Kacey Musgraves New Label Deal Speaks to Deeper Issue
On Tuesday (4-20), it was announced that Kacey Musgraves was entering into a unique label partnership between her current label UMG Nashville, and the decidedly non-country imprint Interscope Records. Word is the partnership agreement is only for one album at the moment, and for a new album Musgraves has been working on that’s scheduled to be released at some point later this year.
On the surface, this announcement may just appear to be an interesting behind-the-scenes footnote about the upcoming Musgraves release, though not of any major consequence. But reading the statements from the respective label heads, they all seem to be hinting that the upcoming Kacey Musgraves record may not be very country, and perhaps that Musgraves might not be long for the country music world moving forward, at least in a dedicated capacity as before.
“I have never worked with anyone whose cultural reach is so vast,” says UMG Nashville CEO & Chairman, Mike Dungan. “This artist and her music have thrived in so many diverse environments. Kacey, the music, and the career deserve the broadest base of experience and expertise. We have discussed some type of cross label partnership for her music for a couple of years now and this is the perfect fit. We’re excited to partner with our friends at Interscope on the next chapter of Kacey Musgraves.”
UMG Nashville President Cindy Mabe concurred, saying, “Kacey’s music has never had boundaries. Her clever songwriting, adept storytelling, vulnerable and real emotional delivery, and her overall ‘take me or leave me’ spirit have translated through genre, time, space and culture. As we begin to set up her new music, it made sense to once again push the boundaries to reach more fans around the world as we continue to serve the fans who have been here from the beginning.”
The strategy and reasoning here are pretty obvious. Kacey Musgraves has been a critical darling in country music for years, including winning the superfecta of awards for her last album Golden Hour (CMA, ACM, and Grammy Country Album of the Year, along with all-genre Grammy Album of the Year). But the country music industry and especially country radio has never known what to do with her. And even though Golden Hour sold through pretty well—especially after it won so many awards—it still feels like it fell short of what it could have done with even a marginal level of radio support.
Kacey’s singles have always floundered on country radio, aside from her breakout “Merry Go ‘Round,” which made it into the Top 10. But she didn’t do herself any favors with Golden Hour by virtually forgoing country radio entirely, sending two debut singles to the format at once in “Space Cowboy” and “Butterflies,” and not really promoting either of them. Instead, Musgraves spent her time and money on music videos. Thus, her music really didn’t find a home on radio. Though you can’t necessarily blame her from that strategy since radio has never been receptive to her music.
After she swept the awards show cycle with Golden Hour though, Musgraves and UMG Nashville actually did release a proper radio single in “Rainbow,” and it got to #33 on the country format, and #18 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
But clearly they believe bringing Interscope on board will be better for bringing Musgraves music to the masses, and with the stubborn nature of country radio, it makes complete sense, similar to how she went out on tour with Harry Styles and collaborated with Katy Perry as opposed to country artists to help promote the album. But the thing about Golden Hour is it was one of many recent records that proved an artist doesn’t need radio to find success. Country radio didn’t support Kacey Musgraves. But the public did.
Golden Hour proved the increasing futility of country radio as it continues its stubborn ways while artists like Musgraves, Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks and others find success beyond its borders. While you have some mainstream country artists being propped up by radio and still not finding support beyond the format, you also have artists avoiding radio completely and finding greater support without it.
But the bigger concern here is that country music is running the risk of losing Kacey Musgraves as a country artist entirely, if that’s not the devil relayed in the details of this label announcement. UMG Nashville is not willing to relinquish her contract, since Musgraves is still making them decent money, despite the label not investing much in promoting her. But if Musgraves goes, that’s another major country woman out the door, just like Taylor Swift a few years ago. And similar to Taylor Swift, Musgraves is an artist that country has expended major amounts of industry awards upon to help prop up and develop over the last eight years.
Some purists will say good riddance if Kacey Musgraves dashes, just like they did with Taylor Swift. After all, Golden Hour is probably only fair to label as “country-inspired.” But large swaths of Kacey’s debut album Same Trailer Different Park, and especially her second record Pageant Material were most certainly country, even if it was a campy version of it.
