Photo: Adrienne Raquel
Kacey Musgraves' Road To 'Star-Crossed': How The Breakup Album Fits Right Into Her Glowing Catalog
After catapulting to crossover success with 2018's enchanting 'Golden Hour,' Kacey Musgraves aims to have the same impact with her first full breakup album, 'star-crossed'
Three years ago, Kacey Musgraves released Golden Hour, a glittering display of her buttery vocals through what she calls "cosmic country." The whimsical production was a musical representation of the fairytale love she found with fellow country singer Ruston Kelly.
Three years later, Musgraves' script has completely flipped. She and Kelly divorced in September 2020, giving the Texas-born star a new form of inspiration, and one she least expected. The result is star-crossed, a 15-song diary of Musgraves' marriage that she and Kelly said "simply just didn't work." Rightfully so, it's the singer's first full-fledged breakup album. But despite its lovelorn backstory, star-crossed is, at its core, another level of the resilience Musgraves has shown from the start.
Musgraves' 2013 debut set, Same Trailer Different Park, dissected the suffocating mindset of small-town life—a bold move for the native of Golden, Texas, a town of 200 people—in tracks like her breakout single "Merry Go 'Round" while also rejecting societal norms on the cheeky "Follow Your Arrow." Ironically, the impudent songs marked Musgraves' biggest commercial hits to date, landing at No. 10 on Billboard's Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts, respectively.
The struggle for commercial success has always been part of Musgraves' narrative, largely in part due to her unabashed honesty. With references to kissing girls and rolling a joint in "Follow Your Arrow," Musgraves immediately declared that she didn't care if she polarized country traditionalists and radio programmers.
But her boundary-pushing approach was clearly resonating with just about everyone else: Same Trailer Different Parkwon Musgraves her first two GRAMMYs and Country Music Awards (as well as her first Academy of Country Music Award), and the album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. (What's more, Miranda Lambert's fiery hit "Mama's Broken Heart"—co-written by Musgraves—received GRAMMY, CMA and ACM nominations, and reached No. 2 on both Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs that same year.)
As her star quickly rose, Musgraves' pop sensibilities also gained notice. Not only did her debut set land at No. 2 on the all-genre Billboard 200, but the singer's unique stylings caught the attention of pop superstars Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. Perry recruited Musgraves to open the Midwest and Canadian portions of her blockbuster 2014 Prismatic Tour; Clarkson invited Musgraves to perform at a holiday benefit concert she hosted in Nashville later that year.
"She has such an innocent voice, while her lyrics are so clever and smart," Clarkson said of Musgraves in a 2015 SPIN feature. "Her music gives me room to breathe in this rapid-paced world of political nonsense."
Musgraves' doughty commentary continued on her sophomore effort, 2015's Pageant Material, though this time it was aimed at her critics instead of her narrow-minded upbringing: "Good Ol' Boys Club'' was a direct reference to the country radio folks who refused to give her a shot.
She used her trademark turn of phrase to countrify the idiom "Mind your own business" with the twangy single "Biscuits" ("Mind your own biscuits/ And life will be gravy," she quips on the hook), and the playful "Cup of Tea" sees Musgraves acknowledging that her music isn't going to please everyone ("Nobody's everybody's favorite, so you might as well just make it how you please/ 'Cause you can't be everybody's cup of tea").
Naysayers aside, Musgraves' wordplay won the hearts of many in the first few years of her career. But as she began crafting her third record, the singer recognized that she needed a change. "Before, my songwriting hinged more on turning phrases," Musgraves explained to Marie Claire in 2019. "I like that style, but I wasn't using all the colors in the box. This time, I wanted to speak from the heart. It was time to shift gears and feel things and let people in a little bit more. I'm a perfectionist. I had to let go."
She had also let go of any inhibitions she had about love, resulting in a whirlwind romance with Kelly that began in 2016. Three weeks after meeting the crooner, Musgraved wrote the appropriately fluttering "Butterflies," which proclaimed in the pre-chorus, "Out of the blue/ I fell for you." The Golden Hour single teased what was to come with Musgraves' next project, which ushered in a starry-eyed perspective and introduced dreamy production and Auto-Tune into her sonic universe.
While it was evident there was something in the air while Musgraves created Golden Hour, she likely never could've anticipated the kind of impact it had. The album made the trailblazing country starlet a household name, winning the Album of the Year honors at the CMAs, ACMs, and the GRAMMYs. (Musgraves won all four GRAMMYs for which she was nominated for in 2019, including Best Country Album, Best Country Song for "Space Cowboy," and Best Country Solo Performance for "Butterflies.") The set's pop-leaning dynamics also earned her an invite to open for Harry Styleson his highly anticipated 2018 North American arena tour.
Once Golden Hour was declared the GRAMMY Album of the Year—over the likes of Cardi B, Post Malone, Drake, mind you—it felt as though Musgraves had become bigger than a crossover success. She was more like a pop culture phenom, sending social media into a frenzy with her impeccable Moschino Barbie look at the 2019 Met Gala, guest judging on RuPaul's Drag Race, and hosting a star-studded Christmas special that featured Schitt's Creek star Dan Levy, Lana Del Rey, and Camila Cabello, among others. Though a major bar had been set for a Golden Hour follow-up, Musgraves carved a solid path that kept expectations and hopes equally high.
But as she pointed out in one of Golden Hour's only breakup tales, "Space Cowboy," "sunsets fade, and love does too." Before she knew it, Musgraves' life-changing romance was coming to an end, and as she declares in her star-crossed track "What Doesn't Kill Me," "the golden hour faded black." Following a guided psilocybin trip in Nashville at the beginning of 2021, Musgraves explained to Crack magazine that she had a revelation about her situation: "I've been through a f*ing tragedy!"
That sparked the idea of presenting her post-divorce album like a three-part Greek tragedy. The 15-track star-crossedunfolds her relationship's demise, establishes where it went wrong, and looks ahead to new beginnings. Before landing on the tragedy theme, Musgraves admitted she wasn't quite sure she wanted to divulge the issues that ultimately crumbled the magical world she had created with Golden Hour. But once she really thought about it, she knew there was no other way.
"People know me to be a songwriter that writes about what I'm going through, and I think it would've been extremely awkward if I just acted like this chapter didn't happen for me," Musgraves told Apple Music's Zane Lowe. "You saw my highlight reel with Golden Hour, and this is the other side of that. There are beautiful sides of that too.
"I want the chance to transform my trauma into something else, and I want to give myself that opportunity even if it's painful," she added. "It was completely life-changing in so many ways."
It was seemingly creatively stimulating as well. Star-crossed takes the ethereal production of Golden Hour to new heights, experimenting with just how cosmic Musgraves can sound on swirling tracks like "Good Wife" and "If This Was a Movie." Perhaps the latter ignited another lightbulb moment for Musgraves, because star-crossed is, indeed, a movie. A 50-minute film of the same name played for one night only in 25 theaters around the U.S. on Sept. 8, and arrived to Paramount+ as the album hit streaming platforms at midnight on Sept. 10.
Star-crossed: the film is a reminder that Musgraves is an artistic mastermind. It also reassures fans that her playfulness hasn't completely disappeared. Complex manifestations of the tracks are sprinkled with Easter eggs and entertaining performances from the cast, including comedian Megan Stalter and Latin singer-songwriter San Cha. It's a fitting parallel to the balance of the album, which is lyrically dense while sonically mesmerizing.
For example, the title track is soundtracked by flittering Latin-inspired guitar and thumping production as Musgraves starts off the album in poetic form: "Let me set the scene/ Two lovers ripped right at the seams/ They woke up from the perfect dream/ And then the darkness came/ I signed the papers yesterday/ You came and took your things away/ And moved out of the home we made/ And gave you back your name."
While it's obvious why Musgraves delved into heartbreak on star-crossed, a full project of breakup songs shouldn't come as a complete shock to longtime listeners anyway.
No matter how impudent Musgraves has been in her music and in the public eye, her sensitive side hasn't been lost in her audacity. Each of her albums has had its tender moments, like Same Trailer Different Park single "Keep It To Yourself" and Pageant Material closer "Fine." Yes, even the rose-colored Golden Hour featured some melancholy, with the lamenting ballad "Space Cowboy" and the nerve-wracked "Happy & Sad."
Funnily enough, for a woman who has no problem telling anyone off, Musgraves doesn't have any truly scathing breakup tunes in her catalog. The edginess comes in the form of creative phrasing and lighthearted jabs, like Golden Hour's disco-tinged single "High Horse" or Pageant Material's falsetto-laced track "Miserable." "Breadwinner" and "Justified" are about as caustic as Musgraves gets on star-crossed, which is overall more of a diary than a revenge party.
"I'm not a ruthless person," Musgraves told ELLE earlier this year. "I care about other people's feelings," she added, asserting that releasing such a detailed account of her divorce was "kind of scary."
