Kacey Musgraves’s Expanding Universe

NASHVILLE — Kacey Musgraves made her new album in a storage studio buzzing with home chaos. On an August afternoon, the 33-year-old singer and songwriter arrived there to discover a basketball rolled into the driveway, tiny swimsuits drying on the porch and a spaniel, Bean, rooting across the percussion part for a stick. “I don’t feel self-conscious out here,” Musgraves stated, leaning into a comfortable sofa subsequent to a Himalayan salt lamp. “You can try stuff and if it sucks, it’s fine.”

Musgraves was joined by a few dads, the producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. Tashian, the proprietor of the studio, generally known as the Royal Plum, wore an all-Patagonia outfit and provided room-temperature lemon water from a glass carafe; Fitchuk settled in a puff of smoke, his center-parted blonde hair mingling with the beads round his neck, a tequila soda jangling in his hand. Musgraves drifted simply across the house in plaid trousers and an enigmatic little smile, a form of yee-haw Mona Lisa.

The trio first assembled on the Royal Plum to make her 2018 album, “Golden Hour.” They tried stuff, it didn’t suck and the result was higher than effective: “Golden Hour,” an album of psychedelic-kissed people, fingerpicked nation yarns and a shimmering dip into disco, gained 4 2019 Grammy Awards, together with album of the 12 months, and lifted Musgraves’s profile from cult nation artist to mainstream contender.

As the three sat round discussing its follow-up, “Star-Crossed,” Musgraves’s telephone lit up. “Look at this,” she stated, elevating a sly eyebrow and springing from the sofa.

“Answer it,” Fitchuk stated.

“No,” she replied, then: “OK.” She tapped the display. Justin Bieber appeared.

“You freaking love an unannounced FaceTime, dude,” Musgraves stated.

“My bad,” Bieber stated. “What are you guys doing?”

When Musgraves hung up, she eyed the group. This has been occurring quite a bit just lately. “I’ll be lying in bed, hung over at 8 a.m. — FaceTime. It’s a decline for me, but he’s so sweet,” she stated. “Anyway. New friend.”

Organized as a tragedy in three acts, “Star-Crossed” charts the dissolution of Musgraves’s final relationship. “I wasn’t going to be an actual nation artist with out a minimum of one divorce beneath my belt,” she stated.Credit…Peyton Fulford for The New York Times

Kacey Musgraves remains to be a singer-songwriter messing round with some dads within the storage. It’s simply that now, one of many greatest pop stars on this planet desires to be there, too. The enterprise behind Musgraves is betting a major contingent of pop music followers really feel the identical approach. After three albums for nation labels, “Star-Crossed” will likely be a joint launch with MCA Nashville and Interscope information. As she’s teased the LP forward of its Sept. 10 arrival, the web has buzzed with hypothesis about her subsequent chapter. On a Reddit fan group that describes itself as “dedicated to country singer Kacey Musgraves,” one person archly commented that they could quickly be pressured to edit that description.

There is a standing nervousness that stalks nation stars who flirt with pop, as if one style is the provenance of genuine artistry and the opposite the land of dropping contact and promoting out. Really, the business calls for of Nashville have at all times enforced their very own restrictions on artists, particularly ladies. And as of late, with Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X and Bad Bunny redefining what superstars sound like, it’s pop music that’s feeling extra just like the wild West. When I requested Musgraves if it was her ambition to turn into a giant pop star, she replied: “What’s a pop star?”

A FEW MILES down the street, on the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville, you will discover Hank Williams’s baby-blue monogrammed boots, Elvis Presley’s gold Cadillac and Kacey Musgraves’s pastel childhood Lisa Frank diary.

Since 2019, a brief Musgraves exhibit has stretched throughout a wall of the museum, charting her rise from the regional kids’s yodeling circuit to Madison Square Garden. As I labored my approach by the souvenirs of her life — right here’s her creepy ’80s child doll, there’s her avant-garde Barbie-themed Met Gala costume — the 2 poles of country-music reactions to Musgraves handed earlier than me. First got here a middle-aged man pulled alongside by a lady, radiating delicate annoyance at the actual property devoted to Musgraves alone (“I’m just surprised, is all”). Then, a ponytailed lady bounded by, pausing with hummingbird-like effectivity at every artifact and clutching her personal diary — taking notes.

Musgraves was born in Golden, Texas, a city of a pair hundred, in 1988, and inside a decade, she was singing in a Fort Worth youth group referred to as the Cowtown Opry Buckaroos and breaking out along with her personal lady band, the Texas Two Bits. She wrote her first music — “Notice Me” — at age 9, and launched a string of CDs with names like “Wanted: One Good Cowboy.” Musgraves maintained a childhood web site at YodelingGirl.com, and after I plugged the deal with into the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I excavated a digital visitor ebook with feedback from boys (“Kacey! My Love! remember me??”) Miranda Lambert (“Keep on Truckin’!!”) and Karen Musgraves (“Yes, I went and accidentally wiped out all of the guestbook! Sorry Kacey! All entries will be back on as soon as we can reload them! Love, Mom”).

