If our year-end lists of songs and albums were any indication, it was a great year for emerging artists. From the un-fightable, infectious pop of Haim, the ragged garage rock of Mikal Cronin, the punishing punch of a Savages track to Majical Cloudz’s reflective slow-churners, we were in for a treat in 2013 with breakout acts.
Along the way, we made plenty of discoveries in our weekly Best of What’s Next profiles, which are featured first at PASTE.COM. We’ve included our 20 favorite finds and their complete profiles (or reviews in a few cases) below for you to discover yourself. And if you’re taking a peek at this during the work day and just want to see the darn list already, we’ve got you covered—head on over to page 12 in the gallery below.
10. Kacey Musgraves
By Dacey Orr
Kacey Musgraves’ tour bus is just as charming and unassuming as you might hope. There’s a unicorn picture framed on the wall, plastered with a fluorescent price tag from a discount store. A makeup bag’s contents are strewn all over the table, and Musgraves is just cracking up over a copy of her first self-released CD, something her grandmother sent her in the mail, as she begins to tell me how she turned a love for songwriting and performing into this whirlwind of a lifestyle. Living in Austin and commuting to Nashville as much as she could afford to, a move to Music City was the only way to really commit to a career in country music.
“When I got there, I only knew a couple people,” she says. “It’s such a tight-knit community that I just started writing with those people, and they helped me branch out. And those people turned into six and six turned into 12.”
The products of Musgraves’ collaborative nature are probably already familiar to country fans, whether they know it: the 25-year-old singer/songwriter co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s hit “Mama’s Broken Heart” and also helped pen “Undermine” for ABC’s Nashville.
“A good co-write kind of goes like a good volley, you know,” says Musgraves, describing the way an idea will bounce back and forth between a few people. Musgraves has saved a few aces for herself, too, landing hits with radio-ready singles like “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Blowin’ Smoke.” Beyond radio play, though, Musgraves has big aspirations.
“I would love to be able to do it how Willie Nelson did it, as far as being a songwriter and also an artist,” Musgraves says. “Just staying so true to who he is and never, ever giving a shit about anything else. I love that. It’s always about the songs with him, I feel like. Dolly Parton’s another one. I think she’s a great storyteller, but she’s stayed really real and she’s got a good sense of humor. I like that.”
When it comes to humor, straightforwardness and never, ever giving a shit, Musgraves is taking all the right cues. Lyrics about same-sex kissing and double standards may still be scarce on commercial country airwaves, but that hasn’t stopped Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” from rising as a fan favorite. A top-seller despite its lack of radio play, the song has become popular across genre lines by promoting open-mindedness in a way country music hasn’t necessarily seen before.
“It was really just about encouraging people to just do what they do,” Musgraves says. “Not just gay people. But straight, gay, just every kind of person doing whatever their heart desires. If that’s drinking, cool. If it’s not, awesome. I think it’s just about encouraging freedom of all choices. Just making yourself happy.”
The importance of playing to fans of all genres isn’t lost on Musgraves, either: in between stadiums on her mega-tour with Kenny Chesney, you’re just as likely to find her filling an intimate playing room or sweating it out on a festival stage. Musgraves bridges the gaps between stadium shows with appearances at smaller clubs and even found time to check off a major career goal with an appearance at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June.
“It was kind of a dream of mine,” Musgraves says. “When I started everything, I told my whole team, ‘I want to be the kind of artist that can play CMA Fest but then turn around and play Bonnaroo.’ It’s such an all-accepting place. It doesn’t seem like genres really make a difference there; it’s kind of just good music across the board of all different kinds.”
Even after seeing her charm a crowd of thousands, it’s conceivable—taking into account not only her influences, but her work itself—that Musgraves’ strength as a performer is only half of the equation. The writing on Same Trailer Different Park builds on the simplicity and straightforwardness of country classics while mixing in distinctly modern romantic sentiments, freshening the sound for a new generation of music-lovers. Just take the album’s final track, “It Is What It Is,” a friends-with-benefits storyline set to simple melody.
“All I had was just, ‘It is what it is, till it ain’t anymore,’” Musgraves says. She brought the idea to fellow songwriters Brandy Clark and Luke Laird with the insistence that it be very simple and old-country, but also very blunt. “If it’s going to be that traditional sounding, then it’s gotta have some sort of edge to the lyric I think. But they totally got what I was going for… just simple songs that are really honest.”
The track is one of several examples on Same Trailer Different Park that blend Musgraves’ appreciation for tradition with her progressive thinking. It’s this kind of attitude that, to many music lovers, indicates that this may just be the beginning for the young Texas performer.
“I would rather just have a slow burn and a long career,” Musgraves says. “I’d rather have a few fans who really, really got and dug what I want to do instead of a million who are like ‘I guess this is cool right now.’”
With that in mind, Musgraves is winding down her stadium tour summer with a European tour on the horizon, playing in a distinctly more intimate kind of listening atmosphere. Taking what she’s learned playing to 80,000 people and tailoring it to 80 is just the kind of challenge that could give Musgraves the longevity she craves and the widespread acclaim she deserves; From Austin to Amsterdam, Musgraves’ blunt lyricism and sweet delivery is finding the kind of dedicated fans she’s looking for.
9. Parquet Courts
By Mark Lore
Parquet Courts’ second release kept a relatively low profile until it was reissued on What’s Your Rupture? in January, and it’s held up its promise of being one of the most good-timing rock records of 2013. Light Up Gold is a quintessential New York album, as the Brooklyn four-piece summon the spirit of the Ramones, the Velvets and Sonic Youth, and maneuver their way through Ridgewood, Queens, in search of Swedish Fish. Even the more muscular tunes like “Light Up Gold II” and “Borrowed Time” maintain a certain couch-sloucher physique. With lyrics that are as dry as the production, this one’s a timeless winner for all the losers.