At the same time, the writing process was a "therapeutic outlet" for the singer-songwriter. "I can't help but to write about what I'm going through," she said in her February cover story for Rolling Stone. "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 [Ruston and I] had and the love we have for each other. Because it's very real."
One thing that didn't scare Musgraves was the elevated production that Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian (the dream team behind Golden Hour) brought to star-crossed. Combining Musgraves' country-leaning wordcraft and velvety voice with synths and vocoders clearly worked on her previous album, which she told Crack allowed her to accomplish "everything I could have ever dreamed of." With that, "I felt like I didn't really have anything to prove," she said, "and I don't make albums for accolades anyway."
Even if this isn't musically her most country work, Musgraves would argue she's more aligned with the genre than ever. She joked to The New York Times (in classic Kacey fashion), "I wasn't going to be a real country artist without at least one divorce under my belt."
Kacey die-hards will be pleased to know she's feeling butterflies once again, as her new beau, writer Cole Schafer, made things Instagram official with a sweet dedication to Musgraves on her Aug. 21 birthday. "Here's to you making it through thirty-two and here's to you making history in thirty-three," he wrote in the caption of a black-and-white photo montage. He left his star-crossed review in the comments: "that s fs."
Whether or not Schafer is the muse for her next work, Musgraves has hinted that she's at peace with the heartache that resulted in star-crossed—even if it wasn't what she'd envisioned for this next chapter. "I'm in a night period," she contended to Rolling Stone. "But what's great about that is that next is another light period. It will come again."
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: BIGHIT MUSIC
Everything We Know About Jung Kook’s New Album ‘Golden’: Release Date, Album Cover, Tracklist & More
BTS member Jung Kook announced his debut full-length solo album. 'GOLDEN' will drop on Nov. 3; here's everything we know about the K-pop release.
The latest member of K-pop juggernaut BTS has announced a new solo album. Due Nov. 3, Jung Kook's GOLDEN is his first full-length solo release.
The youngest member of the GRAMMY-nominated septet, Jung Kook has long stood out for his creativity in vocals, dancing, and rap skills. In recent years, he's made a distinctive impact via tracks like 2018’s "Euphoria" and 2020's "Still With You," and collaborations with artists like Latto and Charlie Puth. Along with music, he has also expanded his brand presence by venturing into fashion, including a campaign with Calvin Klein.
GOLDEN will include Jung Kook's recent collaboration with Jack Harlow, a catchy pop track with melodies heavily influenced by 2000s-era boy bands.
Jung Kook's debut album follows BTS' hiatus for mandatory Korean military service. For BTS fans — known as ARMY — GOLDEN is a highly anticipated addition to the ensemble's universe.
Although details on GOLDEN are sparse, read more on everything we know about Jung Kook's debut solo album.
GOLDEN Comes Out Exactly One Month After Being Announced
Mark your calendars! Jung Kook is dropping GOLDEN on Nov. 3, exactly a month after announcing it on Oct. 3.
The Album Cover Hasn't Been Unveiled
While the official cover for GOLDEN hasn't been unveiled, the album announcement featured a green background with a golden border and GOLDEN centered in bold. The album announcement photo is a different, much more reserved vibe in comparison to Jung Kook's associated press images. In the latter, the singer is set against a futuristic background in a Y2K-era outfit.
GOLDEN Has A Significant Meaning
The title of the album refers to Jung Kook's moniker the "Golden Maknae," which was gifted by bandmate RM. The Korean phrase maknae means "golden youngest" and, at 26 years old, Jung Kook is the baby brother of the group.
The album is "inspired by the golden moments of Jung Kook, the Golden Maknae of BTS and a solo artist," according to a press release. Given Jung Kook's versatility and skill, his forthcoming album will certainly mark him as a gold star.
The Tracklist Is Still Being Teased
The album will feature 11 songs, including already-released singles "Seven (ft. Latto)," which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Jung Kook's Jack Harlow collab will also be on the record; the song and No. 3 on UK Official Chart, along with "3D" feat. Jack Harlow, which topped the iTunes Top Song chart in 100 countries/regions.
Pre-Orders Are Already Underway
For fans hoping to get their hands on the album, pre-orders for digital and physical copies begin at Oct.3. at 10 p.m. ET.
Fans Should Expect Upcoming Performances
According to BIGHIT Music, Jung Kook will be making special performances and appearances throughout the album’s release.