If Kacey Musgraves does jump ship from country, or is transitioning away from it, it will once again put mainstream country in the precarious position of being unable to retain a top female talent within the genre’s fold. You want to know why so few women are on country radio? One reason is there’s so few women at the country radio level. In many respects, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Since women don’t find support, they either don’t develop, or in the case of Musgraves and Swift they do develop, but then they move on, and the gender disparity in country music persists.
Maybe the new Kacey Musgraves album will be country, but so far, the prospects are not looking too good. In an insufferable puff piece published by Rolling Stone recently, it’s revealed that along with the album likely unfolding like a tragedy about Kacey’s divorce from fellow performer Ruston Kelly, she is working with hipsters Daniel Tashian and Ian Fichuck again as producers (same as Golden Hour).
Musgraves also revealed she has 39-or-so songs she written over the last few years she’s choosing from, and names like Bill Withers, Coldplay, and Chris Martin come to mind with some of the songs, along with The Eagles and America. So who knows what we’ll get.
But since it’s Kacey Musgraves, the impact of her new album could be giant, no matter what genre it is or isn’t. She’s a 7-time CMA Award winner, and if like Swift, she leaves for greener pastures beyond the country fold, she will not be easy to replace.
April 22, 2021 @ 8:26 am
It’s a safe bet to say she’s waved goodbye to country music for the most part ala Taylor Swift. Anyway, it will be interesting to hear what she has to say about he breakup between her and Ruston (who kicks ass).
April 22, 2021 @ 8:37 am
No surprise here, but I respect her for following her artistic goals and ambitions. Nothing worse for an artist when they’re told they need to stay in their corner. All the best of luck to her.
April 22, 2021 @ 8:39 am
I for one am excited for her release regardless if it’s country or not. When good music is good, I don’t necessarily need it to be tied to one genre if it dables into a few. She’s probably the best artist out there right now who can weave country elements with pop elements and make it sound genuine and with deep meaningful lyrics. Let’s see what she does.
May 19, 2021 @ 8:18 pm
So much this. She doesn’t have to be country music to be good.
April 22, 2021 @ 9:33 am
I completely admire her talent and her decision not to stay in the Country genre if she’s not coming out with Country music. Too many artists use the Country genre that are not Country out of greed. It’s disheartening to true Country artists. I wish her MUCH success in all of her endeavors.
April 22, 2021 @ 9:51 am
I think Kacey has some good traditional sounding songs. My wife and I made our first trip to Nashville acouple weeks ago. We toured the country music hall of fame, I thought it was ok but my wife was underwhelmed. I agreed with her that there was way to much of the Kacey exhibit taking up pretty much a whole wall when so many other legends seemed like footnotes
April 22, 2021 @ 10:56 am
Have not been to the Hall of Fame in over a year (thanks COVID). But if Musgraves currently has a big spread, it’s only a temporary thing. The Hall of Fame will feature current artists in big displays like Musgraves after they’ve had landmark years like Musgraves did. These come and go among the more permanent displays, including ones that cover country legends.
May 2, 2021 @ 9:35 am
Trigger is correct. And the reason why the Musgraves exhibit is still there even though her Golden Hour moment was now a while ago is that all of of the exhibits that were meant to close last year have been extended for people who didn’t get a chance to see them while the museum was closed for most of last year due to COVID.
April 22, 2021 @ 10:07 am
BTW, I will always support Kacey no matter what she does with her music. Even back in her Texas cover artist days, she covered Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, etc. which says a lot right there, she was never a traditionalist.
April 23, 2021 @ 5:42 pm
Speaking of Neil Young, Marty Stuart does a killer cover of Young’s “Get Back to the Country” to close out his Tempted album.
Not to mention Mark Chesnutt’s cover of “Are You Ready For the Country” on his Outlaw album..
April 22, 2021 @ 10:32 am
Going off on a tangent here, Trigger. I’ll try to bring it back to topic, but feel free to delete this if too off base.
