Kacey Musgraves is country's smartest, most down-to-earth songwriter

From Lady Gaga to Katy Perry, music has been on an affirmation bender, but Musgraves’ songwriting genius lies in her refusal to puff up her audience’s egos

Kacey Musgraves may have a reputation for being the sassiest hitmaker in Nashville, but she’s so much more than just a wry provocateur, and her latest single proves that once again. Musgraves announced last week that her new single would be Biscuits, a jaunty little song about ignoring nosy neighbours that she’s been performing live for about a year. It plays to all of her songwriting strengths, and the country format has every reason to be excited for its arrival.

Biscuits maintains a lyrical point of view that Musgraves has very quickly established as her own: to be yourself and do what you want. “Smoke your own smoke, and grow your own daisies,” she instructs in the chorus. “Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy.” It’s a cheeky line within a singalong chorus that’s as rich and enjoyable as the buttery breakfast staple for which it’s named.

Musgraves has never been a radio powerhouse – which makes the gold certification of her debut, Same Trailer Different Park, all the more impressive. But if Biscuits doesn’t connect on country radio, then the genre’s woman problem may be beyond repair.

The bouncy song encapsulates the writing style that Musgraves, along with her friends and co-writers Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, has honed so expertly. Musgraves uses simple language, tactile imagery and a generous dose of humour to paint nuanced portraits about what it means truly to blaze your own trail in spite of others’ judgment. On Follow Your Arrow she told listeners to “Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into.” On The Trailer Song, she sang: “Keep your two cents on your side of the fence/Girl, we ain’t friends, we’re just neighbours/Nothing to see here/Go back to your trailer.”

The idea that there’s “nothing to see here” runs through so much of Musgraves’ music, and in a generation sufficiently self-obsessed to make the selfie stick culturally acceptable, that seems pretty revolutionary. Pop music has been on an affirmation bender for the past decade. “You are beautiful in every single way,” said Christina Aguilera. “Baby, you’re a firework,” said Katy Perry. “Just love yourself and you’re set,” said Lady Gaga. But Musgraves has a way of making people feel special not by telling them that they’re special, but by reminding them that no one really is.

The opening line of Musgraves’ as yet unreleased track Cup of Tea reads: “Maybe your jacket is a hand-me-down.” To a lesser songwriter, that line would be followed by something like “But I know you’ll get that mink one day.” For Musgraves, though, the hand-me-down works just fine. After all – “You can’t be everybody’s cup of tea.”

The magic of Musgraves’ songwriting is that it doesn’t sell escapism. As she says in Biscuits: “We’ve all got dirty laundry hanging on the line.” Lyrics like that may seem cynical upon first glance, but such down-to-earth words feel compassionate too, don’t they? They point out common flaws in humanity, and in doing so they emphasise the freedom that comes from realising that nobody’s living a perfect life. For every anxious soul that’s a liberating message, and it makes Musgraves something of a soothsayer for the digital age. In many of her songs she heralds simply doing what you want, nothing more and nothing less. And she is taking intentional steps to make that message a real theme in her writing.

When people write about Musgraves, they tend to say that she is a country artist that gay people or pot smokers or liberals might actually like, but that line of thinking limits the scope of her appeal. (Not to mention the scope of those people’s interests.) In truth, Musgraves’ message of following your arrow is applicable to a much broader swath of the world, including anyone that disagrees with her. That’s following your arrow, too.

Feel free to love Biscuits or feel free to hate it – just don’t go telling your friends that they need to feel the same way.

Contributor

Grady Smith

The GuardianTramp

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