‘‘If this was a movie”: Musgraves sings ballads of romantic tragedy

By Riley Dauber
Elm Staff Writer

On Sept. 10, Kacey Musgraves released her fourth studio album, titled “star-crossed.” The album chronicles her divorce with fellow singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly. The two married in 2017 and divorced in 2020.

The album is a follow-up to Musgraves’ 2018 hit album “Golden Hour,” which won Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards. Compared to her previous album, “star-crossed” is a melancholic album of memories from her divorce, with the fifteen songs split into three acts.

Inspired by Shakespearean tragedies, specifically Romeo and Juliet, Musgraves divided the album into three acts to represent the beginning, middle, and end of her divorce.

“This last chapter of my life and this whole last year and chapter for our country – at its most simple form, it’s a tragedy,” Musgraves said in an interview for Rolling Stone.

The layout of the album helps with the heartbreaking storytelling, and makes it sonically cohesive.

The title track, “star-crossed” starts the first act, and it ends with “if this was a movie.” Musgraves reflects on the happier moments of her marriage, but as act one comes to a close, listeners realize why the marriage ended.

Act two, which starts with “justified” and ends with “easier said” has a melancholic edge to it. Then, act three starts with “hookup scene” and ends with Musgraves’ cover of “Gracias a la Vida,” showing that although she is upset with how the relationship ended, she is thankful for the experience and wants to move on.

Musgraves’ vocals shine on the album. Her voice is familiar and comforting, making all of the songs feel like a warm hug. Many of them have a dreamy element to them as well. For example, “cherry blossom” is a romantic exploration of Musgraves’ relationship with her ex-husband; despite the subject matter, it is easy to dance to, and listeners feel like they are floating on a cloud.

Some stand-out tracks on the album include “simple times,” “breadwinner,” and “camera roll.” “Simple times” is a nostalgic look at the stressful parts of Musgraves’ divorce, when she wished she could have been a teenager again. It is relatable to college students or people who have entered a new part of their life, not just people who have left a relationship.

“Breadwinner,” which is currently trending on the TikTok, is about a relationship where the man wants to take everything from the woman until he is satisfied. It is catchy and the most spiteful track on the album.

Then there is “camera roll,” a depressing ballad with standout songwriting. In the song, only memories of the relationship are photos, and she knows if she looks at them, she will be heartbroken. It is a devastating track that fits right in with the album’s theme.

Despite the stellar storytelling, comforting vocals, and standout tracks, the album does arguably fall flat when compared to Golden Hour. Musgraves’ previous album was such a masterpiece that it is hard to measure up.

The songwriting on “star-crossed” is not as strong. According to Mark Moody from Under the Radar, “There was more wit and insight in the opening lines of “Golden Hour’s” ‘Slow Burn’ than you will find across the fourteen original songs here.”

Songs like “angel” and the album’s closer “gracias a la vida” are chores to get through and are ultimately very forgettable. The latter makes sense as album closer, but it is disappointing to see that Musgraves decided to do a cover instead of including one of her own songs.

It is also difficult to pinpoint which songs stand-out on “star-crossed” when compared to “Golden Hour.” On the previous album, each song stood on its own to tell a certain story about Musgraves’ relationship or life. While they all worked together to create a sonically-cohesive album, each of the songs were individualized.

The same cannot be said for the songs on “star-crossed”, and it is most likely because of the structure of the album. Although the three acts are a unique element and support the storytelling, they also muddle many of the songs. Almost all of act three blends together, making it difficult to notice when one song ends and the next begins.

According to Sam Sodomsky from Pitchfork, “albums like “Golden Hour” seem to flow unburdened and inspired: little worlds that invite you inside to explore.”

“To both its benefit and detriment, “star-crossed” is not one of those albums. Its seams show at every moment, in ways that feel artful…and others that feel forced,” Sodomsky said.

“Star-crossed” will be a treat for fans of Musgraves’ music and analyzes both the positive and negative sides of her divorce. However, it has trouble standing next to “Golden Hour”; a superior album in terms of songwriting and individual songs.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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