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Released on September 10, 2021, American country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves’s fifth studio album Star-crossed has garnered praise and attention from longtime fans and new listeners alike. Since her debut album Same Trailer Different Park, Musgraves has attracted newcomers to the country genre with her blend of styles and progressive lyrics. Her newest album specifically details the end of her marriage and subsequent divorce from her then-husband American country singer Ruston Kelly. The pair married in 2017 and separated in late 2020. Her album takes the listener with her on this journey of healing and finding inner strength.

Her sound is a departure from her 2018 Golden Hour album, which featured softer, romantic tracks about Kelly. Musgraves continues to gravitate beyond the country genre in Star-Crossed, blending alternative sounds with traditional country influences. She seems to expand on Golden Hour’s High Horse, which highlighted characteristic elements of disco while staying rooted in her country sound. Golden Hour gained serious acclaim for its strong lyricism and incredibly creative expression within each track. Her simpler lyrics in Star-Crossed have been a source of criticism for the album however, she seems to embrace more theatrical elements that tie the album together as a collective performance. Visual elements in her music videos accompanying the album’s release indicate that Star-Crossed is meant to be not only listened to but consumed as a piece of theater.

Entering her first track, Musgraves includes soft vocals and lighter guitar riffs, building in intensity as she begins to literally set the scene for the remainder of the album. She narrates the story of the fallout of her marriage, describing the pair as “two lovers ripped right at the seams”. Her lyrics center the blame for the failure of her marriage on fate, and not her former partner, seemingly indicating that their destiny was to fall apart. In this first track, Musgraves sets up her listener for a Shakespearean experience, establishing a prologue for the remainder of the album. In Star-Crossed’s progression, her sound deepens, with stronger bass that was not prominently featured in her Golden Hour era. 

The album is established as a three-part tragedy, each with five tracks representing a different phase in mourning the end of her relationship. From the title track to If This Were a Movie, she seems to reflect upon the marriage with longing and denial. This initial phase of seeking to recapture the love that was lost following a serious breakup is highly recognizable in Simple Times and Cherry Blossom, with Musgraves longing for the days of youthful innocence and times free of serious heartbreak. 

With Justified, however, there is a significant shift in her messaging. She seems to have processed her breakup and set herself on a path towards healing, not without her faults. Angel, within this section, identifies the flaws in her relationships with Kelly, emphasizing the inability of the pair to perfectly live up to their ideal versions of themselves.  She recognizes the key flaw in their relationship was their inability to accept the most vulnerable and flawed versions of each other. Most notably within this section is Breadwinner, which has strongly resonated with many listeners. Musgraves details the strain that being with an insecure and jealous partner took on her. She specifically taps into this within the main verse, detailing this type of partner seeks out this “breadwinner” but cannot rectify their own insecurity and end up sabotaging their partner as a result. Her lyrics within the track are more accessible and resonate strongly, especially with young women. 

In her final section, Musgraves accepts and grapples with the realities of moving on from past love. In Hookup Scene, she details the emotional toll that hookup culture has taken on her following her divorce. Reminiscing about her marriage, Musgraves emphasizes that she wishes they knew they “didn’t have it so bad”. Her journey of healing further progresses until reaching There is a Light. Musgraves, who has characteristically employed influences of 70s disco, blends styles into her typical country sound. She reflects on her past with greater positivity, embracing personal strength and finding her inner power. With this, the listener can truly gather that she has fully embraced her healing and grown stronger as a result. Her final track, Gracias a la Vida is actually a cover–written and initially sung by Chilean songwriter Violeta Parra– praising the life one has lived. Concluding with this song, Musgraves shifts her sound, starting off light and slightly grainy, gaining clarity and strength with each verse. Each verse sees the addition of instruments, adding guitar and bass as the track progresses. Her final verse however significantly warps the sound, briefly deepening and adding a gothic quality to her voice. The use of Gracias a la Vida as her concluding track serves as a reflective thanks to life, concluding the mourning of her relationship and embracing the future. 

With Star-Crossed, Musgraves explores herself and her music in an emotional depth, unlike anything we have seen from her before. Her healing journey laid out in this three-part saga provides her listeners with incredible honesty and vulnerability, definitively making Star-Crossed a great album.

Alli Kane

Northwestern '24

Alli is a Sophomore at Northwestern University studying Neuroscience and Global Health. In her free time, she loves spending time with friends, working out, and exploring the Chicago food scene.
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