At just 26, Kacey Musgraves is already one of the most important names in country music. With influences including everyone from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton to Miranda Lambert, Musgraves has made a name for herself crafting both pop-tinged country rockers like her latest single, “Biscuits,” while still maintaining her penchant for sweet and intimate down-home ditties. That’s not to say Musgraves is one of those sweet and soft country princesses—she’s anything but. The Texas native might have big hair on the front of her new album, Pageant Material, but as she says in the title track, “Life ain’t always roses and pantyhose.”
So much of Pageant Material is about that eternal struggle between perception and reality. Musgraves might be lovely and young and a country darling, but she also admits to frequently being “higher than my hair” and, in “Good Ol’ Boys Club,” says that, while she “appreciates” cigars and handshakes, she’s interested in more than the typical country trappings. And if she’s not as popular as all those guys that have made millions singing about trucks and Budweiser, that’s fine. As she notes in “Cup Of Tea,” “You can’t be everybody’s cup of tea.”
The thing is—Musgraves could be huge, like Taylor Swift huge, or Faith Hill huge. She has the potential to turn into that Shania Twain-style icon, strutting around arena stages while singing about her womanly wiles. But, as is evident at so many moments on Pageant Material, she’s making a conscious choice not to go that direction. On “Die Fun,” for instance, there’s a point right after the chorus where, with the right drum and guitar breakdown, her simple little track about life’s fleeting nature could turn into a Lambert-style ripper. She doesn’t take that turn, though. She’s not pop country. She’s country, pure and simple, without all the glitter and flash.
Grady Smith, a writer for The Guardian, put it well when he said, “Musgraves has a way of making people feel special not by telling them that they’re special, but by reminding them that no one really is.” From “Biscuits” (which is a perfect single, by the way) to “Family Is Family,” Musgraves drives that message home on Pageant Material. Deep down, we’re all the same. If people would just be nicer; mind their own biscuits; and remember that, just because families “own too much wicker and drink too much liquor” doesn’t discount the blood-relation, then everyone would be better off. It’s a Southern thing reminiscent of the idea that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Musgraves wants everyone to get along, and rather than just advocating for world peace and trying to bring people together through songs about vague kinds of love, she’s actually providing plans of action, real, tangible solutions for everyday change.
Just as Musgraves would probably readily admit she’s not perfect, Pageant Material isn’t either. Some tracks, like “Fine” and “Somebody To Love,” drag a bit, bringing the already slightly slow record down a notch. Still, tracks like the aforementioned “Biscuits” and weed-infused opener “High Time” more than make up the difference, making Pageant Material a must listen for anyone who’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, and just a little bit crazy.