Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
It goes without saying that, on top of amassing six Grammy Awards over five albums, Kacey Musgraves has strived to make country music a little more of an inclusive place over the last decade. Country music can be a touchy subject for the LGBTQ+ community, specifically in regard to its sometimes staunch heteronormativity and tendency to entertain right-wing American politics. But Musgraves enjoys a queer aesthetic of big hair and bellbottoms and once referred to herself as a drag queen stuck inside her own body.
Thus, in a time of increased political division and social isolation, the country star’s supportive and flamboyant stage presence bridges the gap between the genre’s conservative culture and listeners who might not otherwise feel welcome. And even on an emotionally fraught divorce album like Star-Crossed, those welcoming queer vibes of hers are still front and centre.
With her previous highly acclaimed record Golden Hour, Musgraves was basking in newlywed bliss: an ethereal, sky-high type of happiness scarcely afforded to many. Three years later, the singer and husband Ruston Kelly have since split, setting the stage for a dramatic if vengeful follow-up chronicling the separation in the vein of The Chicks’ Gaslighter. But on Star-Crossed, Musgraves is already at peace with the turn that life has taken, even in moments of bitterness. It’s a reminiscent, grateful kind of melancholy that indicates the singer took her time crafting these new songs, because there might only be one shot to say them right.
Expanding on the psychedelic country pop from her last album (and interestingly the one that got her shunned from the traditional country landscape and accepted by the mainstream), Musgraves continues to make use of her signature wounded wit to expose the hypocrisy that often lies within heteronormative gender roles. “Touch him so he knows in his heart, he’s the only one / Try to loosen up and be more fun / Yeah, I could be more fun,” she tells herself on “Good Wife,” at first blaming herself for it all. “And the truth is / I could probably make it on my own / But without him, this house just wouldn’t be a home / And I don’t wanna be alone.” But by the time Star-Crossed reaches its halfway point with “Breadwinner,” she’s already seeing things more clearly: “I can sleep at night / Knowing I really tried / I put in the time / But the fault isn’t mine.”
At times, Star-Crossed does act like a sequel to Golden Hour, specifically where happier moments on the latter have completely soured on the former. If “Lonely Weekend” was Musgraves’ manifesto for feeling at home in her own skin as an adult, “Simple Times” is its antithesis, instead posing the reality that being grown-up kind of sucks. Similarly, “Love is a Wild Thing” has turned to dust on “Camera Roll,” and the grooves on “Velvet Elvis” have faded to gray on “Cherry Blossom.” But through it all, she still somehow manages to hold each of our hearts in her hands, reassuring us it’s all truly fine. If Star-Crossed had a subtitle, it would be, “Kind of sad but staying groovy.”
Although the album is made up of downhearted themes, there’s still something cheerful to be found within Musgraves’ vocals that makes us somehow grateful to be sad—happy and sad at the same time—because it’s evident through the singer’s existing discography that she knows people who have known sadness know themselves better thereafter. With Star-Crossed, Musgraves is reminding us that there’s still always something to be celebrated within feeling blue. Perhaps it’s knowing that we are truly justified in our feelings, especially in a world that manages to shame us for them. Or maybe it’s that we don’t owe anyone anything beyond staying true to what’s best for our own happiness, and sometimes that’s feeling sad for as long as we please.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Star-Crossed: “Good Wife,” “Cherry Blossom,” “Simple Times,” “Justified,” “Breadwinner,” “Camera Roll,” and “Hookup Scene”