I am guessing as the author of a well-respected blog, you get advice requests from new writers/performers trying to break into the business. Maybe you share insight or for ethical reasons you hold back; that’s not my concern.
But here’s the real question: Do you ever get emails from people who write you saying “Guess what? I really want to do A & R. I want to do Artist Management. I want to do Radio. Maybe even run a label someday.”
Maybe this is a simplistic take but if you don’t have a solid pool of women wanting to make their mark in those areas, artists like Kasey are undoubtedly going to fall between the cracks.
April 22, 2021 @ 12:47 pm
I’m not sure that I 100% understand the question, but…
I think folks would be surprised just how much communication and interaction I have with folks within the country music industry. I do try to stay at arm’s length from artists most of the time, because if I get too buddy buddy with them, it makes it more difficult to be objective. But if an up-and-coming artist or someone that wants to work in the industry reaches out with a question and I have an answer for them, I’m more than happy give of my time to help them out if I can. This is an important part of the community.
There is no doubt that women are naturally less inclined to want to be country music artists, side players, music professionals, etc. than their male counterparts, just like men are less inclined to be elementary educators, healthcare professionals, glam pop stars etc. Sure, some of that might be some sort of version of internalized sexism, but some of it is simply natural inclination. One of the reasons I make emphasizing up-and-coming women in country a priority here is to hopefully help increase the amount of performers who are women from the ground up. I also think making the observation that there’s less women performers and professionals in country and concluding the only reason for it must be white heterosexual males trying to keep women down is not only incorrect (though I’m sure there’s a few isolated chodes out there doing this), it misunderstands the problem. And until you fundamentally understand the problem, you can’t craft a proper solution.
April 22, 2021 @ 1:05 pm
Thank you for writing back! Yes, I probably should have reread my comment/question one more time. I meant to ask “Do you ever get emails from -WOMEN- stating an interest in A & R, Management, etc.” Trying to make the connection that female artists may need a little extra support from women on the business side of the music business.
April 22, 2021 @ 4:06 pm
I like some of her songs but I think she has always been destined for pop radio. I loved taylor swift’s songs but I always felt her voice was more country so I was a little surprised she went pop. To be honest, I’m not a big female fan unless they sound country like miranda or loretta among others.
April 22, 2021 @ 7:16 pm
Could it also be that women aren’t welcomed into the country music community as artists, side players, and music professionals? To be fair, I’m not enmeshed in country music so much as bluegrass, but if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a male “music professional” in that industry say that they can only book one woman per festival or that women pickers aren’t as good and only get where they are because of their looks indicates to me that the issue isn’t so much that they’re less inclined to be a part of the industry and more that the industry isn’t inclined to include them.
April 22, 2021 @ 10:54 pm
I definitely think there’s some self-fulfilling prophesy going on with the issue. The industry tells themselves women can’t succeed in country as much as men, so women get less opportunities and support. But the only way women will ever get the opportunity to succeed as much as the men is if they’re given greater opportunities and support. So it’s a cycle that repeats itself.
I have definitely seen some festivals feel like they can only book a few women, but sometimes festivals find it difficult to find women to play. I’ve never heard any stories of pickers being judged solely on their looks in country. I’m sure it happens, but I think if you can play, that’s what matters the most.
April 24, 2021 @ 1:23 pm
Trig, has there been a woman country star in the last 30 years or so who hasn’t gone full pop when she had the chance? Reba, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, etc., etc.
Maybe you could make a case for Miranda Lambert. But most of these women — though they may love country music and respect its traditions — get into the studio and go full-on pop after hitting it big.
Doesn’t mean their music isn’t good, but it typically isn’t what most folks would consider true country, either. And sometimes they come back around, like Reba, but it’s still a real issue.
If these women artists would stay true to their country roots, maybe the industry would give them more respect?? I don’t know, but it seems like it might be worth exploring. Who are the Alan Jacksons or George Straits of women country artists?
