spanish speakers my whole life. I just really respect the language. I think it’s gorgeous. Just kind of as a fan, I’ve been taking Spanish lessons for several years. But I heard the song “Gracias a la Vida,” and I knew that I had to record it for this.
The song was written by Violeta Parra. She’s a Chilean folk singer, activist, songwriter and very well-respected. The version that I heard, though, was recorded by Mercedes Sosa some years after Violeta died. And I think it’s interesting that this song was on the last album she had written; she did commit suicide. I think that adds to the intense, tragic and sorrowful nature of what this song is saying ‘thank you’ to life. You’ve given me so much. You’ve given me the beautiful and the terrible. You’ve given me the pain and the laughter. And I’m thankful for all of it. It’s saying: ‘I’m grateful to be alive.’ And I just thought, what a beautiful way to end this record, this chapter where I’ve done so much self-exploration.
It’s been really amazing to hear from a lot of people who say, ‘I’ve gone through the same thing’ or ‘I’m going through that right now, and this music means a lot to me.’ I think in going through the last chapter, and even through pandemic life, I feel a little bit more connected to humanity through my pain. And all of us over the last year connecting and sharing the kind of micro-frustrations of being a human in 2021, we feel closer to each other. I think that’s a really beautiful thing that I’m thankful for.
I think that this record is also a kind of a reminder that the people that you might see on Instagram – be them celebrities or even people in your daily life – we’re all putting our highlight reel on, putting our best face forward. And I think as much as you can be “the Golden Hour girl,” the girl in love and the girl experiencing this really beautiful facet of life, you can experience the complete antithesis of that, you know? And it’s real. It’s real life and I just think that embracing the good and the bad and knowing that we’re all experiencing it, whether you’re famous or not, is a really beautiful reminder that we’re all in this together.
If you’ve never experienced heartbreak or sorrow, then this album isn’t for you. So what I’m trying to say is that even if we all may not sonically like the album (it isn’t that country but it’s not pop either!), everyone will connect with at least one song here. We are all human. We all bleed the same blood. We all breathe the same air. And we all have the same wants and needs and desires. To be loved. To be accepted. To know that we all aren’t alone in this world. star-crossed takes a specific topic like divorce and the end of a relationship, and then spins it into an exercise in becoming a better person and a more satisfied and fulfilled person as a result. And thus, as we realise that Kacey is now appreciative of this life regardless of how she got to this point; let us remember that we too can celebrate the ups and the downs. Life isn’t meant to be perfect, and Kacey Musgraves certainly shows that here. But it is meant to be lived wholeheartedly, and hopefully we can all do that. And so, let us immerse ourselves in star-crossed. We may be feeling down, but hopefully through Kacey’s experiences and us being a part of that here, we can learn to smile and laugh a little more.
3 songs to listen to: simple times, breadwinner, there is a light
RIYL: Miranda Lambert, Halsey, Maren Morris, Julia Michaels, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton