Just like dust, Kacey Musgraves has settled into her superstar placement just fine. When her debut single "Merry Go Round" blasted onto radio in 2012, supported by a grainy music video containing footage of small town portraits of boredom and sluggishness, it was evident Musgraves was something special. She didn't shy away from telling the cold, hard truth about the entrapments of rural life and the human condition; well, for her, the barrage of consumerism as a coping mechanism only feeds into a greater sense of pain. Her hometown couldn't contain her. Despite hailing from the same region of East Texas (born in Golden) as fellow singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert, Musgraves' voice is inherently more organic and pointed. She borrows significant influences from John Prine and Loretta Lynn, at least from a lyrical standpoint, and her music, too, is grittier, bolder, more alert, and with a more raw red-dirt edge.
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Her story begins at only eight years old when a youthful wide-eyed kid made her stage debut at church. Before long, she was captivated by music and began writing her own material and playing instruments, including guitar. As she developed her stage presence and cast her songwriting on the world—her first song she ever wrote was called "Notice Me," which she penned in elementary school, "I can't help but wonder now what the hell a 9-year-old would've had to write about!" she recalled—she released three studio albums and an EP, independently. That, of course, led her to audition for the now-defunct "Nashville Star" competition (akin to the more pop-centric "American Idol") in 2007, which aired in the mid-00s on the USA Network. After performances, like the one above of an original called "Halfway to Memphis," she was cut from the show in seventh place, but that did not slow her down.
Upon moving to Nashville, she cut her teeth on the bar circuit and continued developing her voice. "I went around to all the publishing companies with little EP-type things," she said. "I was, like, 'Hey, you might need a new voice for demos…and also, these happen to be my songs.' I developed a real passion for the construction of songs and probably wrote a couple hundred during that time, putting aside the ones that felt the most like me." She soon had a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music.
Songwriting doors then burst open wide for Musgraves, who would later get cuts with major label artists, like Miranda Lambert ("Mama's Broken Heart" on 2011's Four the Record; Musgraves' demo can be found here) and Martina McBride ("When You Love a Sinner" from McBride's Eleven; check out an early Musgraves' performance of the song here). The Texan's career then began to propel ever upward as she landed songs on ABC's soapy drama "Nashville," including one especially standout tune called "Undermine" (co-written with Trent Dabbs), which was featured on the show's second episode in 2012 and performed by Hayden Panettiere's character Juliette Barnes. You can check out Musgraves' own acoustic version of the song here. She later had another co-write featured in the second season, a song called "Crazy Tonight," co-written with Chip Boyd and Jay Clementi and performed on the show by Clare Bowen's character Scarlett O'Connor.
But it was really Musgraves' 2012 performance at Country Radio Seminar (which took place at the Ryman Auditorium) that set her star in remarkable motion. At the Mercury Records label showcase, in front of various radio programmers, media and other industry professionals, she debuted "Merry Go Round." Instantly, the crowd erupted into chuckles and applause over lyrics like "if you ain't got two kids by 21, you're probably gonna die alone" and the hard-hitting chorus "mama's hooked on Mary Kay / brother's hooked on Mary Jane / Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down." But, despite early buzz, it took the song nearly a year before it peaked, ultimately crowning at No. 10 on both Mediabase and Billboard Country Airplay in the spring of 2013.
Then, Same Trailer Different Park (produced by Luke Laird and Shane McAnally) was born. An album framed around blue-collar characters ("Blown' Smoke") and pride in being unique ("Follow Your Arrow") became the center of the conversation. Dropping everywhere March 19, 2013, the album immediately became everyone's must-listen new record. Praise showered her from such major outlets as All Music, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Rolling Stone and more, only heightening the hype around her. Musgraves demonstrated that she did not have a one-track mind cemented with the brutally honest "Merry Go Round" (a platinum single), but proved she is brave and refreshing in the mainstream. The song and album went on to sweep the Grammys the following spring, earning Best Country Song and Best Country Album.
It would seem radio, then, couldn't possibly ignore the enrapturing songbird any longer. Well, that was not the case. Her follow-up singles "Blowin' Smoke," "Follow Your Arrow" and "Keep It to Yourself" failed to ignite the same kind of passion and airplay her first single sparked. "Arrow" did, however, become a Top 10 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs, which shifted to a multi-consumption scoreboard to include sales, streaming and all-format airplay during its run. Following her Grammy Awards performance in 2014, the empowering anthem sky rocketed in sales, resulting in the milestone. Soon, Musgraves continued her rise to the top, venturing well outside of country music to find her audience. Later that summer, she joined a string of August dates on pop star Katy Perry's Prismatic Tour and even teamed up with the phenomenon for a CMT Crossroads special. She has also toured extensively overseas in the UK and the rest of Europe and joined tours by Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss, as well as performed numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry (she made her debut a few weeks after her debut LP dropped), the Ryman and countless fairs and festivals all across the globe. As a result, Same Trailer has gone on to sell more than 500,000 copies, setting the stage for her long-awaited sophomore set, Pageant Material.
Anchored by the witty "Biscuits"—"just hoe your own row and raise your own babies / smoke your own smoke and grow your own daisies / mend your own fences and own your own crazy / mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy," she quips on the barbed testimonial—the album proved her staying power. The set (out in the summer of 2015) features the essential bro-country (and subsequently radio) kiss-off "Good Ol' Boys Club" and arrived with 55,000 copies to earn the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. You could say Musgraves was the underdog, but at the end of the day, she was now the top dog. She continues to sell-out her headlining shows, including 2015-16's Country & Western Rhinestone Revue (grab tickets here). Even if radio still hasn't caught up (or if it never does), this singer-songwriter has defied the odds in every imaginable way. ""I hear a lot in the industry, 'This is the way it's done, so you have to follow suit.' Why can't we look at other options?" she pondered to Billboard this year.
To put it simply: Kacey is a bonafide country superstar.