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Texas-born country superstar Kacey Musgraves released nothing less than one of the best albums of the last decade in 2018’s Golden Hour, melding pop and Americana (“galactic country,” she called it) in a way that resonated mightily with critics and fans alike. The Recording Academy felt similarly, awarding Musgraves four of her six career Grammys for the album, including statues for Album of the Year and Best Country Album. Since then, the singer/songwriter has gotten into modeling, contributed a song to the Frozen II soundtrack, starred in her own Christmas special, and voiced a character in a Studio Ghibli film. Musgraves’ professional breakout overlapped with personal adversity, as she and her then-husband, fellow country musician Ruston Kelly, filed for divorce in July 2020. So as Musgraves’ Golden Hour continues to fade, all eyes are on her forthcoming follow-up. Here’s everything we know about the album—one of Paste’s most-anticipated of 2021—so far.
As far as we can tell, the breadcrumb trail to Musgraves’ fourth LP (not counting A Very Kacey Christmas) began on Aug. 10, 2020, when a fan tweeted (seemingly unprompted), “Hey @KaceyMusgraves I know damn well you have some bops just chillin in your custody. Pls give me a crumb of happiness bby.” Musgraves quote-tweeted just two pandemonium-inspiring words in response: “i do.”
That small a spark was all it took for the slow burn to begin, with Musgraves carefully managing fan expectations via Twitter. Responding to an impatient fan on Oct. 22, 2020, Musgraves promised, “you children are just gonna have to be patient. It’ll be worth the wait.” To the disappointment of her self-described “yeehoes,” Musgraves revealed on Nov. 28, 2020, that her LP4 wouldn’t see a release that year at all: “girl 2020 doesn’t deserve a new album,” she tweeted in response to another fan’s entreaty. (She had a point there.)
Let’s fast-forward through the rest of 2020 (if only we could’ve done so during 2020 itself).
Musgraves pulled back the curtain in earnest for the first time in early 2021, opening up about her divorce and the process of writing and recording her new record in an extensive Rolling Stone feature published Feb. 11. The piece revealed Musgraves had reunited with her Golden Hour producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk for the follow-up, and that it was “set to be released this year.”
Songwriting-wise, a key creative breakthrough (assisted by a guided mushroom trip) enabled Musgraves to connect the upheaval in her personal life to the unrest in the U.S. as a whole: Inspired by Greek tragedies, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and the concept of being “star-crossed,” she would build her record around the classical three-act structure, pulling from the 39 songs she had written in the years since Golden Hour.
“This last chapter of my life and this whole last year and chapter for our country—at its most simple form, it’s a tragedy,” she told RS. “And then I started looking into why portraying a tragedy is actually therapeutic and why it is a form of art that has lasted for centuries. It’s because you set the scene, the audience rises to the climax of the problem with you, and then there’s resolve. There’s a feeling of resolution at the end. I was inspired by that.”
Stylistically, the RS piece painted a diverse portrait of Musgraves’ LP4: “I mean, looking at the list of songs, we have some that venture into, like, a Bill Withers land. We’ve got that synth stuff that we always loved. And we’ve got some Eagles or America territory. There’s a little bit of a dance vibe,” she revealed.
In one exchange, Tashian refered to “that title, ‘Star-Crossed’”—it’s not entirely clear if he was referring to an album title, a track title, or both—while he and Musgraves debated how the song should sound, with the pair contemplating “an uptempo, sad dance song,” then “a bossa nova, waltz-type vibe,” only for Musgraves to realize, “Wait, we do have a waltz.” A snippet of her “Star-Crossed” lyrics was included:
Let me set the scene
Two lovers ripped right at the seams
Woke up from the perfect dream
And then the darkness came
Signed the papers yesterday
You came and took your things away
I moved out of the home we made
And gave you back your name
There’s also talk in the piece of Musgraves recruiting Carlos Santana to play on “Star-Crossed” (“he may very well be game,” Musgraves is said to have been told), though it’s unclear whether that ultimately panned out.
Near its end, the RS piece noted that Musgraves may or may not tour her new album, and viewed it primarily as an act of personal catharsis: “I mean, it’s a therapeutic outlet for me, you know? I can’t help but to write about what I’m going through. I want to honor the huge range of emotion that I’ve felt over this past year, past six months. I also want to honor the relationship we had and the love we have for each other. Because it’s very real.”
