Playing Target Center Friday on the heels of her Grammy triumph, country star Kacey Musgraves keeps it real, without any sugar-coating.
After winning Grammys for best country album and song, earning five Academy of Country Music nominations and sweeping the Nashville Scene’s nationwide critics poll for the best in country music in 2013, Kacey Musgraves discovered the new normal last weekend.
First, there was a cake covered with glitter and a Grammy logo presented by country superstars Lady Antebellum, whom Musgraves just rejoined as opening act on a tour that hits Target Center on Friday. Then there were rehearsals for a new cover song that Lady A wants to play with her in concert. And there’s the newfound excitement when audiences hear “Follow Your Arrow,” the tune she performed on the Grammy show two weeks ago.
“There was a huge reaction to ‘Arrow’ so I guess a lot of people must have watched,” she said last weekend from Boston.
Like Taylor Swift, Musgraves tries to keep it real — except she comments more on society than on ex-boyfriends. The 25-year-old newcomer refuses to sugarcoat her lyrics for country radio. If she wants to sing about pot smoking, same-sex love or people who have two kids by the time they’re 21, she does.
The genesis of "Follow Your Arrow" was a note Musgraves wrote to a pal.
“I had a friend who was moving to Paris for like five months and she was leaving everything she was comfortable with behind — even the language,” she said. “I gave her a little arrow necklace and on the card I wrote a dumb little poem. It said something about following your arrow and kissing lots of boys and having fun. But I saved the idea because I thought it would make a really great song.”
Already known for penning such hits as “Mama’s Broken Heart” for Miranda Lambert, she began writing “Follow Your Arrow” with Katy Perry for the pop supernova’s most recent album.
“When I played the idea, Katy said, ‘That sounds like something you’d really be great at. I think you should keep it for yourself.’ I’m really glad I did.”
Musgraves finished writing the tune with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, two Nashville songwriting aces who are gay.
Noted critic Geoffrey Himes, writing in the Nashville Scene about its best-of-2013 winners, praised Musgraves and Clark for relying on “vigorous realism rather than lazy clichés.” While they talk with a drawl and their guitars are twangy, “they aren’t playing by the same old rules. There’s a fearlessness in their writing that puts the iconoclasm of most indie rockers to shame. Musgraves and Clark seem to believe that if they write honestly and evocatively about American small-town life, the people who live there will respond.”
Realist, not rebel
“Kacey’s bold. That’s what we love about her,” said Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley. “She’s got a great voice. She’s confident up there.”
Just don’t call Musgraves a rebel.
“I get frustrated when people throw the rebel and outlaw card out there. The things I’m singing about aren’t controversial, especially not to me. They’re things I’ve encountered in my life that have really made an impression on me.”
If what she sings seems too permissive for music lovers in red states, “that’s never concerned me,” she said with her soft, sweet speaking voice. “The people who are going to like it, are going to like it, and the people who aren’t, aren’t. [‘Follow Your Arrow’] encourages people of all kinds to do whatever makes them happy. Of course, there’s some sarcasm and tongue-in-cheekness in that message.”
She just wants to reflect real life. That’s what she did with her debut single, “Merry Go Round,” which went to only No. 14 on Billboard’s country chart but garnered plenty of industry attention.
The song was sparked by a joke by co-writer McAnally’s mom, who observed lots of comings and goings at a neighbor lady’s house. “I don’t know if she’s selling Mary Kay [cosmetics] or Mary Jane,” slang for marijuana.
“We played on words with ‘Mary’ and then the circle theme presented itself,” Musgraves recalled. “It’s not just something about small towns; it’s a life thing. I feel like no matter where you come from, you follow in your parents’ footsteps because it’s familiar. But along the way you have to figure out where to put your own dreams and goals. Some people go forth and some don’t.”