country music finds its golden hour
For a long time, I was a die-hard country fan. I celebrated the likes of Shania Twain, Jason Aldean, and Miranda Lambert. I loved country music so much that I would receive side eyes from a lot of my friends because so many thought it was odd for me to not only listen to country music, but also enjoy it. But I didn’t care what anyone thought of me, it was my safe place. Then I started noticing a pattern of behavior. As I began to see the world for what it was, I noticed the role models I looked up to were silent on issues that directly impacted me or groups like me. I noticed the people I celebrated were secretly voting against me and for the first time, I felt excluded from a genre that should have made me feel at home in my Southern roots. Learning more about my identity as a black woman helped me realize while though I was celebrating this music, it was not celebrating me. Over time, I slowly moved on from country music and I was content with my decision. But then a woman named Kacey Musgraves came along with her quick-witted, adult nursery rhymes, and she gave me hope again. It was refreshing. Kacey wasn’t singing your typical country song about jacked up trucks or girls in tight jeans. Songs like “Blowin’ Smoke” and “This Town” had humor, but behind the laughs you knew what she was singing about: family struggles, heartbreak, love, and hope. “Follow Your Arrow” had such an impact on me that it lead me to get an arrow tattooed on the inside of my wrist to remind me that no matter the path I take, it’s my path to take—and no one else’s to judge.
Don’t be mistaken though. Kacey Musgraves isn’t just a talented lyricist. She’s also become a beacon for a number of people around the world. No matter the race, sexual orientation, or gender, she presents a voice that is relatable to everyone. She uses her privilege to step forward and speak out about issues in a genre of music that has historically not been a strong supporter of inclusion. In turn, she has been an inspiration to not only me, but people around the world.
You could even say Kacey is the definition of unconventional. Her Grammy award-winning third studio album, Golden Hour, brings along a new era of country music for a new generation of fans. But let me be clear, the album alone is not what’s changing country music. Don’t get me wrong, the album is an outstanding work of art, but her activism and compassion behind the scenes is what brings the album to life. Everything from her vintage style to her progressive views on politics, which include gay rights and reforming gun violence, she works to change not just how people perceive country music, but how the people who listen to country music are perceived, too.
Golden Hour is a beautiful array of colors and shapes that piece together to make a collection of euphoric, consciously-made melodies about love, heartbreak, and accepting yourself for who you are and what you’re not. Now, I’ll be completely honest. When I first listened to the album upon its release, I wasn’t sure if I liked the new sound. Slow, transcendent ballads took over my speakers and I was suddenly overcome with emotion that I had never felt before when listening to a Kacey Musgraves song. I was used to songs like “Biscuits” or “Step Off” that humorously tell the story of folks living in the country. Instead we got songs that evoke emotion like “Lonely Weekend” and “Happy & Sad”. I don’t think I necessarily disliked the newer sound, I think I was just scared to feel as much as I felt listening to this album. I can now declare that Golden Hour is my favorite album from Kacey and I can’t wait to lie back in bed and silently cry listening to “Slow Burn”.
In the meantime, I provided my take on my favorite tracks from the album and how each song reminded me to stay hopeful.
This is my favorite song on the album. The subtle build in emotion and the strategic placement of each word in every line collect to create a montage of verses that flow effortlessly in melody. The song slowly builds each time the hook repeats I’m alright with a slow burn and right as the song is coming to an end, I hear the line one last time and I feel this sense of peace wash over me.
The unexpected love. It’s the best kind of love when you’re not searching for it. Like a butterfly, it’s curious and strange drawing you in. It grows and surrounds you, but not suffocating you. As I listen to this song, I’m reminded of a time when I first met my partner and I didn't know him and I didn't know me. I suddenly got this excited, bubbly feeling in my stomach and for a second I remember[ed] what it [felt] like to fly. When it was all over, I held each memory and cherished them until our next encounter.
Oh What A World.
How can there be something so beautiful beyond this world we call home with all kinds of magic all around/ it’s hard to believe? You think you’ve seen it all, the world in all its wonders and then there is you. When you finally meet The One, the one who is your everything, your soulmate, your heart—it’s a feeling like no other. This is not necessarily your significant other. It can be your best friend, your furry, four-legged friend, or a stranger you met across the oceans. It’s that person who reminds you of who you truly are when you’re being an asshole. It’s the person that motivates you when you feel you can’t go on. It’s the person who loves you unconditionally no matter the circumstances.
Love is a Wild Thing.
If love was perfect, then we’d all be single. Love is supposed to be crazy and ridiculous and outright outrageous if needed. It’s supposed to hit when you least expect it, climbing over fences, blooming in the shadows/ places that you can't see. I truly relate to this song because it gives me hope that I found the right one. We have our imperfections, we might fight sometimes, we might even call it quits for a while, but if it’s right, we’ll always find our way back to each other.
I almost thought Kacey lost her flavor for word play, and then I heard Space Cowboy. Kacey’s play on words always amazes me. Of course, when you read the title, you think “oh, she’s going to sing about some weird country boy who sweeps her off her feet.” Instead, you get a break up ballad: you can have your space/cowboy. Subtle, but genius nevertheless.
Happy & Sad.
This touched me in a way a song has never done before. To listen to this song and then to actually experience what this song is saying is the most wonderful feeling in the world. For a long time, I never knew what it felt like to meet someone and know that you found your person. One of my biggest fears in life is dying alone without ever loving anyone, so when I met him, this tense feeling of apprehension rushed over me. Now that I had found him, I couldn’t lose him. He was everything I was looking for in a partner. So when Kacey sings, you got me smiling with tears in my eyes/I never felt so high/no, I've never been this far off of the ground/and they say everything that goes up must come down/but I don't wanna come down, I knew I could never let him go.
Of course when I read the title of this song, I was like “oh, this song is going to be about being a strong independent woman who don’t need no man.” Instead, we got the anti-anthem and it was even better. The notion that women always have to be perfect and strong is a myth and Kacey made sure to give us a reminder to tell our partner but, baby, I ain't Wonder Woman and that we, too, are vulnerable and need someone to lean on every now and then. Relationships take two people and it’s the responsibility of both parties to grow together.
Love is quite fascinating and I’m always intrigued by the many ways we are able to describe it in all its forms. “Golden Hour,” the title track off the album gives another take on how love transcends into color and time. Searching into the eyes of your partner and finding true love is such a beautiful view, isn’t it? I remember when I used to get sad/ and lonely when the sun went down/ it's different now/'cause I love the light that I've found/in you. And now that I have someone to hold and protect me, I know everything's gonna be alright.
I struggle with anxiety and I have a tendency to stress over problems that are out of my control. If this song taught me anything, it reminded me that all I have to do is take it step by step and I’ll eventually make it to the other side and realize there's always been a rainbow hangin' over [my] head. It’ll all be alright, I just have to trust myself and believe that it was never bad to begin with.
Without hesitation, I can say that Golden Hour is my favorite album of last year. Kacey did something that no other country artist has been able to do in a long time. She created a work of art that is inclusive of everyone and doesn’t make anyone feel ashamed for being exactly who they are. She created a collection of pieces that tear up the stereotypes of what it means to be country. Twenty years ago, the words “gay” or “black” would have never been used in the same sentence to describe a country audience, but today, I can celebrate my love for country music as a woman of color without the fear of being judged. I only hope that we as a collective continue on this path of acceptance and inclusion for all.