When Tashian toured the artifacts in 2019, he was struck by their consistency with Musgraves’s grown-up self. As he put it: “Everyone has always been who they are, you know?” The exhibit contains framed college disciplinary notes she earned in 2002 and 2003 (her infractions included “excessive talking”) and a web page from the Mineola High School yearbook the place her friends voted her Most Likely to Become Famous. I requested Musgraves whether or not she believed it on the time, and she or he shrugged suggestively.

“I didn’t have a backup plan,” she stated. But she’s glad it didn’t occur too quickly. She subscribes to the idea that individuals are emotionally frozen on the age that they turn into very well-known, so it’s fortunate that it didn’t occur at 9 (“Notice Me”!) and even 19, when she moved to Nashville, appeared on a USA actuality competitors referred to as “Nashville Star” and landed at seventh place.

Kacey Musgraves on the 2019 Grammys with Katy Perry and Dolly Parton.Credit…Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Musgraves acquired a job as a workers author for Warner Chappell Music when she was 21, typically writing a number of songs a day for a carousel of artists. She guesses she wrote a pair hundred within the house of a pair years, and she or he would finally snag credit on Martina McBride’s “When You Love a Sinner,” Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” and — in a meta flip — songs for the forged of the soapy TV sequence “Nashville.”

But she saved a few of her greatest materials in her pocket, and in 2013, she launched her debut album, “Same Trailer Different Park” — a witty, melancholy portrait of small-town life that turned her Texas pedigree on its head and managed to embrace each queer love and pot smoking with out ever seeming to evangelise. Her 2015 follow-up, “Pageant Material,” struck extra lyrical blows to nation custom. Her pal TJ Osborne of the Brothers Osborne, who added some vocals on the brand new album’s title observe, credit Musgraves with increasing the bounds of acceptable nation conduct, each politically and artistically.

“She was one of the first of our generation to step out there and take it on the chin,” he stated. “She said things that a lot of people, even now, would be very hesitant to say.” Then got here “Golden Hour,” the place Musgraves took purpose on the nation formulation in earnest.

In the primary Royal Plum session for that album, Musgraves performed Tashian the Bee Gees; he pulled out a vocoder. Tashian had just lately seen Musgraves sing Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” on CMT, and realized that she had untapped vocal potential. Her first two albums have been tightly wound, that includes skilled wordplay driving from hook to refrain, the whole lot “tied up with a little bow,” Tashian advised me. Together, they labored to unlock extra bold melodic potentialities. At the time, Musgraves was experiencing an emotional breakthrough, too; the album was written amid her courtship and marriage to the man Nashville singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly, and blissful songs like “Butterflies” and “Rainbow” tumbled out.

“Star-Crossed” is the psychological hangover to “Golden Hour.” Organized as a tragedy in three acts, it charts the dissolution of that relationship, culminating within the divorce Musgraves filed for final 12 months. She stated Kelly has not but heard the album, and the songwriting uncovered sentiments Musgraves hadn’t fairly expressed to him and even herself. She began writing whereas they have been nonetheless collectively, starting with a delicate pop observe referred to as “Good Wife,” about stumbling over the expectations of marriage. “People have come to know me as someone who really speaks my mind,” she stated, however she typically seems like she’s hiding behind a music: “Why is it easier to tell an entire crowd of people what I think than someone who is really close to me?”

There’s one thing achingly nation about the entire scenario. “I wasn’t going to be a real country artist without at least one divorce under my belt,” Musgraves waggishly allowed. But the album resists the worn emotional grooves of the breakup style. She puzzled over whether or not to incorporate “Breadwinner,” a bop a few man who resents a lady’s success, as a result of “I was worried that one song may speak more loudly than another in an emotional sense,” she stated. As a listener, she avoids the vindictive breakup music and gravitates towards very unhappy ones that hit her straight within the guts: “Ahhh,” she stated. “Stab me with a rusty knife, please.”

At this level, style doesn’t curiosity Musgraves a lot. “If you asked me what it is, I don’t think I’d even be able to give you a straight answer,” she stated of her newest work. Even the Spotify algorithm appears stumped. Its Kacey Musgraves radio station is full of up to date nation by Lambert, Keith Urban, Lady A — “I don’t feel like it adds up,” she stated. Boundlessness is her model: Her music has been described as “galactic country” or “cosmic cowgirl,” her Instagram deal with is @spaceykacey and mind-expanding substances are a part of the method.

As she wrote “Star-Crossed,” Musgraves took a guided psilocybin mushroom journey with a Nashville couple that gives plant-based remedy, and it felt like dumping six ft of contemporary snow on the dusty pathways of her mind. During the journey, Musgraves listened to Mercedes Sosa’s model of the chic ballad “Gracias a la Vida,” and she or he caps the album along with her personal cowl of it. The musical influences for “Star-Crossed” are expansive sufficient to incorporate Sosa and Sade, America and the Avalanches, Weezer and Aretha Franklin. It has hints of early 2000s R&B, a spaghetti western vibe and, as she put it on Twitter, “a fairy sprinkle of Country, duh.”

