Country’s Grammy Girl: Where Was Kacey Musgraves Hiding?
It will surprise no one who has spent time listening to Kacey Musgraves’ major-label debut album ‘Same Trailer Different Park’ that creative writing was the Grammy nominee’s favorite class in high school. The East Texan turns a spotlight on small-town fatalism, bigotry and unhealthy pessimism with delicate, bubblegum melodies and a sly smile. The 12 songs scratch that itch just between the shoulder blades and lower abdominal muscles — that one you just can’t reach with most albums. It’s a place an average songwriter is lucky to find once or twice in his or her lifetime.
So how does someone go from unheard of to country’s most celebrated Grammy nominee in the span of 16 months? How does such a talent stay beneath the surface for so long, until finally crashing through the surface to give us a breath of fresh air? The answer is: they don’t. Musgraves is quite literally another 10-year ‘overnight’ success story.
If there was a Grammy Awards Fantasy League like there is for football and basketball, the 25-year-old would be a good first-round pick. She’s nominated for three awards in 2014, and a song she wrote (Miranda Lambert’s ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’) is a favorite in a fourth category. Previously, Taste of Country showed the Grammys’ recent history of honoring women and albums with more artistic merit than commercial appeal. If these trends stay true, Musgraves will need a purse the size of her home state to bring them home.
The singer had just finished high school when her artistic-minded family pooled together enough money for her to record her first album. A little research turns up three full-lengths between 2002 and 2007, each with a little less cowgirl appeal. Four of 14 tracks from ‘Wanted: One Good Cowboy’ (2003) have the word “cow” in the title, according to a track listing found at AllMusic. Four years later would come a self-titled project, and then a two-song EP for an Austin, Texas based independent label. Musgraves’ pencil was burning through notebook paper as she turned out song after song after song, sharpening and experimenting with different words and phrases.
Up to this point, her story is similar to a million stories of women with big dreams, but few ideas of how to leave their small town behind, and even less courage to do so. But in 2007, she got a taste of Music City. And that’s where our list begins. Musgraves has been hiding right under our noses for the better part of five years. After Sunday night’s (Jan. 26) Grammys, she’ll no longer be country music’s best-kept secret. A high-profile performance slot is sure to leave her trending on Google and Twitter. If that doesn’t do it, tour dates with Katy Perry surely will.
Here are places you may have spotted the Golden, Texas native:
Season 5 of ‘Nashville Star’ began in January 2007, but didn’t go as planned for Musgraves. She appeared in just three episodes and finished seventh overall, two spots lower than Whitney Duncan, the only other finalist of the 10 to release a song to country radio other than winner Angela Hacker. Musgraves, then 21, would continue to live in Texas for two years before making her move to Nashville.
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Musgraves’ appearance on the Josh Abbott Band’s track from 2011 marked her first taste of chart success. ‘Oh, Tonight’ cracked the Top 50. It was a true duet that relied as much upon the female lead as Abbott’s gravely vocals. The video also starred fellow country singer Granger Smith and served as evidence of Musgraves’ strong relationships with successful singers and songwriters. She was already writing songs that would make her debut album at this point, working with respected songwriters like Luke Laird and Shane McAnally. A record deal would fall through before she signed with Mercury Nashville.
Songs by Miranda and Martina
In the span of 20 days, two Musgraves co-writes were released by country music’s premiere female vocalists. Martina McBride cut ‘When You Love a Sinner’ for her ‘Eleven’ album, while Miranda Lambert dropped the Grammy-nominated ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ for ‘Four the Record.’ Her fellow Texan would call ‘Mama’s …’ her favorite song on the new record. Both tracks show an edge that Musgraves would become known for in one year’s time.
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Two Kacey Musgraves songs have been featured on the ABC drama ‘Nashville,’ including ‘Undermine,’ a highlight from Season 1 (Hayden Panettiere and Charles Esten performed the track). Her other co-write is ‘Crazy Tonight,’ as performed by Clare Bowen.