Photo: John Shearer/MTV VMAs 2021/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS
10 Albums On Divorce & Heartache, From Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' To Kelly Clarkson's 'Chemistry'
Divorce albums have been a staple of the music industry for decades. Take a look at some of the most notable musings on a breaking heart, from Kacey Musgraves, Kanye West and more.
Divorce can be complicated, messy, and heartbreaking. But those feelings are prime fodder for songwriting — and it's something that artists of all genres have harnessed for decades.
Writing through the pain can serve many benefits for an artist. Marvin Gaye used Here, My Dear as a way to find closure in the aftermath of his divorce. Adele told Vogue that her recording process gave her somewhere to feel safe while recording 30, a raw account of the aftermath of her marriage ending. And Kelly Clarkson's new album, chemistry, finds her reclaiming herself, while fully taking stock of everything that happened in her marriage, good and bad.
As fans dive into chemistry, GRAMMY.com has compiled a list of 10 divorce albums from all walks of music. Whether you need to cry, vent, or maybe even laugh, there's a divorce album that has what you need.
Tammy Wynette, D-I-V-O-R-C-E (1968)
During her life, Tammy Wynette was a prolific country songwriter and singer, releasing numerous albums exploring all aspects of love. She was also deeply familiar with divorce, with five marriages throughout her adulthood.
The most intimate album on the topic is her bluntly titled 1968 project D-I-V-O-R-C-E, which explores how sensitive the topic was to speak about. The title track is a mournful tune about hiding a separation from her children, but also conveys the general difficulty of discussing the topic with anyone. Elsewhere on the album, "Kiss Away" is a longing ballad about wishing for a more tender resolution when words have failed.
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (1977)
After recording 10 albums together, Fleetwood Mac were in disarray. During the recording of their eleventh record, the members of the band were going through affairs, divorces, and breakups, even some with each other. Against all odds, they created Rumours — and it became the band's most successful and iconic album.
The spectrum of emotions and sounds on the album is wide. "The Chain" is all fire and bombast, while the laidback acceptance of "Dreams" seeks to find peace in the storm. Fleetwood Mac sorted out their issues and are still going strong to this day, but their heartbreak created something special in Rumours.
Beck, Sea Change (2002)
Beck has had a prolific career, with 14 studio albums to his name. One of his most affecting is 2002's Sea Change, written in the aftermath of his engagement and nine-year relationship ending.
It's a deeply insular album, even by Beck's standards. Tracks like "Already Dead" are slow and mournful, while standout "It's All In Your Mind" finds him burrowing deep into his own thoughts to parse out how exactly he's feeling with his new life.
Open Mike Eagle, Anime, Trauma, and Divorce (2020)
Divorce isn't a topic that immediately brings laughter, but rapper Open Mike Eagle seemed to find humor in his personal story with his album Anime, Trauma, and Divorce. The album title gives a pretty good rundown of what inspired the project, and Mike's laidback rapping sells how silly the aftermath of pain can be.
"Sweatpants Spiderman" finds him trying to become a functional adult again, and discovering the various ailments of his aging body and thinner wallet that are getting in the way. The fed-up delivery on standout track "Wtf is Self Care" is a hilarious lesson on how learning to be kind to yourself post-breakup is harder than it sounds.
Carly Pearce, 29: Written In Stone (2021)
Heartbreak is a common topic in all genres, but country has some of the most profound narratives of sorrow. Carly Pearce added to that legacy with 29: Written in Stone, her 2021 album centered around her 29th year — a year that included both a marriage and a subsequent divorce.
The emotional whiplash of such a quick change can be felt all over the project, from an upbeat diss track like "Next Girl" to more poignant pieces like the title track, which finds Pearce reflecting on her tumultuous year. Her vulnerability resonated, as single "Never Wanted To Be That Girl" won Pearce her first GRAMMY, and her latest single, "What He Didn't Do," scored the singer her fourth No. 1 at country radio.
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Kanye West's fourth album 808s & Heartbreak came from a deep well of pain. Besides the end of his relationship, West was also in turmoil from the death of his mother, Donda. The result is one of the bleakest sounding records on this list — but also one of West's most impactful.
808s & Heartbreak is minimalistic, dark, and brooding, with a focus on somber strings and 808 drum loops (hence the album's title). West delivers most of his lyrics in a monotone drone through a thick layer of autotune, a stylistic choice that heightens the sense of loss. Besides being a testament to West's pain, the electronic sound pioneered on 808s & Heartbreak would serve as a foundational inspiration for the next several years of hip-hop.
Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage, & Divorce (2014)
Toni Braxton and Babyface are two stalwarts of R&B in their own rights, and in 2014, the pair connected over their shared experiences going through divorce. Their bond sparked Love, Marriage, & Divorce, a GRAMMY-winning album that intended to capture the more universal feelings the life of a relationship conjures up.
Each artist has solo tracks on the record — Babyface wishing the best for his ex on "I Hope That You're Okay" and Braxton sharing her justified anger on "I Wish" and "I'd Rather Be Broke" — but where they shine is on their collaborations. The agonizing "Where Did We Go Wrong?" is heartbreaking, and the album ends with painful what-ifs in the soulful "The D Word."
Adele, 30 (2021)
Divorce is hard no matter the circumstances, but it gets even more complicated when children are involved. That was the reality for Adele, and it served as major inspiration for her fourth album, 30.
Like every album on this list, there's plenty of sorrow on the record, but what really sets it apart is just how honestly Adele grapples with the guilt of putting her son Angelo through turmoil as well. The album's GRAMMY-winning lead single "Easy On Me" addresses it in relation to her son, and standout track "I Drink Wine" is a full examination of the messy feelings she went through during her divorce.
Kacey Musgraves, star-crossed (2021)
As many of these albums prove, divorce triggers a hoard of emotions, from anger to sadness to eventual happiness. On star-crossed, Kacey Musgraves goes through it all.
There's the anthemic "breadwinner" about being better on her own, "camera roll" looking back on happier times with sorrow, and "hookup scene" about the confusion of adjusting back to single life. Star-crossed sees Musgraves continue to evolve sonically — incorporating more electronic sounds into her country roots — but ultimately, she comes out the other side at a place of renewed acceptance and growth.
Kelly Clarkson, chemistry (2023)
Kelly Clarkson's tenth album chemistry was born out of her 2020 divorce. In true Kelly fashion, she addresses the subject with thoughtful songwriting and a pop-rock vibe fans have adored for 20 years on.
Chemistry focuses not just on the pain of divorce, but on the tender feelings that many couples still have for each other even after the end. Tracks like "favorite kind of high" mirror the euphoria of love, juxtaposed with ballads like "me," in which Clarkson finds comfort in herself and her inner strength — an inspiring sentiment for anyone who has had their heart broken.
Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
For The Record: Why Kacey Musgraves' Timeless Album 'Golden Hour' Still Shines 5 Years Later
After winning the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 2019, Musgraves' country pop revelation 'Golden Hour' continues to shimmer years later with its universal reflections on love.
In March 2018, Kacey Musgraves heralded the start of springtime with her third studio album Golden Hour — and in turn, the world crowned her a new level of stardom. Brimming with a glorious honeymoon tenderness, the record resonated deeply with listeners and became an instant country pop classic.
In fact, one of the most common Google searches for the album is simply, "Why is Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves so good?" It also won over her famous peers: Golden Hour is Justin Bieber's go-to photoshoot soundtrack, and just its mention on the red carpet earned a gasp from Beanie Feldstein.
The album's magic was equally apparent at the 2019 GRAMMY Awards, where Golden Hour became the fourth country album to win Album Of The Year. It also won Best Country Album, and two of its singles (the starry-eyed "Butterflies" and the wistful "Space Cowboy") won for Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song, respectively — meaning Musgraves swept every category she was nominated in that year.
Her inspiration for Golden Hour came to light upon meeting Ruston Kelly, her now ex-husband (more on that later), when he played a set at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe in 2016. "I had just cleared my schedule to get back to writing when I went to that show and I met him," Musgraves said in an interview. "Songs just immediately started pouring out."
This rush of falling in love saturates Golden Hour. ("It was nice to know that you didn't have to suffer to create good art," she said in a 2021 interview with The Guardian.) A free-falling, saccharine infatuation colors the album's prismatic perimeter, and it's tinged with a distinct warmth that crawls over your skin and fills your heart. Buzzy with pink-orange comfort, its cohesion is satisfying and enveloping, from the affectionate nostalgia of "Slow Burn" to the soft solace of "Rainbow."
But what makes Musgraves' Golden Hour so monumental is its pure acceptance of love's ephemerality — and ironically, this embrace of fleetingness is what makes the album beautifully timeless. The grand album offers 46 minutes of sunlight before fading into the horizon.
