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Heartbreak, Healing & Kacey Musgraves

When something falls apart, any reaction might seem natural. There’s relief in separation, as well as anger, grief, confusion, even thrill. What one does with any outpouring of emotions is really what we remember. The dissolution of a marriage, the institution this country apparently holds so dear, is someone’s opportunity for loud, drastic, painful change. Haircuts, big moves, new directions — for Kacey Musgraves, the end of her marriage meant producing a new album: star-crossed, and every song, every emotion, every breath hits its mark.

Kacey Musgraves broke onto the scene with 2018’s Golden Hour, a gleaming record sharp with pop country ballads and the freshness of being in love. That record introduced Kacey to a slew of new audiences, and her success left the music industry waiting with bated breath to see what she might do next. But then, in 2020, she filed for divorce from Ruston Kelly, the man who inspired the love songs on Golden Hour, and so it seemed that the tone of her next work would mark a distinct shift in theme.

Star-crossed delivers. The whole album is framed as a story — “let me set the scene,” says Kacey, and begins right at the end. She isn’t shy, she isn’t subtle, and her point hits with the very first song. In a dramatic re-framing of her divorce, Kacey is the protagonist and the songs of the album take us through her journey. She sings about desperately wanting to fulfill the spousal ideal in “good wife,” caring for her man and satisfying his every need. The idea of feeling needed has been prevalent within traditional values of marriage and of being a wife. This desire is almost satirized in this song, “Lord, let me be a good wife,” and do everything for my husband — a list of things which seems almost like what a mother might do. As the album progresses, the narrator’s attitude about marriage shifts, and so does Kacey.With Kacey as narrator, the album serves as an emotional release for a woman mourning the loss of the most meaningful relationship in her life. There isn’t a villain in star-crossed (outside of “breadwinner,” in which Kacey warns us listeners about men coming after our shimmers — and even then it is much more about self-preservation and advocacy for women). Rather than seeking to take revenge or solidify blame, star-crossed opts instead to focus on the personal journey that a woman takes after the dissolution of her marriage. Dealing with the loss of forever — something Kacey sings about in “camera roll” and throughout the album — is tough. This album takes a heartbreak and transforms it into self discovery. The light at the end of the tunnel is found. Kacey finds herself once again, connects to who she was outside of her marriage, and emotionally processes what she needs to. The result is a stunningly meaningful album rich with plain emotion. It’s clear that Kacey Musgraves poured her heart in all its little pieces into this work. And it really, really pays off.

Clarissa Melendez

Columbia Barnard '24

Clarissa Melendez is a freshman at Barnard College, where she studies Art History. She loves books and movies and spends her time in Austin, Texas making collages and driving her 2003 Toyota 4Runner to the video store.
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