So many recent pop hits have been about living for today like tomorrow won’t come — so drink, dance and do what you damn please. In the immortal words of Drake, “You only live once.”
But Kacey Musgraves, whose spectacular debut album, Same Trailer Different Park , was released last week, is also writing and singing pop songs about living it up. But she might be the only doing it where there are actual stakes, something to lose from brashly deciding to do what you want: modern country music.
Take the opening line to the great “Follow Your Arrow,” with its playful, galloping rhythm: “If you save yourself for marriage you’re a bore/You don’t save yourself for marriage you’re a horr…ible person.” A lot of Musgraves’ turns of phrase are as tongue-in-cheek as this, a fitting reversal to a genre known for its wordplay — she’s taking shots with country music’s biggest gun.
That’s no more clear than in “Merry Go ‘Round,” the album’s lead single and Musgraves’ most melodically cutting slice. A play on the nursery rhyme “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” she casts a dark, sobering look at small-town living: “Mamma’s hooked on Mary Kay/Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane/And Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down/Mary, Mary, quite contrary/We get bored so we get married/And just like dust, we settle in this town.”
And she doesn’t stop there. “It Is What It Is” is a plaintive veneration of casual sex, where she coos to her partner, “Maybe I love you/Maybe I’m just kind of bored.” In less confident hands and songwriting, these would be shock value kiss-offs, but here they’re cleverly sketched as hooks and meditations.
Musgraves, who placed seventh on the fifth season of “Nashville Star,” isn’t breaking onto the scene with the most powerful voice in country — her soft, silvery tones are more indie chanteuse, with flashes of Patty Griffin.
But she writes wisely and spectacularly and sings on point. No melisma, no rushes of anthemic energy. Just carefully constructed country pop that takes in its roots — “Blown’ Smoke” is an old-fashioned stomper — and also turns them on their heads. She’s a new kind of pop music ingenue.
Printed on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 as: Breakout songstress breaks down conventions