American Woman

How a small-town Texan went from being the dark horse of country to Album-of-the-Year gold.

This story on Kacey Musgraves originally appears in V119, our Music Issue. V119 is available for sale now at

Who but Kacey Musgraves would walk this year’s Oscars in powder-pink Giambattista Valli couture and, the very next day, atop a burly brown horse, ride into the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo wearing big hair and rhinestones? “That’s me in a nutshell,” she says of the 24-hour zipline between Hollywood and a hoedown. “Two crazy sides of the world coming together.” (Her February also included a Grammy for Album of the Year, but more on that later.) A rural Texas native with deep roots in traditional western swing, Musgraves has become America’s most buzzed-about country star since the release of her fourth album Golden Hour last year. A masterpiece of crossover country, the record showcased a heartfelt and accessible style, placing her both in the glittering center of pop culture and the ears of listeners of every stripe. “I’ve always had one foot in and one foot outside of the genre,” she says in a Southern drawl on the phone from Nashville, where she now lives. “Whether you grew up in a small town like me or you’re from the city, the common thread is songs that people relate to. I just follow whatever feels inspiring.”

While Musgraves still rhapsodizes about country-strong themes like love, life and family, Golden Hour’s twang is softened by a pristine, FM-radio sheen. Her previous three albums offered little slices of Southern life with song titles like “Biscuits” and “Dime Store Cowgirl,” but here, she turns inward, still feeling the glow of new love after meeting and marrying fellow musician Ruston Kelly. “He turned my life around in a lot of ways, and opened me up to seeing the world in a more positive light,” she says. It’s just about the least cynical album imaginable, a sincere moment of Zen, and Musgraves displays a sense of wonder about the world, singing about the glory of the northern lights and the possibility of reincarnation on “Oh, What a World.” “There’s a lot of hurt out there, and that’s a real part of life,” she says. “But I was inspired to write about the universe and our souls and where we come from. And this person that I found. The magic of it all.”

She wrote some of the music—including the mesmerizing and deceptively psychedelic opener “Slow Burn”—after tripping on acid. “It helps you get outside of your own head,” she says of LSD. “In the grand scheme of things, we’re just little specks of sand. It sounds trippy, but we’re nothing. And we’re also everything. Compassion [is] getting outside how big you think you are in the world.”

Musgraves describes her upbringing as a normal one. “[We lived] out in the sticks of East Texas, comfortable but not crazily blessed.” she says. “My parents were small business owners, and worked constantly to provide for my sister and me. They weren’t high rollers, but I never saw my parents have a boss, so I never thought of myself having one either.”

As a kid she wrote poetry, and her mom encouraged putting the words to music, gifting her a guitar for Christmas when Musgraves was 12. “In country, all you need are a few chords to make a song,” she says. She was soon playing shows around town, often for audiences twice her age. “When all my friends were at school dances, I was getting dressed up in head to toe western wear and performing,” she says. After high school, Musgraves headed to big-city Austin to begin her career in earnest. “I was like, I’m outta here,” she says.

Four albums later, she’s the latest recipient of music’s top honor, but she’s also determined to stick to her roots. After snagging the Grammy for Album of the Year this winter, she celebrated with a fast-food banquet. “I hadn’t made eye contact with a carb in so long,” she says. “So I got a giant cheeseburger, a fried chicken sandwich, and fries. I sat there in my Valentino dress and ate every single bite.” With the spotlight directly on her, she knows that to keep writing relatable songs, she’s got to remember what matters: “Maintaining a connection to reality, my family, and myself, creatively.” And she’s walking the line by looking to—who else?—the fairy godmother of crossover country, Dolly Parton. “I’m curious about how she maintained her sense of self,” she says. “She encompasses all these things; a bombshell with a wicked sense of humor and intelligence, whip-smart songwriting abilities, [and she’s] a businesswoman. The entire package.” The thing is, even as she channels Parton’s lilting Southern voice in praise, Musgraves could just as easily be describing herself.

Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves
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