April 22, 2021 @ 10:33 am
I hope Kacey keeps at least one foot in country music, because I doubt she’ll be able to hold on to her success if otherwise. I think what a lot of non-country fans like about her is that she’s a bit of of a hipster-country artist. Taylor Swift was always a pop star at heart, so her transition out of Nashville felt inevitable. But even underneath Golden Hour’s poppy production, Kacey is still a country songwriter. Take her out of music country, and it’s hard to imagine her music will be as compelling.
April 22, 2021 @ 10:37 am
Wish Maren Morris would get the message and leave.
April 25, 2021 @ 1:35 am
That’s, Ms. Morris to you, son.
April 22, 2021 @ 10:45 am
According to her instagram post from a few weeks ago, she’s definitely going “Pop”.
She shared lyrics on Instagram.
Something like “Stop playing games, boy” in reference to the Gameboy gaming console.
It looks like she already filmed the music video & she’s wearing a short purple wig.
The vibes are definitely Pop. I’m glad since country radio doesn’t embrace her music anyway & perhaps she won’t hog all the awards at future country award shows.
April 22, 2021 @ 10:51 am
Refrence : March 24th instagram posts.
Not sure what to think of it…. The comments are all saying it’s her music video/future single
April 22, 2021 @ 11:15 am
In my mind she was barely country to begin with and she was getting most of her positive press and attention outside of country anyway.
If she ditches country to make it in the pop world, that’s fine. People gotta eat. “Pop” is a bigger and broader genre than country, so I think somebody ditching country for pop says more about the artist than the actual genre of “country” itself.
April 22, 2021 @ 11:23 am
More artists that need to go “Full on Pop” & leave country music.
Maren Morris, Keith Urban, Dan + Shay, Sam Hunt, & Old Dominion
April 22, 2021 @ 12:11 pm
One of the newer female artists that didn’t make me cringe. A pop Kasey trumps Maren anytime, though.
April 23, 2021 @ 5:40 am
She makes the Highwomen look like the Off Beaten Path Gals.
April 22, 2021 @ 12:28 pm
I loved her first two albums, and loved Golden Hour as well, and was willing to give it a pass as not being so country as long as she didn’t leave country altogether. This makes me sad.
April 22, 2021 @ 1:05 pm
For me, it’s like when a guy ignores his girlfriend and then is surprised she leaves him. Promotion or not, Space Cowboy was a great country song and radio completely ignored it. Rainbow might not have been Tammy or Loretta, but it’s a lot more country than the three young male singers who appeared on my radio during my drive to work. She has put out three albums with a good amount of country and been ignored for males singing about finding women.
If she can move to arenas by embracing Adult-Contemporary or Pop, good for her. This isn’t like Taylor or Keith Urban going pop when country radio was begging for country singles, this about an artist who has told country radio – I get it now, you don’t like me.
April 22, 2021 @ 7:14 pm
Right? All of these people saying she was “barely country” clearly didn’t listen to her first two albums, which were VERY country, and the country music industry completely sidelined her. Big surprise she’s pursuing interests in other genres; I wouldn’t have any loyalty to country music after her experience, either.
April 22, 2021 @ 1:41 pm
Although I knew the last album wasn’t Country for the most part, it was pleasant and I like her voice so surprisingly it ended up getting a few spins around here. Like Derek above me said she’s perfect for Adult Contemp/Pop/Soft Lite/Easy listening sounds for people my age(old) which is what I thought that album was. And that’s ok, but my money will be going the gals that play Country music. Sunny Sweeney is in town tonight, Sarah Shook’s got an album ready to roll, and of course Charlie Marie’s will be out soon. Lainey Wilson and LoneHollow are currently in my rotation as well. They all need our support. Kacey will be fine whatever she does.
April 22, 2021 @ 2:03 pm
No loss. She was barely country anyway. I haven’t really liked anything she has put out since her first album.
April 22, 2021 @ 2:32 pm
“…and perhaps that Musgraves might not be long for the country music world moving forward…”
We can only hope!
April 22, 2021 @ 2:45 pm
Country music lost nothing when Taylor finally bolted and it won’t lose anything if Musgraves departs.
