Kacey Musgraves's New Album Is the Official Start of Sad Girl Fall
For every heartbreak I've experienced, there's music that got me through it. In 2019, Kacey Musgraves's Golden Hour played on a loop as I grappled with the end of a relationship with a man who was cheating on me the entire time we were together.
Lyrics like "Now you're liftin' me up, 'stead of holdin' me down / Stealin' my heart, 'stead of stealin' my crown" in the song "Butterflies" made me realize just how much I was missing out on. Cheating aside, I never felt the "cloud nine" Musgraves described in her psychedelic-pop-with-a-dash-of-country love songs, and this epiphany helped me redefine the kind of love I felt I deserved. I wanted my "Golden Hour," not someone on a "High Horse" who thinks he's John Wayne.
After basing my potential future relationships on Musgraves's Grammy award-winning album inspired by her relationship with country singer Ruston Kelly, I was devastated to learn of the couple's divorce last summer (as if there wasn't already enough bad news in 2020!). Ever since the initial shock passed, I've been waiting to see how Musgraves would find a way to create something beautiful out of her heartbreak. And she has delivered.
Three years, multiple Grammy awards, and a public divorce later, Musgraves released a 15-track album accompanied by a 50-minute film that she co-wrote and executive produced. If Golden Hour was a lovestruck day dream, then star-crossed is a sobering wake-up call that explores moments before, during, and after the fall of a relationship. In both artistic formats, Musgraves delves into the complexities of what happens when the happily-ever-after part of a fairy tale love story ends. You can stream the album wherever you listen to music now and watch the film on Paramount+.
Clearly in reference to one of the most familiar literary tragedies in history, star-crossed drums up images of Romeo and Juliet — "Two lovers ripped right at the seams," as Musgraves puts it in the title track of her new album. However, this isn't Shakespeare's version of heartbreak. Much of the singer-songwriter's inspiration for the music came during a guided psilocybin (aka magic mushroom) trip, and the final product has her signature honesty and genre-defying melodies at its core.
"I always love when something classic or something traditional and something futurist kind of meet," she said in an Apple Music 1 interview with Zane Lowe ahead of the album and film's release.
That's exactly what you get from her cinematic film. As dark as some of the imagery in it is — think a 1950s-esque lesson on being a good wife, Musgraves crying alone in a car, and the singer sprawled out in pieces on the table in a hospital operating room — she finds the light figuratively and literally through pop star-worthy fashion moments (mark my words, armor corsets are about to be trending) and surprising cameos. With appearances from the likes of Schitt's Creek actor Eugene Levy, RuPaul's Drag Race winner Symone, and TikTok phenom Courtney Parchman, Musgraves brings a timeless theme into the present moment.
For those disappointed by Lorde's unexpectedly chill album Solar Power, Musgraves's emotional yet straightforward lyrics and genre-bending beats are here to fill the void. Expect songs packed with groovy melodies, hypnotic rhythms, and relatable lyrics. She's brutally honest with herself every step of the way, whether that's admitting "I don't want to be alone" in "good wife" or that "being grown up kinda sucks" in "simple times."
Following a similar theme found in "Golden Hour," Musgraves makes multiple references to protecting her light from being dimmed by someone else. When she sings "He wants your shimmer / To make himself bigger" in the song "breadwinner," she expresses almost the complete opposite of her sentiments in "Butterflies," concluding "See, he's never gonna know what to do / With a woman like you."
While there are disco-infused beats that are sure to make you want to drive with all the windows rolled down, Musgraves puts a dagger right through listeners' hearts with her melodic song "camera roll," which comes about as close to her early country sounds as it gets in her latest album. The pared down track is about those moments when, no matter how hard you try to resist, you end up scrolling back through photos of you and your ex. Forcing yourself to relive happier days is "nothing but torture," according to Musgraves, who adds: "I don't wanna see 'em, but I can't delete 'em."
It's just the soundtrack to kick off what Musgraves is declaring sad girl fall. However, the album is, at its core, a story of resilience and redemption — of remembering who you are in the face of painful change. This is most obvious in the second to last track, "There Is a Light." Punchy drums, electronic beats, and jazzy flutes give the song a nostalgic, upbeat vibe as Musgraves reclaims her light. And when it plays in the film, it's layered with psychedelic flashing lights and quick edits to mimic an acid trip.
Finally, the album and film come to a close with Musgraves's rendition of "gracias a la vida," originally by Chilean folk artist Violeta Parra. Translated to English, the title means "Thanks to Life," and it's a fitting, albeit unexpected conclusion to the recently divorced singer's musical journey out of heartbreak back to herself. It speaks to the experience of going through something hard and scary and coming out the other side just grateful to feel both pain and euphoria — and willing to risk more tragedy for a chance at joy once again.
Needless to say, I'll be listening to the album on repeat for the foreseeable future, and heartbroken or not, I suggest you do the same.