About a month and a half later, on Golden Hour’s third birthday, March 30, Musgraves celebrated by revealing that the album had gone platinum, sharing a photo of its certification plaque and tweeting, “HAPPY 3RD BIRTHDAY, GOLDEN HOUR [Shooting star emoji] CAN’T WAIT FOR WHAT’S NEXT.”
Given that Musgraves’ relationship to weed can best be described as “passionate,” it’s only fitting that the only official LP4 update thus far occurred on 4/20. Interscope Records and UMG Nashville announced in an April 20 press release that they would jointly (heh) market and release Musgraves’ new record “later this year,” but gave no further details of the album itself, not even a title.
“Kacey is one of the most powerful storytellers in music today, a true albums artist who creates potent song collections that are timeless,” Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman & CEO John Janick said in a statement. “We are truly delighted to have her as part of our Interscope Records family and look forward to working alongside the UMG Nashville team and her manager Jason Owen to deliver this important project to audiences around the world.”
“I have never worked with anyone whose cultural reach is so vast,” said 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.”
We’d have expected a title reveal to follow that announcement, or perhaps even a lead single. But while 4/20 brought smoke, the fire itself stayed out of sight. In May, it appeared even Musgraves herself was getting tired of waiting: In response to a May 7 tweet that read, “Really annoyed that @KaceyMusgraves doesn’t have a new album out yet,” she simply replied, “Same.” When another fan asked on May 16 where the album was, Musgraves teased, “in my back pocket, bish.” And on May 18, she shared a brief video clip of her throwing a banana peel, with the caption, “if y’all ask me where the album is at one more time..”
On May 20, though, ELLE published an interview with Musgraves, revealing a few more key details. The LP would feature 15 tracks (narrowed down from 40), and was “set to be released in late summer or early fall of this year.” Musgraves cited “Bill Withers, Daft Punk, Sade, The Eagles and Weezer” among the album’s foremost influences, explaining, “I feel like I don’t belong to country in any way on one hand, but on the other hand, I’m deeply rooted in that genre. So I’m not owned by it.” And she explained that, while “Golden Hour was, in a lot of senses, escapism. It was fantasy. It was rose-colored glasses,” her new album “is realism.”
It would be months before the next substantial update on Musgraves’ album, though she did give fans a momentary jolt in July: “Something dropping in 30 mins,” she tweeted on July 23. “And no, it’s not the album.” Sure enough, it was actually just a new piece of merch, but can you imagine?
Come early August, Musgraves was the subject of a Crack magazine cover story that offered the third—and, as of this writing, final—window into her LP4. One Musgraves quote in particular stood out: “My last album is what people know me for. They see me as this starry-eyed, rose-coloured glasses kinda girl; the Golden Hour girl. Well, here I come with a post-divorce album, bursting the fucking bubble.”
The Crack piece noted that the album’s “title remains a secret,” describing it as “an ambitious record” that “unpacks Musgraves’ experiences with glimmers of sumptuous, Shakespearean melodrama,” and revealing that Musgraves recorded the LP in chronological order over two-and-a-half weeks. The singer/songwriter compared creating the album to grieving—“denial, anger, sadness, depression, bargaining, guilt … [I’ve felt] all of those things”—and said the process had a spiritual component: “the religion of starting over and trying like hell to see beauty in your pain and then transforming that trauma into something useful.”
At one point in the piece, Musgraves remarked, “Sometimes I feel like this album has more of a foot in country than Golden Hour,” though Crack’s Douglas Greenwood cast some doubt on that notion, observing that “the [album’s] myriad sonic textures may suggest differently.”
He wrote of the textures in question:
Production-wise, the record places bittersweet songs like fados and buoyant pop tracks practically side-by-side; Japanese katos segue into jazz flutes into aggressive vocal processing. The thematic through-line is equally volatile, as humans in the grips of heartbreak tend to be: the tragedy starts with a bruised protagonist and ends with one significantly less so, but the journey to that point is shaped by setbacks and contradictions.
The piece described “the record’s titular opening track,” specifically, as “a pared-back, Latin-inflected ballad about resigning from a relationship and accepting fate without bitterness. Fairly exposed at first, it swells into a pattern of guttural electric guitar, spectral strings and a chorus of voices.” Tashian noted that recording this particular song was “like making a movie, and Kacey was behind the board directing.”