In theme with its apt springtime to summer ambiance, Golden Hour magnificently captures the seasonality of love, romantic or not. Musgraves finds self-love in isolation on "Lonely Weekend," a song that feels like a shrug with a sad smile. Later, the singer accepts distance from a lover in the cinematic "Space Cowboy," and she watches precious time slip away in her one-minute heart wrenching ballad "Mother."
Yet, as Musgraves gently confronts her grief, she also taps into a resonant relief. Drawing meaning from this duality, Golden Hour honors how the beauty of life and love is found in the recognition of their inevitable conclusions.
For some, this is most deeply felt in the soaring ballad "Happy & Sad," in which Musgraves exquisitely details the joys and fears that come with falling in love. "Is there a word for the way that I'm feeling tonight?/ Happy and sad at the same time," she sings. "You got me smilin' with tears in my eyes."
On "Happy & Sad," she searches for the exact term to pin down the striking emotion — but Golden Hour encapsulates the feeling so much more powerfully than a singular word could ever achieve. "They say everything that goes up/ Goes up, must come down," Musgraves sings on the track, "And I don't wanna come down."
The album blossoms with such radiance that it's difficult to believe that it's Musgraves' first album about love. It comes after Musgraves' Same Trailer Different Park (2013) and Pageant Material (2015), which each spin stories of small-town life, its challenges, and her favored smoky forms of escapism. Musgraves grew up in Golden, Texas — a town of just 200 people — and through the open-mindedness of her music, she grew out of it.
"Undeniably, I'm a country singer, I'm a country songwriter. But I feel like I make country music for people who like country music, and for people who don't," she explained in an Entertainment Weekly interview shortly after her first album release. "It's a blend of being inspired by super-traditional country roots and then all these other kinds of music: Cake, Weezer, Electric Light Orchestra, the Beatles, Glen Campbell. I don't really see genre boxes."
Though Musgraves' roots are undeniably country, her versatile approach to music allows her to break conventions in what is often viewed as a traditional genre. While slide guitar, banjo, and pedal steel guitar whirl across Golden Hour, a perky vocoder and vibraphone also make appearances in a way that Musgraves described to Refinery 29 as "futurism meeting traditionalism."
This contemporary style applies not just to her work's technical production, but also to her sharp — and what some deemed characteristic of a "liberal misfit" — lyricism. Pageant Material saw her shoot down the "good ol boys' club," and on Same Trailer Different Park's "Follow Your Arrow," Musgraves sings, "Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that's something you're into/ When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight, roll up a joint, or don't."
A variation of the label "The country star for people who hate country music" began to follow her around: Musgraves was determinedly making country "cool" again, taking down bro-country one joint at a time.
On Golden Hour, the standout free-spirited anthem is "Rainbow" — even despite its more somber tone. The piano-driven track sees her brush past a swirling storm, and she tenderly reminds listeners that "there's always been a rainbow hangin' over your head." With its endearing message of hope, many fans in the LGBTQ+ community embraced the song's beaming chorus.
"I feel a kinship and a friendship with that community. They really opened my eyes up to a lot of different things that I wasn't aware of growing up in a small town in Texas," Musgraves said of the LGBTQ+ community. "'Rainbow' is something that I can dedicate to that community, but also to anyone who has any kind of a weight on their shoulders."
As much as the song resonates with members of the queer community, "Rainbow" escapes one singular meaning. Co-writer and producer Shane McAnally described it as a "sort of a chameleon," as many people took the song and shaped special meaning out of it for themselves, whether it be in relation to the challenges of the pandemic, accepting one's identity, or simply everyday life.
This is the inherent, irresistible magic of Golden Hour: universality. Along with Musgraves' pivotal embrace of love's transience, the album's timelessness also stems from its fluid meaning — even for Musgraves herself. In September 2020, the golden hour had faded completely: Musgraves and Kelly split, and she momentarily found herself despising her widely beloved masterpiece.
"There was a time where I was like, 'OK, Golden Hour is trash, I'm not ever singing it again," she admitted in an interview with Zane Lowe, just a few days ahead of dropping her 2021 breakup album star-crossed. "It's like, I never want to see another butterfly ever f—ing again."
Musgraves went on to say, however, that she was eventually able to redefine and rediscover what the album meant to her. "As I've gone on and found some more stable ground and personal happiness, I'm like, 'You know what? No: the magic of Golden Hour does not have to die with that relationship. It can live on and I will relate to it again,'" she told Lowe..
As Musgraves has seemingly discovered herself, Golden Hour is the kind of album that can take the shape of whatever listeners need it to be. And while love may often be impermanent, Golden Hour reminds us to cherish our time in the sun.