THE NEW NOR­MAL

Some­where around the time Mi­ley Cyrus got In­sta­gram, the Per­fect Pop Star died. In her place, fe­male mu­si­cians who refuse to be cookie cut­ter are mov­ing from the fringes into the main­stream, win­ning fans and selling records on their own terms.

Elle (Canada) - - Radar - BY SARAH LAING

THE COUN­TRY QUEEN AS­CEN­DANT:

KACEY MUS­GRAVES

Lis­ten­ing to a Kacey Mus­graves song is a bit like tak­ing a sip of ice-cold sweet tea—all sug­ary so­prano twang­ing over slide gui­tars—and then sud­denly re­al­iz­ing it’s spiked with some­thing a lit­tle stronger when you hear lyrics like “piss­ing in my yard ain’t gonna make yours any greener,” “I’m al­ways higher than my hair” and, of course, “fam­ily is fam­ily, in church or in prison.”

The 26-year-old Texas na­tive made her name on the mu­sic scene last year by do­ing the im­prob­a­ble: win­ning the Grammy for Best Coun­try Al­bum for a record filled with songs about light­ing up, kiss­ing girls (or boys, or what­ever) and friends with ben­e­fits. The al­bum ( Same Trailer Dif­fer­ent Park) also tied Mus­graves with Tay­lor Swift and Lorde for the most nom­i­na­tions re­ceived by a fe­male at the Gram­mys that year, and its cheeky spirit earned her a spot open­ing for Katy Perry on her Pris­matic World Tour.

So it should come as no sur­prise that Mus­graves’ sec­ond al­bum on a ma­jor record la­bel (but ac­tu­ally her sixth) feels like yet another rejection of what she should or shouldn’t do as the new queen of coun­try mu­sic. Pageant Ma­te­rial (out now) isn’t an­themic or “big­ger” son­i­cally than her last record—if any­thing, it’s a qui­eter, sim­pler piece of mu­sic that shines its light squarely on the mun­dane: It riffs on ev­ery­thing from weird rel­a­tives to small-town pol­i­tics to how we’re re­ally all just lit­tle kids who want to be loved. (Did we men­tion how good she is at sneak­ing in the pro­found among the pro­fane?)

Over the phone from her Nashville home, Mus­graves ex­plains that the al­bum was inspired by a “sort of hazy, slightly tacky

retro pageant world” and her own re­sponse to “the ex­pec­ta­tions placed on women in this in­dus­try, like smil­ing when you lose, act­ing per­fect and hav­ing to say the per­fect thing all the time.” Ba­si­cally, Mus­graves isn’t “pageant ma­te­rial,” and she’s fine with that. “There’s a line in the song [‘Pageant Ma­te­rial’] that says ‘I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t,’” she says. Un­der­stand­ing what Mus­graves ain’t—a diva with down-home val­ues and an affin­ity for big trucks and big­ger hair—is key to un­der­stand­ing why her frank, funny tunes about life in the South are such anom­alies within the deeply con­ser­va­tive coun­try­mu­sic scene.

Lyri­cally, Mus­graves loves noth­ing more than a lit­tle needling (the hypocrisies of small-town Amer­ica are her favourite tar­get), but in con­ver­sa­tion she’d much rather talk about less-po­lar­iz­ing top­ics: her suc­cu­lent ob­ses­sion, the stuffed ar­madillo that is her tour mas­cot and what inspires her dis­tinc­tive rodeo-star-meets-pin-up stage look. (There’s an­i­mated dis­cus­sion of an out­fit she calls “coun­try square dance Barbie.”)

And that is, per­haps, what’s so re­fresh­ing about Mus­graves: She may be a rebel tak­ing con­ser­va­tive coun­try mu­sic by storm, but she’s also the kind of per­son who says “Gosh dang it,” talks about tex­ting her sis­ter and is most proud of be­ing a good lis­tener. She’s not try­ing, and that’s the big­gest sur­prise of all. “I didn’t set out to be a bound­ary pusher,” she says. “I just want to keep do­ing my thing. If some­one likes it, great! If they don’t, fine.”

Meet Lindi Ortega, the Cana­dian who’s blur­ring the lines be­tween rock­a­billy and soul, on ELLECanada.com/liv­ing.

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