Some still consider Kacey Musgraves a performer prone to political activism due to some of the early songs in career such as the award-winning “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Follow Your Arrow.” But Musgraves these days is in a much more different place. Though certain members of the media tried to use Kacey’s new record Golden Hour as a wedge between herself and country fans by labeling it as a rebuke to country norms and political values—and at the same time declaring it the greatest album that would be released in country music all year (in March, mind you)—Musgraves had something completely different in mind with the record.
Speaking with Holly Gleason for HITS Daily Double recently, Musgraves said about her mood and approach to Golden Hour:
“People expect [social commentary] from me, I know. And part of my creative persona is that. But three years later, it’s gotten so extreme and convoluted. There are so many issues; everyone’s on a soapbox and has an opinion. It’s just loud and churning people up in not always great ways. I wanted to focus on the beauty in the world. There are these parts of life we’re all missing because we’re getting hit over the head by the ‘fake news’ 24 hours a day. They’re—whatever side you’re on—keeping you churned up, and we’re missing all this good in our world.”
One of the frustrating things about the narrative that was created around the release of Golden Hour is how the record was meant to create a breather from the political polarization of the present day and unite people, yet much of the media used it as a springboard for even more political narrative. Even more troubling is how certain members of the media regularly attempt to goad performers into getting more political, which often clashes with their own predispositions, and can put them at odds with their fan bases.
“There’s a place and time for everything,” Musgraves continues. “After a day of being inundated by the latest crap on gotcha news, who wants to hear more of it? I think it’s more important to create an escape and a reminder of the beauty around us, the people we love—and to keep our focus on that. If we start there instead, who knows what might happen?”
Kacey still rebukes the idea that artists should just “shut up and sing” and isn’t distancing from her previous material or the right of any artist to get political if they so choose. But in the current climate, she saw a more important charge for her music. “Bringing people together, even in some of these ways that are ugly, creates community. In the clashing, maybe they can find common ground. To me, if music and social commentary go hand in hand, we can also show people how to come together.”
Similarly Golden Hour was characterized by many in the media as the record where Kacey Musgraves abandoned her country roots. Listening to a song like “High Horse,” one may conclude that themselves. But songs like “Space Cowboy” and “Mother” tell a different story, and so does Musgraves.
“It was really important for me to keep a foot in the lane I’ve been in,” Musgraves says. “I love country music. I don’t think anyone loves what I call country music more than I do—and there was no reason to lose that. For me, some banjo and steel guitar was a good place to begin; to make that the common ground for the new path I wanted to start down too. I didn’t wanna pander just to make a trippy pop record for the shit of it.”
Often it is the inclination of artists to unite people. Music has the unique power to bring people together across cultural and political lines to find consensus in a shared and enjoyably experience that often breeds understanding of how similar we all are, lending to tolerance of others, and wisdom about life’s inherent struggles we all face.
However it’s often the charge of the media to divide us since much of media is approached from one polarized perspective or another, pandering to a constituency, feeding red meat to one side or the other, and destroying music’s ability to unite, and offer a breather from the polarized world.
Every artist should have a right to speak out politically if they so choose. But the increasing inclination of the media to imprint their own political values on music and musicians, and to goad musicians toward political action, risks usurping the power of music to override political concerns. Music can bring people together like nothing else, and make the need for politics to protect us from each other virtually irrelevant.