There’s only a few country artists who have managed to woo both Nashville and snotty music critics alike. One would be Loretta Lynn, the chart-topping Grand Ole Opry sweetheart who’s still revered by the likes of Jack White. Another is Lynn’s musical inheritor, Kacey Musgraves, the young Texan who burst onto the scene in 2012 with the widely praised single “Merry Go Round,” and has spent the last few months collecting a slew of awards around her major-label debut album Same Trailer, Different Park. Both women seduce listeners with sweet vocals and spare, folksy arrangements, then sucker punch them with incisive lyrics that skewer the type of down-home, conservative society so typically praised in Nashville country pop. But both Musgraves and Lynn manage to avoid snarky cynicism at the same time by writing from an authentic place, the result is less “funny haha” than “funny ‘cause it’s true.”
Here’s five of the best lyrics from Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park, so you can sing along at her upcoming San Antonio Rodeo performance. If you miss it, check out her recently aired Austin City Limits appearance, or be on the look out for upcoming tours, Musgraves will be on the road with Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum (separately) later this year.
1. “Between the lunch and dinner rush, Kelly caught that outbound bus for Vegas.”
This song, co-written with favored collaborators Shane McAnally and Luke Laird, made me a Musgraves fan. The opening lyric tricks us listeners into thinking we’re in for a tale about hapless Kelly at the craps table. But, just as soon as we settle in, Musgraves jolts us out of that conventional perspective with the following lines, “And we’re all out here talking trash and making bets, lips wrapped ‘round our cigarettes. She always thought she was too good to be a waitress.” From there on out, Kelly remains in the background, a symbol of freedom and foolishness for the hard-bitten fellow shift workers she’s left behind who become the focus of what Musgraves has called “a working girl’s anthem.”
2. “Mary, Mary quite contrary, we get bored so we get married and just like dust we settle in this town.”
—“Merry Go 'Round”
There’s a reason this song was the one to introduce Musgraves to the wider world. Musgraves (who shares songwriting credit with McAnally and Josh Osborne) obviously drew inspiration from her hometown of Golden, TX (near Mineola) for this dispassionate yet knowing explication of small town values and limitations. Musgraves described growing up in a “tiny little Bible-belt town and a conservative area,” and wanted a song that could “poke fun at traditional mindsets” and also encourage listeners not to mindlessly settle into a routine that could quickly become a life.
3. “If you save yourself for marriage you’re a bore, you don’t save yourself for marriage you’re a horr
—“Follow Your Arrow”
Musgraves likes to start songs strong and front-load cleverness, as in the “screw your haters” missive “Follow Your Arrow,” which begins with a vocal slide on the word “horrible” so it comes out sounding more like “whore” before being cutely followed by the last two syllables. It’s edgy, yet obviously toned down, whether for radio-friendliness, comic effect or both. Not surprisingly, Musgraves co-wrote this song with another of country’s rising female songwriters, Brandy Clark.
4. “Plays you like a fiddle, shakes you like a rattle, takes away your gun and sends you into battle.” — “Stupid”
Another strong opening line, the rest of the song just doesn’t quite hold up to the wordy similes, but I’ll forgive that for the phrase “takes away your gun and sends you into battle.” The song treads the familiar country territory of loving the wrong person, but rarely do tunes directly equate emotional warfare with actual, you know, war (“Love is a Battlefield” aside). That phrase also demonstrates Musgraves’ and her collaborators’ awesome imagery-packing ability, in a scant nine words it paints a picture of a soldier, nameless and possibly one of many, at the mercy of a cruel general who seems bent on the soldier’s demise. Lovers of BDSM may get an entirely different pleasure out of this song.
5. “Maybe I love you or maybe I’m just kinda bored. It is what it is, ’til it ain’t anymore.” — “It Is What It Is”
Personally, I find the phrase “it is what it is” incredibly irritating. It typically allows politicians and others in positions of power to evade answering for some shitty situation while also allowing them to sound like Zen masters. So, initially I loved Musgraves’ (with the help of Clark and Laird) tacking on “’til it ain’t anymore,” as a reminder that even though the phrase connotes finality (“hey, it is what it is, no use worrying about it.”) “is” defines impermanence. But then I heard on her Spotify interview that she really liked the phrase. Even with that damper, I still admire the song for its “Maybe I love you or maybe I’m just kinda bored,” because, haven’t we all been there?