April 22, 2021 @ 9:03 pm
I mean can’t say I’m suprised if she’s going pop or some other venue. She’s been chasing Hollywood for several years now with being friends with the Kardashians and other celebrities. If what you want to call home isn’t embracing you and someone else is, wouldn’t you go to them?
I’ll still listen to the album because she does have a track record of some good songs. I wish her nothing but the best.
April 22, 2021 @ 9:53 pm
Does this mean we can finally stop pretending Kacey is not a slightly-better-than-avreage artist that got a free ticket for being incredibly hawt and rode the diversity train straight straight to successville? The are plenty of talented chicks out there, who lives, breathe & s**t good music, like Sunny Sweeny. Good luck none the less to Kacey, i’m convinced she’ll do much better as a pop singee.
April 23, 2021 @ 6:27 am
If her fans supported her but the radio didn’t she’s only looking out of the money and I don’t think we need more people like this in country.
April 23, 2021 @ 8:34 am
I suspect it’s also to help with international distribution.
April 23, 2021 @ 6:45 pm
I even think that Marty did a better job with Get Back To The Country than Neil Young himself.
April 23, 2021 @ 6:46 pm
I’ve heard country radio doesn’t play her cause she doesn’t kiss enough ass like a nice girl is supposed to. So, fuck em, it’s their loss because she’s a goddess.
P.s. I have largely given up on country radio since I like one out of 10 songs. One of my former country station presets is now classic rock with a good dose of 80s metal, and the other one is hanging by a thread.
April 24, 2021 @ 12:26 pm
That gagworthy Rolling Stone article sums up in one paragraph why Kacey hasn’t been well-received in country music:
“Having accomplished all that, Musgraves is today forgoing her usual morning workout to -indulge in the Himalayan salt dry sauna and the hot tub, where she flutters her feet and wishes that she could be the type of person to ‘be here every morning, just Zen out, do your meditation, say your intentions for the day.’ But, alas, she is not. Her Enneagram is 3 Wing 4, which is the Achiever (‘child performer, high drive, knows what they want: that makes sense’) and the Individualist (‘the need to be different’). Four days ago, she did a guided mushroom trip, which might sound like an oxymoron but is something one can do if one wants to achieve a sense of compassion and calm the hard and fast way. ‘It was not recreational at all,’ she tells me. ‘It was like mental and spiritual labor. Like, 10 years of therapy in one sitting.'”
She might be an incredible songwriter, but she is so incredibly out of touch with the general audience of country music that moving to pop, where her celebrity cohorts and transcendental friends exist, probably makes the most sense to her. Props to her if she doesn’t want to feed some fake country persona or kiss up to the labels and executives to stay at the forefront of the country genre, but one would also wonder how her move to pop would make her any more real. As a person, she seems totally lost and just floating into whatever new idea or trend comes her way, and it would do her good to take some steps back, figure herself out further, and find some solid life anchors along the way. All the best to her!
April 25, 2021 @ 10:06 pm
“it was announced that Kacey Musgraves was entering into a unique label partnership between her current label UMG Nashville”
Run for the hills! You can make a lot of moola but you have to be our little dance monkey
“I have never worked with anyone whose cultural reach is so vast,” says UMG Nashville CEO & Chairman, Mike Dungan. “This artist and her music have thrived in so many diverse environments”
In other words, $$$$$$ CEO corporate cocksucker dungan senses theres a lot of money to rake in!!!
and yes musgraves ran from country including dumping her redneck boyfriend and trading in for a trendy black boyfriend!
September 15, 2021 @ 9:55 am
Sadly I’m reading this article on kacey musgraves after the recent death of Nancy Griffith Nancy got her major label debut after her classic last of the true believers. Inter scope made its reputation investing in rap records some of which were horrid. Kacey musgraves may be their token serious artist. She will find herself a very small fish in a very large pond. Mca records invested heavily in a lot of disposable disco records and then had no valuable catalog when disco crashed and burned. Nancy was their token serious artist. Then they chewed her up and spit her out. Let’s hope kacey finds her way back the way Nancy did