Despite all of the chatter about Musgraves going pop, the brand new album itself doesn’t really feel engineered to be a world-conquering juggernaut à la “1989.” (I imply, it ends with a Spanish-language people music.) But it’s arriving with a “Lemonade”-like twist: Musgraves introduced “Star-Crossed” this week with a trailer for a shiny companion movie that guarantees to inform the story of her damaged coronary heart. It options the singer in a marriage costume and bedazzled eyebrows, and its capacious aesthetic assimilates references to “Mean Girls” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” John Waters and Quentin Tarantino.

It feels prefer it exists on a distinct planet from the Royal Plum, the place Musgraves was plotting her subsequent transfer: recording her model of “Try Your Wings,” a jazz commonplace by a wispy midcentury singer named Blossom Dearie. But the extra success she finds, she advised me, the nearer she feels to her final purpose: “I’m positioning myself to achieve total creative freedom.”

SO WHAT IS a pop star? The thought is presently beneath revision. Just just a few years in the past, ascending to pop stardom may need meant slipping right into a spangled leotard, communing with the hitmaker Max Martin and aligning your model so expertly with consumption that you just begin dressing like an precise cupcake. But that pop playbook is burning. Now a pop star appears like Doja Cat, coasting up from SoundCloud on a cascade of memes; or BTS, assembling a worldwide military with inspirational messages and beneficiant dance breaks; or Taylor Swift, collaborating with a quiet indie-rocker on two albums of serpentine people. Why not Kacey Musgraves, the unhappy, psychedelic cowgirl?

The day after we met on the Royal Plum, Musgraves invited me to her home for breakfast. She moved right here after her breakup and renovated it right into a cream expanse that for a second had the pristine glow of a Nancy Meyers rom-com a few liberated divorcée. (On Instagram that evening, Musgraves posted that she had spilled a complete beer into the crack of her sofa.) We sat at an enormous kitchen island punctuated with a complicated variety of lemons as her canine, Pepper, gnawed on a bone in a sun-dappled lounge.

When I posed the pop-star query, her reply was definitive. “I do not want that,” she stated. “I have this great fear of becoming detached from reality.” Also, “I just feel like the music will get bad if you aren’t being your authentic self.”

“I’m positioning myself to realize whole artistic freedom,” Musgraves stated.Credit…Peyton Fulford for The New York Times

Musgraves created “Star-Crossed” for one individual — “I make the albums for myself,” she stated — however now that it’s finished, the work of promoting it, and herself, begins. The music will not be a lot greater, however the advertising and marketing finances appears enhanced. There’s the “Star-Crossed” companion movie, for which she has recruited the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” champion Symone, the TikToker @averagefashionblogger and Eugene Levy. She is promoting Musgraves-branded stick-on tears and lacy handkerchiefs to prep her followers for the season she’s calling “sad girl fall.” Recently she began an ambivalent TikTok account tagged with a self-deprecating “Mean Girls” line: “she doesn’t even go here.” In her first put up, Musgraves saunters in gradual movement and smiles winningly earlier than protecting the digital camera lens with a hand. The caption: “the moment nobody’s been waiting for.”

Osborne, who has recognized Musgraves since they have been each “ramen noodles broke,” stated that for all of the business scaffolding that’s been constructed up round his pal, Musgraves herself appears unchanged. “I forget all the time that Kacey is really famous until we go out and somebody gets weird,” he stated. I requested him what he is aware of about her that the general public doesn’t, and he was desperate to counter a notion he’s seen floating round Twitter that she may be standoffish or chilly.

First of all, “If a guy were to act that way, he’d be seen as cool and mysterious,” he stated. Second, he is aware of Musgraves to be a loyal pal, but additionally allergic to pretense. She simply doesn’t have “pert pop star mode” on her emotional dial. “I’ve never, ever seen Kacey pretend to feel a way that she doesn’t feel,” he stated. “She wears her heart on her sleeve.”

Lately Musgraves’s Instagram feed has lit up with snuggly pictures of a brand new boyfriend, Cole Schafer, a poet who writes beneath the title January Black. They met after they spied one another throughout a crowded restaurant. “He did not know who I was, which I loved,” Musgraves stated. The paparazzi, nonetheless, have been recognizing her an increasing number of. “A handful of grown men come out, and they’re sweating trying to keep up with you on the sidewalk,” she stated. “It feels very predatory.” Musgraves remains to be navigating easy methods to turn into an even bigger star with out feeling like she’s the middle of the universe. “Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed with how self-centered being an artist is,” she stated quietly. “It just feels like me me me me me.”

It’s solely up to now a number of years that Musgraves has acquired a type of efficiency nervousness, a slight panic that rises when the eye shifts unexpectedly to her. It first materialized in 2019, when she was filming her celebrity-studded Christmas particular, and she or he was spontaneously requested to introduce herself on digital camera and provide her favourite vacation reminiscence.

“I could not answer what should be the world’s easiest question,” she stated. “I couldn’t get any words out. My heart was racing. I started sweating.” Sometimes, when she is sleeping, she has this stress dream, the place she is being summoned to a faraway stage, and she will be able to by no means appear to make it there in time. “And I’m like” — she curses in frustration — “they’re calling my name!”