With her win for album of the year at the 2019 Grammys, acclaimed country singer Kacey Musgraves was introduced to a whole new audience at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. But where did the “Golden Hour” artist come from, and how did she end up dominating music’s biggest night? Here’s a primer on the one-of-a-kind country star, from The Tennessean, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
Texas roots, Nashville cred
Musgraves, 30,grew up in Texas and headed to Nashville in 2008 to chase her country-music dream. After early successes – including a co-writing credit on Miranda Lambert’s smash “Mama’s Broken Heart” – she released her major-label debut “Same Trailer, Different Park” in 2013.
Her 2012 debut single “Merry Go ‘Round” reflected on the desperation and desolation of small-town life (“Mama's hooked on Mary Kay / Brother's hooked on Mary Jane / And Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.”)
The song remains one of Musgraves’ biggest hits to date.
By the time her sophomore effort, “Pageant Material,” came around in 2015, she’d adopted a more whimsical, vintage-inspired style, and 2018’s “Golden Hour” mashed country with disco and synth-pop. None of those album’s singles found significant success in the country market, but Musgraves never stopped racking up awards and critical acclaim.
Over the years, she has pivoted away from the potential of being country’s “next big thing” and is more strongly identified as a critical and industry favorite, with a devoted and diverse fan base.
She’s been a Grammy favorite from the beginning
“Same Trailer Different Park” earned Musgraves her first two Grammys n 2014 at age 25 for best country album and best country song for “Merry Go ‘Round.” She was also nominated for best new artist that year. “Pageant Material” also earned a nod for best country album the following year.
She’s not your average country star
In terms of an audience, “Golden Hour” launched Musgraves into her own orbit. Its sophisticated take on country-pop – with synthesizers and drum machines jamming with banjos, acoustic and pedal steel guitar – has clicked with all sorts of listeners.
Still, on the mainstream country circuit, "Golden Hour" never found a groove – or, arguably, got a fair shot. None of the album’s four singles earned much play on country radio, which is a familiar story for many female country artists grappling with a male-dominated format.
Instead, it's been a commercial success on its own terms. It debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Album Chart and remains a top 20 country album nearly a year after its release. To date, it’s sold roughly 150,000 units.
On the critical front, the album has been a runaway smash, landing either at No. 1 or in the top 5 of nearly every esteemed outlet’s “Best Albums of 2018” list, including USA TODAY, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly and NPR.
She’s an LGBT ally
The massive rainbow lights during her Grammys performance might have been your first clue, but Musgraves has made her support of the LGBT community known from the beginning.
Her third single, 2013’s “Follow Your Arrow,” features a chorus with the lyrics, “Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls / If that's something you're into.”
In 2015, she celebrated the marriage equality ruling with a special performance of the song on NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts.”
She marked the release of her second album with a drag show at Nashville’s Play dance club, and last year, she was a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“I keep dreaming of the day when we have a gay country music icon,” she said in a 2018 interview with Huffington Post, “that is loud and proud and really, like, a hero for country music fans, especially in these small towns where (LGBTQ people) are terrified of being themselves and feel like they have to hide.”
She credits her husband for “Golden Hour’s” existence
Musgraves is married to singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly. The two met while Musgraves was beginning the creative process that would create "Golden Hour," the singer explained to fans when she previewed the album last year at the Nashville planetarium.
"I'd gotten off the road, and I wanted a chance to get back to my creative center. I just really missed that. And weirdly, I met Ruston at the same time, and it really influenced everything when we started writing (songs)."
While accepting her Grammy for best country album on Sunday, Musgraves turned her attention to Kelley, who was sitting in the audience.
"I really believe I wouldn't have this album if I hadn't met you and you didn't open my heart like you did, so thank you so much," she said.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Who is Kacey Musgraves? Grammy album winner hits country and mainstream listeners