Last key bit: Asked what her hopes for the album were, Musgraves replied:
In the modern world of celebrity culture, I think people can forget that [we] are humans too. It’s easy to look at somebody’s Instagram and think they’ve got it figured out, but it’s never a depiction of what’s on the inside. Maybe it’s a reminder that you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life, and we are all in this together as these little creatures navigating feelings and emotions on this fucking spinning planet. I dunno, [making this record] made me feel closer to humanity in some ways.
Think most of us could use a little (or a lot) of that ourselves nowadays.
Given all that we learned about Musgraves’ new album through those interviews, it was easy to forget the fact that we hadn’t heard a single note of it. That changed on Aug. 5—the same day the Crack piece was published, actually—when Vulture flagged that Musgraves had previewed two of her new songs on a podcast called A Slight Change of Plans. Appearing on the show (in which guests talk about navigating life transitions with host Dr. Maya Shankar), Musgraves discussed the psychedelics that inspired her new album’s concept, revealed that “Star-Crossed” was the 40th and final song she had written for the record, and teased two specific tracks.
The first, “Camera Roll,” was written around the concept of being dogged by painful memories: “It fucks me up bad,” Musgraves said of the song, explaining, “After the divorce and everything, you know, you have all these photos of your life—your old life—in your phone and you don’t know what to do with them. You’re like, ‘Do I delete this? This person didn’t die, and these are still my memories.’ But I don’t wanna see ‘em everyday. Well, you know, you get to scrolling on your phone one late night, and you just wander down this down alley with all these wonderful memories, at one point, and you’re just fuckin’ stabbed in the heart.”
She was inspired to capture that feeling on piano, and the song’s opening lyrics poured out—she previewed them on the podcast, singing a snippet of “Camera Roll” around the episode’s 10:09 mark:
Don’t go through your camera roll / So much you don’t know that you’ve forgotten / What a trip, the way you can flip / through all the good parts of it / I shouldn’t have done it / Chronological order, nothing but torture / Scroll too far back, that’s what you get / I don’t wanna see ‘em but I can’t delete ‘em / It just doesn’t feel right yet / Not yet
Musgraves didn’t go quite as in-depth on the second track, “If I Was an Angel,” which she explained (around the 31:08 mark) is a song about change that’s “basically saying, if I was an angel, I wouldn’t have to change my ways, you wouldn’t have to change your ways. If I was an angel, I mean, everything would be just fine.” She doesn’t share any details of the song’s instrumentation, but does sing a bit of it, as well: “If I was an angel, I’d never have to change / I’d never have to change / But something’s gotta change.”
Something sure does, because for now, that’s all we know. But if the ELLE feature’s “late summer or early fall” timeline holds true, the long wait is almost over.
Less than 24 hours after this piece was published, Musgraves shared her first album teaser in a hot minute: In response to a fan tweet saying, “album please. some of us would like to keep up our tradition of overwhelming sadness in the fall, thanks!” Musgraves simply tweeted, “I gotchu.”
Musgraves finally announced her album in earnest on Aug. 23, revealing that star-crossed and a forthcoming, Paramount+-exclusive film (dir. Bardia Zeinali) of the same name will both arrive on Sept. 10. She also shared the album’s title track, a trailer for the film, and the album’s tracklist and artwork, all of which you’ll find below.
02. good wife
03. cherry blossom
04. simple times
05. if this was a movie..
09. camera roll
10. easier said
11. hookup scene
12. keep lookin’ up
13. what doesn’t kill me
14. there is a light
15. gracias a la vida
star-crossed Album Art:
Musgraves shared a second single from the record on Aug. 27, “justified,” alongside a Zeinali-directed video.
Third and final single “simpler times” followed on Sept. 9.
Finally, Musgraves released star-crossed on Sept. 10. Ellen Johnson wrote in her review for Paste that, “while the result can’t quite touch the otherworldly iridescence of Musgraves’ magnum opus and Grammy Album of the Year winner (though, to be fair, few albums can), star-crossed is still a hell of a listen. And more importantly, it finds Musgraves chasing what it seems like she ultimately wants most: unbridled creative freedom.”
You can listen to star-crossed here.
Revisit Musgraves’ 2015 Daytrotter session below and stay tuned for further updates on her new album. You can check out our picks for her 15 best songs here.